Types of Alaskan Crab: How to Choose the One for You

Crab meat is a seafood staple that shows how deceptive outward appearance can be — sometimes the best things lie beneath the surface. In this case, buttery-sweet meat is the reward for anyone who takes a crack at this crustacean cuisine. But all crab meat is not the same. Multiple bodies of water are teeming with unique crab species that differ in size, weight and taste. Among these places, Alaska and the Bering Sea stand out. Alaska provides 29 percent of the world supply of crab.

Alaskan waters house an array of delicious crab breeds ready to be split open for your next meal. However, several factors influence the quality and kind of crab that suit your taste buds. The location of the crab’s damp scurrying grounds — and later on, the location on the crab that you crack open to nibble — create a radically different dining experience.

Whether your crab is bought on a trip to the coast or ordered by mail, you can indulge your craving. With such an array of crab available, your preferences will undoubtedly be satisfied. Check out the winning qualities, purchasing tips and cooking recommendations for each type of crab below.

Alaskan King Crab

Alaskan King crabs are the primary choices for leg and claw meat — and they come in primary colors. King crab is overwhelmingly chosen as a favorite and highly ranked against other breeds.

Red, Blue and Golden King crabs make their rounds in the Pacific Ocean, but each breed clusters in a separate area due to biological adaptations. They also differ in price and popularity, and Red King crab is consumed more than Blue or Golden. However, Blue, in the soft-shell style, is a favorite in many circles. The common characteristics of Alaskan King crabs are spiky, knobby shells and equal leg-to-body proportions.

Red King Crab

Touting the iconic scarlet shade of crab, Red King crab dominates the field. They set up camp in shallower depths, just like Blue King crab, but they’ve adapted to warm-water settings and ventured into places where Blue King can’t go. They flourish even in size compared to the Blue and Golden variations, and when cooked, their color ripens to accentuate their deep red shell. Red is the most widely eaten King crab. These appetizing stone crabs are plucked from Bristol Bay and Norton Sound.

Because of their enormous popularity, Red King crab prices are higher than its crab competitors. The most recent data marks the average price of Red King at $10.71/lb. For the savory taste of the Red King, the demand is still constant despite a slightly higher price. Indulge in this massive crab to see what everyone is raving about.

Long Red King crab legs will immediately turn your meal into a feast. To ensure freshness for your dinner table, we cook Red Kings directly after the fishermen have captured them. Maine Lobster Now also provides pre-cooked crab that’s easily defrosted. You can heat your pre-cooked crab at home using many methods, but baking and steaming carefully warm the tender meat. Boiling is also an option, but the fragile flesh dazzles with the first two methods. Grab your sheller, and slather on the butter.

Blue King Crab

Blue King crab, a smaller version of the popular Red King, is delicious and vibrantly colored. These crabs shy away from warm water, congregating in nooks of cold water around the Bering Sea and nearby islands, like King Island, Point Hope and Norton Sound. Rich chunks of King crab meat come from these oddly colored crabs.

The less insisted upon Blue King is cheaper than Red King but more expensive than the Golden King. Averaging at $8.49/lb., Blue King is an affordable option that retains the savory, buttery taste of the King species. The sapphire shell may be nontraditional, but this type does not disappoint. Once cooked, the blue shell takes on red tones and becomes hard to distinguish. Garlic is the perfect addition to toss in with your Blue King crab. Include mined or sauteed garlic in your classic clarified butter dipping sauce.

Soft-shell crab is not a species but refers to the state of the crab’s shell when it’s caught and cooked. Crabs do not have the luxury of expanding skin. When they grow up or gain weight, they have to develop an entirely new shell. After crabs molt their old shells, and before they’re solidly protected with new cozy ones, they’re left vulnerable and ready to become someone’s soft-shell dinner. Blue King crabs undergo this molting process, and with the easier access, you can savor their body meat.

