Live Dungeness crabs

So you’re ordering live crab for the first time because you read it’s the freshest, and now you’re realizing, “How do I keep this crusty guy scuttling till the big dinner?” We’ve got the info on diet, housing, and more to help you out.

Why You Want to Keep Your Crab Alive

You ordered live crab because you know it’s the freshest it can be. And when you order from Pacific Dreams Seafood, it will be delivered in 24 hours of delivery so it’s not waiting around too long. 

But surely if the crab dies and you go on to cook it a few days later, that’s not so bad? Actually, crustaceans have a liver that releases enzymes shortly after they die, which bleed into the crab meat and turn it into a mushy mess that’s unpalatable and even dangerous to eat. Crab meat should be cooked almost immediately after the crab is dead. 

Upon Delivery

All live dungeness crab from Pacific Dreams Seafood is delivered in tied-off plastic bags of nutrient rich cold seawater, which keeps them fed and mildly sedated for your handling. They have bands on their front claws as well, which comes in handy in a pinch. 

Housing Your Live Crab

Keep your crab in saltwater, stirred regularly to keep the oxygen replenished. This can be done in a simple cooler—a special tank is not necessary for short term storage of a small quantity of crab that an individual might get. A restaurant or store is another story, but they likely have a solution worked out already. You want to keep the crabs damp, cool, and aerated. If you’re keeping your crab for cooking longer than a day, you’ll need to invest in a well-aerated saltwater tank with a filtration system—this is important because they soil their environment fairly frequently.Feeding Your Live Crab
If you’re keeping your live crab alive in a tank longer term (2+ days) before cooking, you want to make sure they don’t starve. Your tank can be filled with nutrient-rich saltwater to keep them going. Over a longer term, crabs eat a variety of things, from clams and mussels to small fish. But unless you’re running a seafood restaurant, you really shouldn’t be ordering crab too far in advance of when you’re going to eat it. 

When It’s Time to Cook Your Crab

To prepare live crab from a live environment for eating, put it in the freezer first for about 15 minutes. Why? This numbs them up, making it much more humane when you boil them, not to mention less risky since you’ll have to take the rubber bands off their claws before they go in hot water. 

Always handle the crab from the back, holding its midsection—preferably with tongs for extra safety. Fill a pot with water, salt it well, and bring to a boil. While you wait, prepare an ice bath on the side. Lower the crabs into the boiling water with their legs facing down, and boil for about 15 minutes. Once they’re done, remove and place into the ice bath, to stop them from cooking more internally (you don’t want to overdo it). 

Once cooked, there’s a lot of cleaning and preparation to do, not to mention countless recipes to try.

That’s all there is to handling live crab! Feeling ready for your dungeness crab feast? 

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About the author: Jerod Goodin

Jerod is the founder of Pacific Dream Seafoods and a long time fisherman.