Hard Crabs / aka Blue Crab that is not a Soft Crab. lol

We call them Hard Crabs (as opposed to Soft Crabs)....and we eat a "mess" of them meaning a lot of them.

When I was growing up we would walk down to the ocean at night and catch these as they tumbled in with the waves while the tide was coming in. They would be scooped up in a dip net and put in a big metal wash bucket that had handles on each side. They are cleaned while alive, yes I know..., and then immediately put in a pot with potatoes or rice, onions, a spoon of bacon grease and salt and pepper. The potatoes or rice would thicken the water to a stew consistency and then we would eat. We all knew the art of picking crab and could scoop solid pieces of meat out of the sections with ease. The large solid piece of meat by the back flipper is called backfin and is more expensive when sold in seafood markets.  Usually newspaper would be spread on the table for this messy feast.

I didn't know anything about steaming crabs until I was an adult. And I love them that way too but find that cleaning them as I eat a bit messier. Live crabs are put in a large steamer with "Old Bay" seasoning. Yep, that's all there is to it.

Steamed Blue Crab
I learned to clean crab fairly young. Pull the backs off, clean out the innards, mouth parts, eggs. Then cook, not later, you cooked right then. Telling males from females is easy just by looking at the under shell. Some people liked to eat the crab eggs but I never did.

As the years went on and the beaches became busier the blue crab disappeared from the surf. But there were other ways to catch crab like in a crab trap or on a string or line. Yes, I said on a string. This is how its done. You tie a chicken neck or back to a string and let in down into the water by a pier or dock. The crab will hold onto the chicken part and not let go so you just pull up the string and shake the crab into a bucket. Crab traps are put out in the water and baited with chicken parts or fish. A float is attached so the trap can easy be found and retrieved.
Hard crab in a dip net

A whole nother, yes that's I word here, way to eat Blue Crab is fried soft shell crab. Catching these is a lot harder and you are lucky to get even a few. A soft shell crab is simply a Blue Crab that has just shed. Its shell begins to harden quickly and they hid to protect themselves from being eaten by the other crabs. Crabs between soft shell and hard shell stages are called paper shell. To clean a soft shell crab the shell is partially pulled back and the innards removed. The entire crab is sprinkled with salt and pepper, coated with flour or a mixture of flour and corn meal, and deep fat fried. You eat the whole crab, shell and all. These are also great on a hamburger bun with slaw and ketchup. Soft shell crab sandwich!

Fried Soft Shell Crab
Any comments or additons to this post are welcome. I'm afraid that one day it will be next to impossible to catch these and they will only be available in markets. Please share your own memories of crabbing on the east coast.


  1. It sounds like you may live in Carteret County. I never dip netted crabs but I did run five pots every year when we lived there. Is miss it something awful.

  2. I have never run a crab pot MayLena but I have friends who do. Wonderful way to catch them too. Thanks for commenting!