Golden King Crab

Golden King crab is also referred to as Brown King crab, and it’s found throughout the Pacific —as far as the Aleutian Islands and even Japan. These modestly sized creatures do not contain as much filling as the Blue and Red King, and they’re the mildest of the King crabs, with only a subtly sweet flavor. Their meat is special and striking, as bright red streaks accent the pure white flesh.

Due to their lesser value and lack of commercial benefit, Golden King is the least expensive of the King crab types. Like Blue and Red King, Golden legs are the best part of the crab to sink your teeth into — after removing the metallic shell, of course. Shelling or clipping into the outer layer will be easy enough to do after heating. Remember to wash the shell thoroughly in order to avoid an overly salty taste. The sweet and creamy insides are best consumed after all remnants of the sea are removed.

Russian King Crab

An Atlantic contender for Alaska-based species is the Russian King crab. Its natural home is the Barents Sea, close to Greenland and Norway, and the farthest eastern side of Russia has a low population of King crab. The Bering Sea is directly in between Russia and Alaska, so they share similar crab species due to proximity.

However, the same rust-colored crab species in the Barents Sea has been booming. Because the species was introduced into the Bering Sea, it has the same enormous size and strong flavor as Alaskan King crab. The Russian King crab is spreading throughout this region, and the seafood is becoming plentiful.

Russia is a leading exporter of King crab, and a short nine months has produced 44,000 tons of crab from this country. The type of crab caught in Russia is often mistaken for Alaskan King crab due to confusion over species. These two are kept separate from each other by location.

When fixing Russian King crab, the same concepts apply: Preserve the delicate flesh, and pair it with creamy side dishes. Side dishes can complement your crab dish and make the main course, your clawed favorite, shine.

Jonah Crab vs. Dungeness Crab

The Atlantic and Pacific hold two remarkably similar crab species: the Jonah crab and Dungeness crab. These two look identical but show up on opposite coasts: Jonah is found in the Atlantic, while Dungeness is in the Pacific.

Dungeness crab is a high-demand product for North America, stealing the crab crowd’s heart with its sweet flesh. The original location of the Dungeness crab is below Alaska, in Washington state, but the crab is a renowned choice for many seafood aficionados. The body of Dungeness crabs is significantly larger than its stubby legs, so harvest the abdomen of the critter for your salty-sweet course.

Jonah crab originates in Atlantic waters, but it shares many similarities with the Dungeness crab and can be substituted for east-coast dwellers. These deep-sea creatures became popular after stowing away in lobster hauls, and their oval bodies store a delectable but mild meat.

Purchase Jonah crab to maintain an affordable crab meat with a softly sweet flavor and a white, flaky look. Jonah crab claws are an excellent culinary choice. To increase their saltiness, add pungent seasonings to the claws or meat, especially for oven-baking. Cook the claws before scoring them for an effortless shell separation. Also, because this meat is low cost but equally tasty, incorporate it into crab cakes and other mixed crab dishes.

Snow Crab, Tanner Crab, Opilio and Bairdi Explained

Snow crab, or Tanner crab, is fished out of the Bering Sea and Pacific locations as well as the Maine coast and the upper Atlantic Ocean. These light crustaceans weigh only about a few pounds, and their small but pokey pincers pack a punch — at least for their predators. Their legs and pincer will impact you with big taste, and your bare hands are tools enough to break apart the cluster of crab segments and shell.

These crabs also go by several names: Tanner, Snow, Opilio and Bairdi. Fortunately, they can be simplified so that you know what kind of tiny claws to sample. The two main branches of Snow even crossbreed, which is why these names end up being interchangeable. Snow crab, or Opilio, resides around the Alaskan Peninsula and the Pribilof Islands. They’re the smaller of the two subcategories of Tanner crab, weighing around one to two pounds. Southern Tanner crab, or Bairdi, is weightier, with a bit more meat inside. It weighs about two to four pounds.

