Maryland blue crabs are an iconic part of the state's culture. The seafood industry plays a large part in the state's economy, and locals and tourists alike savor their Maryland crabs. Blue crabs are named for their color before cooking, after which they turn red. For the freshest crabs, visit restaurants or order from local vendors in Baltimore or on the Eastern Shore. Maryland crabs can be eaten steamed or sauteed or broiled as crab cakes. A true Maryland crab feast would be incomplete without Old Bay seasoning.
While there is no industry standard for grading hard crabs, bluecrab.info recommends a general sizing rule. Male crabs, also known as "jimmies" come in four sizes. Colossal crabs measure 6 1/2 inches or more across. Jumbo crabs measure from 6 to 6 1/2 inches across. Large are 5 1/2 to 6 inches and medium crabs are 5 to 5 1/2 inches across. Small crabs measure 4 1/2 to 5 inches across and are usually mature females, called "sooks." It is illegal to harvest and keep immature female crabs.
The best size for eating are the large male Maryland crabs. The heavier the crabs are, the more meat they will contain. If a crab has recently molted, it will be lighter, full of water and will have less meat. Crabs that are nearing the end of their molting cycle will be heavier and full of meat, according to the bluecrab.info. When ordering crabs, there are usually three grades from which to choose. "Number One Jimmies" are the largest, meatiest male crabs. "Number Two Jimmies" are smaller male crabs with less meat. "Number Threes" are a mix of small, mostly female crabs.
Though Blue crab meat is available year-round, live crabs are most plentiful during warmer months. Summer is the most popular, plentiful season for crabs. However, quality can be inconsistent due to the crab's molting cycle. In the fall, crabs stop shedding and begin building up meat for the winter as the water cools. According to the Annapolis Seafood Market, some of the best tasting crabs can be found in the fall, known as "rusty" crabs. These crabs are hard, dark, full of meat and can look black or dirty.
How to Eat
The Annapolis Seafood Market makes the daunting process of eating a Maryland crab easy. To begin, you will need a knife, a crab mallet and many napkins. Start by pulling off the claws and legs. Position your knife in the middle of each of the two large claws and hit with the mallet. Gently crack open to find the sweet, dark meat inside. Turn the crab over so the white underside is face up. With your thumb or a knife, pull back the apron, which resembles the Washington Monument. After cracking off the apron, place your thumbs in the opening between the top and bottom of the crab and pull off the top shell. Remove the gills and yellow mustardlike substance. Break the remaining body in half, then break those remaining halves again to reveal chambers of white meat.
Where to Eat
Maryland crabs can be bought from wholesalers and restaurants and shipped throughout the country, live or steamed. However, the best way to enjoy them is in Maryland. Restaurants on the water provide the freshest catch in Baltimore, Annapolis or on the Eastern Shore. Try Canton Dockside in the Canton neighborhood of Baltimore, Costas Inn Restaurant southeast of the city in Dundalk or Cantler's Riverside Inn in Annapolis.
Canton Dockside 3301 Boston St. Baltimore, MD 21224 410-276-8900 cantondockside.com
Costas Inn Restaurant 4100 N. Point Blvd. Baltimore, MD 21222 410-477-1975 costasinn.com
Cantler's Riverside Inn 458 Forest Beach Road Annapolis, MD 21409 410-757-1311 cantlers.com