Crack a crab
  |  First Published: November 2013

Lynn Bain shows us a detailed photo sequence on extracting crab meat from the shell, in this case a delicious sand crab.

First cook your crabs. Around 7 minutes is the cooking time for sand crabs. Bring a pot of water to the boil and place the crabs into the boiling water. You time the cooking time from when the water comes back to the boil.

I cook sand crabs on the stove in a clear lidded Baccarat 16.5 litre stock pot and I’ll fill it from half to three-quarters full with water and bring that to the boil. This sized pot and the associated volume of water is very important. Smaller pots will boil over and will limit the amount of crabs that you can cook at a time. The larger deep sided pot allows you a larger volume of water to crab ratio which will therefore heat back to the boil quicker. Although the clear lid does steam up, it still allows you to see what is going on inside the pot without having to lift the lid (remember escaping steam burns).

Step 1. To make things easier to view in the photographs, we start with the underside of the crab upwards. Now, remove the two large claws by breaking them off at the body. Set the claws aside for cracking and removing the meat later.

Step 2. Hold the crab in one hand and with the other hand lift up under the tip of the tail flap to start to remove the top shell.

Step 3. A handy oyster knife is a great ‘secret-tip’ to use when cracking apart a crab. The blunt knife slots in well under the tip of the tail flap to pry it up.

Step 4. Prise the rear of the carapace away from the body. If you are having trouble prising the rear of the shell away, then relocate your effort to one of the ‘points’ and then to the point on the other side. The carapace may also prise away from the face/front. Don’t despair, the carapace will lever off.

Step 5. Grip the eye-socket frame and mouth and pull (or cut off) the face, mouth and eye stalks of the crab where it joins the body and remove the internal organs by scraping them out with a knife or brush (or spoon).

Step 6. Pull off the gills (aka dead man’s fingers) and discard them into the compost (or berley). Remove the gills form both sides.

Step 7. Discard any intestines that have remained with the body (hopefully most of the intestines will have gone with the carapace). You may wash/rinse the crab at this point in order to remove any “muck” that may get in the way of your seeing what you are doing.

Step 8. Use a large heavy meat cleaver to split the body down the centre.

Step 9. Much of the white meat in the body of the crab is located in the chambers separated by thin walls of cartilage/shell. To access this meat, using the Boker ceramic paring knife, make a flat cut from front to back of the underside of the crab, just above the leg joints. This cut is important because it shaves the shell like ‘top’ off the body, thereby exposing the flesh. Repeat the process for the other side of the crab. Having left the legs on helps in giving you something to hold onto when making the cut. Do the other side as well.

Step 10. Lever off (do not pull off) the remaining legs where they join the body. It is advisable to keep the thumb of the other hand pressed securely over the body meat when removing these cuts.

Step 11. Once all the legs are off, get out the crab picker and start removing the meat from the body pieces (make sure you don’t get any of the cartilage mixed in with the body meat…it’ll add crunch to your sandwiches and crab cakes)

Step 12. Crack the joint to give you just the biggest part of the claw to work on. The less willy-nilly cracking of shell that you do the less the risk of getting the teeny weeny pieces of shell in your mouth when eating it later. (tip: some of the joints are best sucked out, peeler’s perks)

Step 13. Then crack the claw near to the scissor joint with either crab crackers or nutcrackers. Then gently break the claw open with your fingers and remove the shell. Then remove the exposed meat. Remove any flecks of shell and the internal clear membranes from the meat and reserve the meat. Continue the procedure on the other claw.

Step 14. Alternatively you can tap the claw with a heavy all-metal steak knife (or small hammer) just below the pincher (both sides) to make a straight, clean cut in the shell.

Step 15. Open up both pincers and get the meat out if you like, not much on meat reward from a sand crab, but a reasonable return with lots of flavour on a big mud crab.

Step 16. I like to crack the knuckle-joints away from all long pieces that you are trying to remove meat from, thus you have just a single section of crab leg to work on.

Step 17. Then crack the outer shell of the long piece that you are working on – crack it all the way around

Step 18. Then pull the broken pieces apart from each other ad now lift out the meat. Hopefully it comes in one piece – if not then it’s time to employ those D-line brand crab pickers and push the picker through from one end which will force the meat out of the wider open end in one-piece – if not a crab picker then use a crab claw.

Some of the smaller segments from the legs are best squeezed to get the meat out.

Step 25. The reserved crab meat ready to be used in crab cakes. Everybody should confidently have their own specialty crab cake recipe in their bag of tricks. Another, very sensible option is to use the bigger pieces of crab flesh in the classic crab meat sandwich; and reserve the smaller pieces of crab meat from a few crabs for your crabs cakes. You should get approx. 125g of meat per sand crab.

Fact Box


Oyster knife

Brush (not shown)


Nutcrackers/crab crackers

Paring knife

Kitchen shears (optional)

Crab pickers


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