The distinction does not extend to the market, because both Opilio and Bairdi fall under “Snow crab.” They’re more affordable than any other type of crab, averaging a price of $1.29/lb. If manageable bunches of crab appeal to your dining experience, Snow crab also will look attractive to your wallet.

This hands-on delicacy carries a pleasant, fibrous texture. Compared to its larger counterparts, Snow crab is healthier, with less fat. The thin legs and claws will give substantial protein while keeping your calories down.

Although Snow crab is dwarfed by King crab, they’re cooked using the same methods. Boiling, steaming, frying and baking Snow crabs all warm their light pink flesh to the perfect point. Consider adding lemons for a hint of tang.

Hair Crab: Alaska’s Mystery

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Hair crab, or Hairy crab like the Hong Kong specialty, is a less popular but unforgettable Alaskan catch. From Puget Sound to the Aleutian Islands, Hair crab is known for its fuzzy outer texture. If you’re trying to mark new and exotic crab types off your bucket list, this one is worth trying. It normally spans 1.4 inches and is softer than other kinds.

The Chinese version of the Hairy crab is treasured for the female’s roe, which contains a powerfully sweet kick. Cooking Hairy crab in China is straightforward — simply steam it. Vinegar and ginger replace the traditional butter dipping sauce, which offsets the jolt of sweetness. Hairy crab is wildly expensive from the craze and curiosity, and it even rose to approximately $31.80/lb.

Storing and Cooking Tips

If you purchase frozen crab, store it the correct way to keep your other refrigerator items uncontaminated and safe. A container that’s watertight and sufficiently sealable is vital. Your frozen crab meat will begin to drain water as it defrosts, which can get messy. If you want to avoid a puddle the size of the ocean in your fridge, properly store the crab.

Also, section off a space in your fridge away from other kinds of meat — especially anything raw. Crab is nutritious and protein-rich, but it’s necessary to maintain a bacteria-free cooking space.

Depending on if you cook your crab in the oven, boil it, steam it or fry it, follow these suggestions to wow your guests, friends, family — even yourself.

  • Steam precooked and defrosted crab legs for about 4-6 minutes, and judge if they’re heated by the particular aroma that rises from the pot. If you forgot to defrost your crab — it happens to the best of us — simply rinse the ice from the shell and steam for 6-10 minutes. You’ll smell the tenderness of the meat — so lick your lips and get ready to crack your boiled crab legs open.
  • The optimal broiling time is around 3-5 minutes. Remember to score the shell before placing the crab in the oven.
  • Baking crab often involves wrapping clusters in foil. If you only have legs, place them directly on the pan and in the oven. For uncovered crab, bake at 350 degrees for 7-10 minutes. For covered crab, crank up the heat to 400 degrees for 6-8 minutes.

Completing Your Crab Meal

With a flavorful main course, choose side dishes that complete the distinct flavor of your crab rather than upstaging it. Each type of crab, whether sweet, flaky, buttery or fibrous, deserves a specific side dish that pinpoints its strength. Here are the best pairings based on crab meat flavor and texture:

  • If you have staggeringly sweet crab meat, like Hairy crab or Snow crab, opt for a zesty or acidic side like lemon or ginger.
  • For savory or salty-sweet meat, like Alaskan King Crab, capitalize on creamy and buttery sides. Olive oil alternatives with piles of vegetables also make this a mighty duo. Whether Red, Blue or Golden, your King crab will be robustly matched.
  • When your crab meat has a faintly sweet note, like Dungeness or Jonah crab, select starchy options. Lightly sweet crab combined with potatoes is the go-to arrangement, and corn on the cob is an appropriate tradition to continue.

With these compatible blends of flavors at your fingertips, you can confidently purchase the centerpiece of your meal. Maine Lobster Now carries live, fresh and frozen crab with easy-to-follow instructions and overnight delivery. Our selection of Alaskan crab can rapidly reach your doorstep to cure your watering mouth. We’ll send fresh, flavorful crab straight from their habitats directly to your home, so order now!