How to prep live Atlantic Crab for cooking

First things first – I know that this is not a post for everyone.  I certainly respect peoples choice to not consume formally living beings (or take part in the killing of animals to consume).  This is a post on how to process live crab and prepare it for cooking and then consumption and it will include photos we took of the process that we learned while in Nova Scotia.

How to prep live Atlantic Crab for cooking Crab Cooking Recipes

Do not click to see more unless you are prepared to see how crab is prepared for eating – and by preparing, I do indeed mean killing by any other name.  For those I offend, I respect your decision to do otherwise and can only state that it is with full awareness that we make the choice to consume animals and try to make choices we consider honorable and respectful to the world around us.

Part of that respect is a piece of guilt that comes with the harvest – it is not something we take lightly.

I don`t remember eating crab when I visited relatives in Nova Scotia as a child.  It seemed to appear from nowhere about 15 years ago, roughly at the same time the Cod started to disappear.  Some feel the coming and the goings of Cod and Crab are related (claiming crab eat the eggs of the Cod before they hatch).  Others blame the shrimp, overfishing or foreign boats.

Crab fishing began slowly – it was an extremely easy business to enter for some time.  Licenses and boats were affordable (I heard rumors that you could be set up for $20,000-$50,000) before skyrocketing (again, based on rumors, I understand the cost of a license – if you could get one – inflated between $200,000-$500,000).

Whatever the price, Atlantic Crab has become a big business in Nova Scotia.  The crabs are smaller than the monsters that are now synonymous with Alaska.  They are tender, wonderful eating.  And, if you are on the coast at the right time, they are very affordable.

When you purchase them (live), the best bet is to keep them cold on ice.  They are much more sedate than Lobster at this state and there is little chance or getting bitten.  I still like to keep my guard up (I dont think they actually would bite if they could but I`ll let others test the waters):

How to prep live Atlantic Crab for cooking Crab Cooking Recipes

The best place to clean them is on the shore of the ocean.  The task can get messy and it`s handy to have abundant salt water to rinse them in.  You simply need a knife (a steak knife will do) and a rock or piece of wood that won`t move when you pry the crab open (similar to how a beer can is opened with an opener).

Grab a set of legs in each hand with the face of the crab looking away from you.  Place the “nose” of the crab on said rock and pry the top open.  This brings an instant end to the life of the crab.  It takes very little strength and even less skill.

The next task is to split the legs into two – do this by bringing your hands together.

Toss the pairs of legs in the water to rinse – take care to keep close as seagulls tend to hover at this point, looking for a free bite.

Once the legs are rinsed, clean anything off that isn’t white.  This usually amounts to dark grey gills and some odd-looking innards that are easily wiped away with your knife and finger.

Place them back on plenty of ice and cook as soon as possible – simply steam them in salted water.  We`ll talk more about that (and how to eat them), later!

To see how to preserve crab meat for up to two years, click here (where you will also find a link on how to transport frozen crab meat for 2 days without refrigeration).


  1. Thank you! I have been looking online trying to figure out how to prep a crab for a chili crab recipe I found and was having no luck. The pictures are very helpful. :)


  1. [...] Preserved – don't get crabby, this is how we cook crabs down east. addthis_url = [...]

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