Growing up, each summer my family revered our week of vacation spent in Avon, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where the waves are real and the fresh seafood is unparalleled. One of my fondest memories from this annual adventure is the night my family reserved for North Carolina blue crabs.
I remember the layers of newspaper we’d lay out on the table, the piping hot steamed corn, the sodas that evolved into brewskis and the myriad of crab cracking tools that evolved into using only a single knife. The only parts that have remained the same over the years are the succulent taste of tender blue crab meat, the mess I’ve made while eating them and the quality time I’ve enjoyed with my family—and eventually my wife—as we’ve now adopted this tradition in our own home.
When most people think of blue crabs, they think of Maryland or North Carolina blue crabs. Or they’re straight up misinformed and assume they’re the same crabs as those Alaskan King Crabs that are caught, frozen, shipped across the country and sold at your local buffet. While there’s not anything wrong with Alaskan King Crabs, that’s like comparing a fine wine to the boxed stuff. Live blue crabs may be more expensive, harder to find and more work to eat, but there is no question that they are far superior in flavor . . . which brings me to my final point.
Yes, blue crabs require a bit of technique to carve out the meat (I recommend YouTube for figuring that part out). But I promise you it’s not too hard and totally worth it. It’s not a quick, on-the-go meal to be sure, rather the type of meal you devote a few hours to with family and friends.
Where to buy the crabs
Around our neck of the woods, most local seafood markets along the Chesapeake Bay and the North Carolina coast have some sort of hookup with a local crab charter. I’d recommend doing a little research in your area to find out which markets sell live blue crabs. Our go-to blue crab source is Knotts Island-based Jubilee Seafood Company, a weekly vendor at Old Beach Farmers Market at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. They not only have incredibly fresh seafood, from shrimp to tuna to scallops, but they’re sold at an unbeatable price. Here’s a tip: Subscribe to their weekly newsletter and reserve them ahead of time, especially if it’s a holiday weekend. Then if we’re craving crabs midweek, we’ll order a dozen or two from Dockside off of Shore Drive in Virginia Beach.
While most seafood markets will offer to cook them for you, it’s very easy to do yourself if you’re not trying to eat them right away. I usually get at least a dozen per two people.
How to Boil Blue Crabs
For 1 dozen blue crabs
I N G R E D I E N T S
1 dozen live blue crabs
1 crab boil packet (This can be found at a seafood market or grocery store.)
Old Bay seasoning
M E T H O D
Fill a large pot with water. Add the crab boil packet. Once the water reaches a rolling boil, use a pair of tongs to grab each crab and add them to the pot. Once all are added, cover the pot, then continue cooking on high for 10–12 minutes. Transfer the crabs to a strainer, then add them to a couple brown bags. Add a few tablespoons of Old Bay seasoning, fold the bag over and shake the bag around to ensure the crabs are evenly seasoned. Spread your crabs out on a newspaper-lined table, pop open a cold one and dig in!