What's So Special About Costco's King Crab?

Costco has built its name on bulk deals. Four-gallon vats of mayonnaise, 7-pound tubs of Nutella, and giant pies for cheap — such is the Costco way. It's fitting then, that the warehouse retailer is now offering one of the largest crab species in the world. Red king crab, also known as Alaskan king crab, is the largest commercially-fished crab, weighing up to 24 pounds with a formidable 5-foot leg span. Its meat is highly-prized for its rich flavor, but it comes at a price.


Costco is selling wild-caught king crab legs for $43.99 per pound, according to a Reddit post from a customer who snapped a picture of the price tag. But of course, they're not selling it by the pound. This is Costco after all, and in keeping with their bulk-buying ethos, the king crab is offered in 10-pound boxes — that's $439.99 for a box. This price is much higher than Costco's previous king crab deals, but it has been years since this kind of crab has appeared at the store. Serious concerns about overfishing have put king crab populations at risk, and thrown its future as a culinary delicacy into question.

Why king crab legs are so prized

There are three species of king crab in the waters off Alaska: red king crab, blue king crab, and golden king crab. Of the three, red king crab is by far the most popular, being much larger than the others, but there's more to its appeal than size. Its tender meat is prized for its rich, sweet flavor, which more closely resembles lobster meat than it does other types of crab. The one downside is that its thick, spiny shell can be difficult to crack, requiring the use of a crab mallet or cracker.


Costco sells king crab legs and claws together, but you can also buy a particular portion of the leg known as the Merus cut. The Merus is the largest segment of the leg, extending from the crab's body to the first joint. Each Merus segment is about the size and shape of a cigar, providing the most meat out of any king crab cut. The meat is pre-cooked because crab spoils very quickly and the FDA recommends that it only be purchased live or pre-cooked. This will require reheating the crab legs.

King crab populations are in trouble

King crab is a rare sight at Costco, especially in recent years, as Alaskan king crab fisheries have come under scrutiny. The Bering Sea, where many of these fisheries are based, experienced a devastating heat wave in 2019 that raised water temperatures and melted sea ice, completely upending the local ecosystem. Subsequently, populations of king crab dropped so low that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game canceled the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 red king crab seasons. In previous years, American stocks of king crab could be bolstered by king crab imports from Russia, but these were banned in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.


Select fisheries were allowed to reopen for the 2023-2024 season, but the crab supply is far more limited than it was in previous years. The limited catch explains why prices have gone up since Costco last offered red king crab. However, their price of $43.99 per pound is still lower than most online retailers, where king crab meat typically runs around $60 per pound. It's not clear how long Costco will be able to keep this deal going. Even though the king crab has not been marked with the infamous Costco price tag asterisk, the tumultuous fishery situation suggests that it will only be available for a limited time.