How to Eat Dungeness Crab

Things You'll Need

  • Shell cracker

  • Crab fork

  • Napkins

  • Finger bowl

Dungeness crab is a medium-sized crustacean, 6 to 10 inches across, native to the U.S. West Coast. It is highly regarded in culinary circles for its full, almost buttery, flavor, but eating one can be intimidating for the first-timer. The broad top shell is ridged with small spines, as are its six legs and two large claws. The spines are not sharp or poisonous, so while there is no real danger, be forewarned--things are going to be messy. There's no way around this fact, so resign yourself to dig in with both hands, use lots of napkins and enjoy.

Preparing to Eat

Step 1

If you are eating your crab at home, take the cooked whole crab to the sink, peel back the "tab" at the bottom rear of the crab and pull the whole shell off from the rear. Discard the shell. In finer restaurants, your crab arrives with its carapace (large upper shell) removed.

Step 2

Break the crab down the middle by bending outward from the bottom.

Step 3

Remove the gills, which are the rubbery appendages on the top of each half.

Step 4

Rinse the two halves.

Eating the Crab

Step 1

Get some napkins and a dipping bowl for rinsing your fingers. A serving of crab consists of legs attached to the chambered inner shell of the body. The legs are heavily armored, and you will have to crack the shell to get to the meat inside.

Step 2

Break off a leg or claw by pulling it away from the other legs. A piece of the body should come with it.

Step 3

Tease the meat out of the chambered body shell with your crab fork. A less elegant, but far more efficient, method is to peel apart the sections with your fingers and pull the meat out with your teeth.

Step 4

Take each leg section by section. Crack a section of the leg with your shell cracker (or use your teeth) and use your hands to open it enough to pull the meat out with your crab fork.

Step 5

Eat the crabmeat straight from the shell or dip the meat in your favorite sauce. Garlic butter and cocktail sauce are perennial American favorites, but a spicy Thai curry is an adventure worth trying.


The best crab fork available is on the crab itself. The end of one of its feet or the hinged part of its claw is the perfect tool for removing meat from the shell. After you're finished, don't forget to wash your hands and face and wipe down everything within arm's reach of your plate.