Now that you gone out, had a good time, caught some crabs,
and brought them home, it's time to get to the good part: consuming
your hard earned catches. But before you try to gorge the crabs
down your throat, you should probably prepare them first, and
below are some simple instructions for preparing your crabs so
they can be easily cooked.
Here is the list of things to do: clean the crab(s), dismantle the crab(s) and throw away all the stuff that you can't eat, and then cook the crab(s) using your own recipes or one of the recipes listed on my recipes page. If you did things right, you should end up with some delicious crab(s) on the table.
Type of Brush you should use
The first thing you do when you want to cook a crab is to give
it a good scrub down, since the water you caught the crab from
(or bought it from) probably isn't very clean, and crabs are not
known to be clean animals. Scrubbing down the crab can be pretty
intimidating since the crab is probably alive and will try to
defend itself, aka try to pinch you. It's recommended that you
wear gloves just so that you don't get cut if the crab gets a
hold of your finger. For your cleaning tool, get a scrubbing brush
with a handle on top of the brush (like the one shown in the picture).
These are easy to handle and you can apply a fair amount of force
on them, which is important as you will see.
Here's how you clean the top (top pic) and underside (bottom pic) of a crab. The pictures also show the size difference between a legal size Dungeness and a red rock crab.
Now that you are ready, get the crab and dump it into the sink.
If you have more than one crab, clean one at a time since one
is troublesome enough, unless if the crabs are already dead. Once
the crab is in the sink, it will stay or try to stay upright,
threaten you with its claws, and resist any attempt to flip it
on its back. At this point of time, leave the crab the way it
is. In the effort to defend itself, the crab will probably be
facing you, protecting itself with its claws. You don't want that,
so try to get the crab to turn around by distracting it or just
turn it around by force if you have the guts. Now once the crab
faces away from you, turn on the water and use one hand and press
down hard on the carapace, pinning the crab underneath your palm.
Crabs are fairly strong for their size, so you may have to lean
your body forward to get enough force. Now with your other hand,
holding the brush, scrub the carapace really really hard. This
is important because 1: you'll make sure you get all the dirt
and grime off the crab and 2: the hard scrubbing will make the
crab dizzy, making it easier to handle later on. Keep scrubbing
until the back of the crab is clean, and that there's not much
movement from the legs because you stunned the crab with your
With the crab now dizzy, it's much easier to flip it over on to its back to clean the underside. Give the body and the legs a good scrubbing. You might want to hold on to some of legs and the claws as a precaution, just in case the crab snaps out of the trance and tries to pinch or stab you. Anyways, once you are satisfied with the cleaness of the crab, it's time to start cooking.
Other than meat, there is a bunch of other stuff inside a crab
that are not good for eating, and you'll have to take those things
out somehow. Many people steam or boil the crab first, and then
take it apart, because the crab is easier to take apart after
it's been cooked.
In order to take the crab apart, first you need to kill it, if it's still alive after all the things you've put it through. There are a couple way to kill crabs. One way I've come across is to lift the flap on the underside of the crab and then stick a sharp object through the small hole that is revealed. Another way I've heard is to jam something (a chopstick etc.) into the crab's mouth. You can also kill the crab by prying off the top shell off while the crab is still alive. A visitor to this site also mentioned that you can put the crab on a hard edge and smack it on the shell which will crush the crab's underside. This method makes it simple to take the legs and meat out of the carapace. Anyways, you don't have to do the above if you going to boil, steam the crab before taking it apart. Once you've killed the crab, you can take it apart, and below are the listed steps you need to do to preprare the crab for cooking. Note that the pictures are of a crab that's cooked. You can take a crab apart before or after it has been cooked.
1. Get the carapace off. There is a little crack or slit where the carapace joins with the rest of the body, so get your nails in there and pry the carapace off, revealing the inner contents. I guess you could use tools if you have trouble pulling the shell off, but I never did it that way, so I don't know how. After taking several crabs apart, I found that it's easiest to pry at the rear of the crab. It takes a bit more force to pry off the shell when the crab is still alive, and in this situation it's easier to pry from of the sides while holding down the legs on the other side. Don't throw away the carapace since there is some stuff in there that you can eat, and it is a good decoration for your dish.
Taking the carapace off the crab.
2. Go to the part of the carapace near the eyes. There should be some internal organs there, like the brain and such. Get rid of those by cutting or pulling them off. Leave the pasty looking stuff that is also in the carapace alone, because that is the so called "butter" of the crab and some people consider it the best part for eating. Note that Dungeness and red rock crabs are known better for their meat then their "butter", and the "butter" in these crabs are actually bitter unless fried and seasoned. The "butter" is also very high in cholesterol so it's not that good for your health.
3. Now that the carapace is off, go and find the mouth part of the crab. You could examine the many mandibles and appendages of the mouth if you are interested in biology, but otherwise, get a scissor and cut the entire mouth part off.
4. Flip the crab over. You'll see a triangular part on the underside near the rear of the crab. That is the crab's abdomen with the excretory and reproductive organs, and you don't want to eat that either, so get your nails into the crack again and pry the abdomen open, and cut the triangular piece of shell off.
Prying off the triangular abdomen
5. Flip the crab back upright and you can see that there's many loosely attached white coloured things that don't look like meat. Those are the crab's gills, which are obviously not good for eating, so get them all off.
Taking off the gills
And there you go, you've finished getting rid of all the unwanted parts of the crab. Everything that is left now is ready to be made into a nice dish, but you probably want to seperate the legs and the claws first. Usually you chop the crab in half lengthwise and the divide the legs however you want. The claw and the larger legs should be one piece by themselves while two smaller legs can be left together. Once you've divided you crab the way you want, you can start cooking.
Note: In the above pics the person actually ripped the legs off first and then cut the middle. You can do this if you like or follow the instruction in the paragraph above.
Much thanks to my grandparents for the pictures.