How to Kill, Cook, & Eat Dungeness Crab

hatchet sitting next to crab shells on a cutting board, next to a cast iron skillet full of butter and herbs and crab meat

“One of the best seafood the West Coast has to offer is without a doubt Dungeness crab, and when it comes to seafood, fresh is always best. This recipe isn’t for the faint of heart and requires some legwork on the part of your dinner guests, but in this case, the juice is definitely worth the squeeze. There is nothing better than fresh Dungeness crab meat dripping with seasoned butter, and the experience of getting hands-on with your food with friends is a memorable one. This dish is best served with crusty grilled bread, ice-cold white wine, and good friends who aren’t shy about getting their hands dirty for their food.”

– Connor Gabbott, Backcountry Chef

hands removing garlic peels over a wooden cutting board with measuring tools and a microplane

This recipe requires the chef to kill their food before they cook it, something that most of us are quite removed from in this day and age. Owning the process from the catch to the plate can be messy, but also a very rewarding experience. It will give you a new respect for where our food comes from and how valuable every ounce of meat on your plate is.

ingredients black background yellow text


2 Dungeness crabs, alive and kicking

Seasoned Butter

¼ lb Salted butter
6 cloves Garlic, peeled
½ cup Parsley leaves. Substitute any other herbs you like—dill, tarragon, chives, etc., would all work well
1 Lemon, zested and juiced
¼ tsp Dill seed
½ tsp Old Bay seasoning
½ tsp Sambal oelek or your favorite chili paste

Preparation black background yellow text


1. Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil and season generously with salt. The water should taste like the ocean.
2. With one hand, grab the two hindmost legs on a crab and place the crab face down on a flat surface.
3. With your other hand, grab the back section of the shell on both sides.
4. In a quick and forceful motion, pull the shell up and forward and remove it completely.
5. Clean off any pieces of the innards that aren’t a transparent white. There is almost no meat in the middle of the crab.
6. Using an ax or cleaver, split the crab into two halves.
7. Clean the crab again; all that should remain is the shell filled with transparent white meat.
8. Boil the crab halves for 10 minutes at a rolling boil.
9. Remove the crabs from the water and place onto a work surface such as a large cutting board.

Seasoned Butter

1. Finely chop the garlic and parsley and combine in a pan with Old Bay, lemon zest, dill seed, and sambal oelek.
2. Bring the butter to a simmer over low heat and cook for 3 minutes to infuse the flavor.
3. Before serving, juice the lemon into the butter and reheat quickly.

A note on serving crab:

Because the process of cleaning and eating crabs can be messy, it is suggested to serve them family-style on a large work surface. Alternatively, the dining table can be covered in newspaper and the crab can be served and eaten right off the newspaper. Provide the necessary tools to crack and pick the crab as well as a bowl for the cleaned shells.