When Dungeness crab season starts on the West Coast (usually between November and December, depending on location), there’s a mad dash by consumers to cook and eat as many fresh live crabs as possible before it ends. Steaming whole crabs and cleaning them might sound intimidating, but the process is relatively easy: Just boil the crabs, remove a few select pieces of the shell, clean out a few squidgy bits, and rinse. The real fun is cracking and picking them. Make sure to have seafood crackers or small hammers on hand to get at all of the sweet, flaky meat. If you find yourself with leftover crabmeat, use it in Crab Cakes or Crab and Fontina Stuffed Mushrooms.
Special equipment: Once your crab is cooked and cleaned, extract the meat by cracking the claws, legs, and body open with small hammers or seafood crackers like these.
Game plan: Fresh live crab should be purchased and cooked the same day—the crabs can only be stored in the refrigerator for a few hours once taken out of their holding tanks.
If your crab is not exactly 2 pounds, calculate about 7 to 8 minutes of steaming time per pound (after the water returns to a boil). If you’re cooking more than one crab at a time, calculate the average weight by taking the total weight of the crabs and dividing by the number of crabs you have. Use this average weight to determine your total steaming time, about 7 to 8 minutes per pound. And be sure to use an extra-large pot with a tightfitting lid.