crab legs atlantaPicking and eating crabs is an earthy, down-home way to enjoy these tasty crustaceans — but crabs don’t give up their treasures lightly. Picking crab meat takes time, but it’s pretty easy when you know some tricks and tips.

Step 1: Be Prepared to Make a Mess. 

Sorry, but pickin’ crabs ain’t dainty.  You might want to lay down some newspaper before you dig in.  Use a bowl for your cooked crabs, a bowl for good shells — you can use these for stocks and sauces — a bowl for the pure meat, and a trashcan nearby.

There are many ways to go about picking crabs, but you can start by removing all the legs and claws first. Do this by grabbing the very base of each leg and pulling it away. Set them aside for later.  Slip your finger under the plate and peel it back. Grab the base and pull the whole thing away.

Step 2: Separate The Good & Bad Stuff

The crab’s lungs appear as feathery cones lining the side of the body. Remove them all and throw them away. An old Atlanta wives’ tale says they’re toxic, but they’re actually just not digestible and they taste terrible.

Now scrape out the gooey stuff in the center of the crab’s body’s two equal solid parts. The greenish stuff is the liver, called the tomalley. You can eat it, and many love this part of the crab. If you have a female crab and you see bright orange stuff inside, that is tasty: It’s the roe or eggs, also called “coral” in shellfish. Coral is delicious when it’s warmed and served on toast or used in crab cakes. You can also add it to crab soups — in fact, it’s the key ingredient in she-crab soup.

There’s a lot of good meat in the body of most crabs, especially blue and Dungeness crabs. It’s located in cartilage-lined channels in each of the two equal sides of the body. You might only want to bother with this part if you have Dungeness or blue crabs, or any other crab with a top shell that’s wider than 5 1/2 inches. The bodies of smaller crabs are tasty, but you’ll do a lot of work for just a little meat. Add the bodies of smaller crabs into stocks and sauces instead to get that sweet crab flavor.

Step 3: Leg & Claw Meat

Start with the legs and claws by pulling the lower part of each claw off. This often pulls all the inner claw meat with it, but it’ll be attached to a hard, cartilaginous fin-shaped thing in the center. Just pinch the meat at the base of the claw and pull it away from the cartilage.

The meat inside the legs can best be extracted by breaking the joints backward. Just like with the claws, the meat will usually remain attached to a thin piece of cartilage. Just slip the meat from this cartilage. Again, you might only want to bother with this if you have large crabs.  Finish your crab by cracking the hard-shelled claws and knuckles. Some people in Atlanta like the knuckle meat the best — it has exceptional flavor.

All of this sounds like a lot of work, but for those of us who love crab, it’s well worth it.  Or you can let the ‘crab experts’ in Atlanta at Hook, Line and Schooner help you out.  We would love to show you the ropes of crab eatin’ any time!