Obviously there are plenty of places along the East Coast (and around the world, for that matter) where you can enjoy a fine plate of fresh seafood. Even with all that at our fingertips, there is nothing — I repeat, nothing — that can bring a Marylander more joy than picking blue crabs. Or, rather, Maryland crabs.
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I think I was in elementary school when I picked my first crabs — a late bloomer, by our state’s standards.
As far as I can remember, though, I was hooked as soon as I had my first taste of the sweet, buttery claw meat.
And now, as an adult, I CRAVE those blue crabs pretty much year round, and definitely in the warmer months.
Urban legend states that there are certain times of the year when crabs are the best — specifically, in the months without the letter “R” in their names, which ends up equating to:
May, June, July, August
Coincidence that they’re all summer-ish months?
I think not.
(Though, truth be told, I’ve picked crabs in “R” months and enjoyed them tremendously, thankyouverymuch.)
This year, they predict the crab population to be the best it’s been in years.
That’s great, both for the crabs themselves AND also for those of us who like our Maryland crabs caught in … erm … Maryland.
When they’re scarce, the demand doesn’t lessen, so they get more expensive (thank you Econ 101) and the fishermen have to go south to find them.
The reality is, picking crabs isn’t a cheap treat, even when the crabs are plentiful.
It’s an experience that’s akin to spending money on dinner and a movie, and most Marylanders will tell you the cost of picking crabs is worth every dime.
The 10 Best Things About Picking Maryland Crabs
1. Old Bay® for days.
I can’t bring up Maryland crabs without, of course, mentioning Old Bay.
That would make me a very bad Marylander.
Old Bay is an amazing mix of savory spices and salt that goes as perfectly with the sweet taste of crab meat as it does with drips of melted butter.
And, despite being most closely associated with those blue crabs, Old Bay is quite delicious when used in other ways, too.
If you haven’t yet tried is sprinkled on a freshly steamed and buttered corn-on-the-cob, then you’re truly missing out!
2. Steamed, not boiled.
Here in Maryland, they’re prepared properly unless the crabs are steamed.
The best crabs are the piping hot ones, and the meat just slips out of the shell, and then melts in your mouth.
No soggy, drippy-ness (unless you’re talking about butter on your chin).
3. Hours of crab-pickin’ fun.
Picking Maryland crabs is an EVENT.
It’s not something you try to squeeze in doing in an hour’s time, though I’m sure some try.
The best picking experiences span a few hours — an entire afternoon until dusk.
Dinnertime into late evening.
The point is to go slow, enjoy great laughs and conversation, don’t worry about the mess (on you or the table) and savor every. last. bite.
Pro tip: Use newspaper to cover your table, so that when you’re done, all you need to do is roll it up — shells and all — and throw it away.
Ideally pick crabs outside, and even more ideally pick crabs outside in a screen porch so the bugs don’t get you!
4. Beer. (Or soda.)
Copious amounts of beer tend to be the beverage of choice for most of my friends.
Truth be told though, I’ve always preferred an ice cold fountain cola with my crabs (or a super cold can if there’s no soda on tap).
I don’t even drink soda regularly, and aside from my husband’s diet cola, we don’t even have soda in the house.
Anyway, if you’re looking for a fun Maryland beer to pair with your crabs, try something from Flying Dog Brewery.
5. You’ll get injured, and you’ll enjoy it.
It’s inevitable, if I don’t start the crab picking process with a paper cut, or a hang nail, then I’m always destined to slice a finger on a claw, or some other bit of shell.
Still. It’s enjoyable because: PICKING CRABS.
You power through the pain, made worse by butter and Old Bay, and at some point the injury’s forgotten — until the first swipe of a moist towelette.
And even when your finger stings in that painful-but-not-serious way for the next week, you’ll smile with every twang because it reminds you of last Saturday when you picked crabs.
6. Crab houses are everywhere.
The further west you go, the fewer crab houses there are.
That said, Maryland isn’t a big state, and we all identify with the shore — even those who live in the western part over by the Panhandle and in the mountains.
If seafood’s what you want, you’ll find it.
And that goes for crab houses, too.
Hit up the coast, and you can barely drive a mile without seeing one!
7. Crabs to go.
Then again, going to a crab house isn’t always the favorite option.
I find pros with eating out (less mess) and pros with being home (relaxing).
Many crab houses and fish markets sell crabs for pick up — both live and already steamed, by the dozen or by the bushel.
Lots of variety in amount, and in size (small to jumbo).
8. All-you-can-eat crabs.
BUT, while getting a dozen jumbos to go can be relaxing, if you’re feeling particularly hungry, it’s always nice to settle in at a restaurant that has an all-you-can-eat crabs option.
For around $40, you can eat crabs until you feel silly-full, so long as you don’t mind picking a variety of sizes — you don’t typically get to choose.
They bring them out steamed by the dozen, which means they’re piping hot (see #2)!
9. Techniques can vary, but what matters is crab meat removal success.
Some Marylanders start by removing the claws and the legs first, then digging into the body.
I used to do that.
Then I discovered the crack-the-body-in-half-pull-the-legs-and-claws-out method that’s proven to give the best intact pull of crab meat around.
There’s nothing better than snapping a claw, giving a gentle tug, and then pulling out the sweet white meat, all in one giant piece.
A swirl in drawn butter is the only thing that makes it even more delectable (see #10).
10. Butter vs. vinegar vs. mayo/mustard vs. plain
I’m a drawn or melted butter woman with my crabs, hands down.
But there are plenty of other dipping options that others love to use, too, and I don’t begrudge them of their favorites.
Vinegar’s a popular choice, as-is a mixture of mayonnaise and mustard.
Some are purists and snub any sort of dip at all — aside from, perhaps, more Old Bay. Yum!