How To Cook and Clean A Dungeness Crab

by formerchef on November 30, 2013

How to Cook and Clean a Dungeness Crab on

This is part 3 in an ongoing series about crab which includes Crab 101 (all you ever wanted to know about Crabs) and Stone Crab with Traditional Mustard Sauce. More to come…

How to Cook:
It’s Dungeness Crab season right now, September to June, on the Pacific Coast of North America. Much of the time you will find whole crabs already cooked and chilled. If not, and you’re buying live crabs, then the rule of thumb is to steam or boil them for 7-8 minutes per pound.  If boiling in multiple crabs, start timing when the water comes back to a boil. Base the number of minutes needed for cooking on the average crab weight, not the total weight.

Once your crab is cooked, rinse under cool water until just cool enough to handle. The crab in the photo below is a cooked crab. You can tell because the shell has turned from a blue/gray when alive to a bright orange when cooked.

How to Clean Dungeness Crab

How to clean the crab:

Turn the crab on its back and remove the triangular shaped flap called the “apron” and discard.

How to Clean Dungeness Crab
Hold the crab vertically and pull the top shell (called the carapace) away from the body and set aside. Rinse and clean the top shell and reserve if you want to use in your presentation.

How to Clean Dungeness Crab

How to Clean Dungeness Crab
Remove the gills/lungs and discard. Remove the mandible (mouth) and discard.

How to Clean Dungeness Crab
Rinse the body and and then cut or break in half down the center.

How to Clean Dungeness Crab

How to Clean Dungeness Crab
Cut the legs into sections through the body. How to Clean Dungeness Crab
Gently crack the legs with a mallet or the back side of a heavy knife or cleaver.

To serve, place the cracked legs on a platter or individual plates with your choice of sauce and fresh lemon wedges. If presenting a whole crab, arrange the legs as they would be on a live crab with the body pieces toward the center and place a cleaned carapace (top shell) on top.

  • If serving cold, chill in the refrigerator until ready.
  • If serving hot, serve immediately or rewarm in steamer basket for 30 seconds.
  • Serve cold with cocktail sauce, fresh wedges of lemon, garlic aioli, or for a classic 1950’s throwback, Russian dressing.
  • Serve hot with melted butter, fresh wedges of lemon, garlic butter or stir-fry Singapore style with chilies and tomato.

How to Clean Dungeness Crab

To eat, remove the crab meat with your fingers or pick it out with a small oyster fork, lobster pick, or the tip of a crab claw.

Provide discard bowls for your guests to place the empty shells, and plenty of napkins or even hot damp towels for cleaning hands at the end of the meal.

If you like these types of “how to” posts, let me know. I’d love to hear from you!


1 Kate November 30, 2013 at 8:19 pm

I’ve enjoyed all of your posts, and especially so the “how-tos”. Please continue them whenever your muse suggests. 🙂 Thanks.

2 formerchef November 30, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Thank you Kate. Sometimes it’s tough to tell because it seems like people rarely leave comments any more. But I always appreciate it when they do!

3 Kate November 30, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Hey, you’re my favorite cooking blog now. 🙂
But I know what you mean; sometimes the whole world seems to be looking for the “like” button, and have forgotten how to type anything else.

4 formerchef November 30, 2013 at 10:53 pm

Aw, that is so nice to hear! Yes re: Facebook and liking, I think you are right. I love it when people “like” and comment on FB too, but they keep changing their algorithm and now I’m lucky if more than 10% of the people who have liked my FB page actually see anything I post. And I’m not willing to pay to promote there.

5 Kenny Lukas November 30, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Finally, a site that shows each step in detail THANK YOU !!!! as far as FB is concerned I’m glad that someone is standing up to these money grubbing extortionist bullies. I say FFB they are changing a wonderful internet into a garbage dump of ads.

6 tracy December 7, 2014 at 6:08 pm

love your concise and easy to follow instructions!

7 Julia Carlson January 12, 2015 at 7:04 am

I have always wanted to try making fresh dungeness crab, but I never knew how! I tried to take it all apart like you’ve shown, but I wasn’t very good at it. It probably just takes practice. I think I’ll try it again this weekend. I’ll look up your article again so I can see how to prepare it step by step.

8 Laverne July 21, 2015 at 8:20 am

I’d love to try cooking a crab! I really find it very tasty but I had no idea how to clean it! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

9 Dr. Jeffrey September 22, 2015 at 11:29 am

Your great explanations and photos make what initially seemed like an intimidating task a very do-able chore. Crab season has arrived and I am going to use your lesson to make sure I “do it right”. Thanks for the assistance! Much appreciated.

10 sue October 8, 2015 at 1:30 pm

Liked the pix detail feel confident I can duplicate instructions. Have never prepared fresh crab before and needed step by step instructions!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks so much.:+)

11 Patrick May 27, 2016 at 11:29 am

Just discussing this last night with my neighbor….how do you clean a dungeness crab? Thanks for the photos and instructions. We live in Missouri so I’ll have to settle for frozen crab.

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