Most of our customers purchase Steamed Crabs. That's fine with us, because we specialize in steamed crabs. However, some customers prefer to purchase live crabs, and steam the crabs themselves. Some consider steaming, but are not sure what is involved. Let us help you by explaining the things to consider before purchasing either steamed or live crabs.
First, you have to be sure to purchase the freshest crabs possible. You want to know they were crawling in the Bay waters just hours before you stack them on your table to enjoy. Do not be timid to ask where the Carryout store gets its crabs. Many purchase them from local crabbers, but that means they really do not know how long these watermen have kept the crabs before delivering them to the store. It is best if you purchase your crabs directly from a Carryout Crab House that is owned and operated by the crabbers themselves.
Besides having a better, sweeter taste, freshness reduces the likelihood that a crab will die before it reaches the steamer. Professional Crab Carryout Crab Houses, such as Cravin' Crabs, always check each crab to be sure it is alive before putting the crab in their commercial steamer. That is also why you will see the Cravin' Crabs staff check each live crab for some movement before it is placed in the bag for you to take home and steam yourself. You can get very sick from eating a crab that has died before it was steamed. If you open a steamed crab and it does not smell right, do NOT eat it. A bad smell and a bad taste is an indication the crab was DOA to the steamer!
Okay. Assuming you found a Carryout Crab House that you can trust to provide fresh crabs, should you purchase them steamed or live? First consider how many crabs you want. Let's face it, steaming crabs yourself is a messy task, and it is usually only worth the effort if you steam at least a bushel (5 to 7 dozen depending on size) of the crabs. If you have the time, equipment, seasoning and are willing to put up with being pinched by a crab or two, you can achieve the satisfaction that you steamed the crabs yourself. (By the way, best to wear shoes when steaming so when you drop a crab, your toes will be protected from very painful pinches.)
When you get the live crabs home, place them in a cool, shady spot. You might want to spray some water on the bushel basket; the evaporating water will help keep the crabs cool and thus less likely to die. Live crabs can last 6 to 8 hours out of the water, but the sooner you can steam them, the better. You might want to consider placing the live crabs under refrigeration if possible. Besides aiding to keep them alive, chilling live crabs makes them less active and easier to place in the steamer.
Don't forget to consider the time it takes to do the steaming. If you purchase steamed crabs, they are ready to enjoy as soon as you get to your destination. If you are going to steam them yourself, you put them in the steamer (or very large pot with a wire shelf on the bottom) and add your water and vinegar. Place layers of live crabs in the pot, adding your spices on top of each layer (this takes a bit of time). By the way, have a helper with a canister of table salt in hand to assist. As you place an "over active" crab in the pot, your helper should sprinkle some salt in the crabs eyes. This will very quickly quiet down the crustacean.
Next you have to secure the lid (or the crabs could kick it off) and let the water come to a boil (this takes awhile so be patient); you will start seeing steam escape from the lid when the steaming starts. From that point, you need to let the crabs steam for about 20 to 30 minutes until the crab shells turn bright orange. Red or reddish-green on the shells indicates the crabs need more steaming. Finally, remember to avoid problems with bacteria, do not use the same utensils for handling live crabs as the steamed crabs.
Don't forget it is best to steam the crabs outdoors if at all possible as the process is not only messy but also leaves an unpleasant smell if done indoors on the stove. Remember someone has to clean all the pots, lids and utensils when the feasting is done.
We hope the above gives the information you need to decide how you want to purchase your crabs. In any case, when you're craving crabs, go to Cravin' Crabs for the freshest crabs in the Baltimore area!