How to Tell If Crab Legs Are Cooked

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King crab legs are typically served with drawn butter.
Image Credit: dapan photography/Moment/GettyImages

Crab legs are a delicious but relatively pricey treat, which means taking extra care to make sure you prepare them properly and neither overcook nor undercook them. First, you need to know whether or not the crab legs were already cooked before you bought them. (Hint: They almost certainly were.)

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Once you've established that the crab legs are cooked, you need to know the best way to reheat them. The goal is to ensure the crab legs are heated all the way through without overcooking the crab meat.

Is the Crab You Bought Already Cooked?

If you purchased crab legs from a fishmonger, the fish counter at a market or in a package from the frozen section of the grocery store, then they are undoubtedly fully cooked. This is true whether you are buying them chilled or frozen and whether they're king, snow, stone or any other kind of crab legs. Commercially caught crab legs are cooked and then flash frozen immediately after the crabs are caught, sometimes right on the boat or as soon as they're brought in to the docks.

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Furthermore, you should never purchase uncooked crab legs. The only safe way to sell uncooked crab is by the whole, live crab, which will still have its legs attached. If you're having any doubt about whether crab legs are cooked, look for visual cues – raw crab has a greenish-brown shell, and cooked crab has a white and pink or reddish shell. You can also check the crab leg packaging or ask the fishmonger if the crab legs you're buying are fully cooked.

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How to Reheat Cooked Crab Legs

Unless you want to eat the crab legs chilled, you'll need to reheat them by boiling, steaming, grilling or broiling. The cooking time will depend on the method you choose and the weight of the crab legs, which ranges considerably from spindly clusters of snow crab legs to whopping 1-pound king crab legs the size of your arm. However, know that the reheating time should be in the range of five to 10 minutes and no longer than that, or you risk overcooking and ruining the crab meat. Remember that crab legs are already cooked, so aim to just heat the meat through without any additional cooking.

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If the crab legs are frozen, thaw them in the refrigerator overnight. Boil thawed crab legs fully immersed in salted water for four to five minutes for medium-sized crab legs weighing 4 to 8 ounces; steaming takes a few minutes longer. Broil or grill crab legs for three to four minutes per side. For larger or smaller crab legs, add or subtract a minute or two from the cooking time for each method.

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How to Tell if Crab Legs Are Done

Crab legs are almost always cooked when you purchase them and only require reheating, so it can be difficult to tell when they are hot all the way through. The color of the shell won't change with reheating, but you should detect a fresh seafood aroma when the crab meat has become hot. You can also test one crab leg – crack it open, and if the crab meat is steaming and hot inside, then the others are probably ready to eat as well.

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