Red Hot Crab Pot

by Kassidy Sparks and Shawn Best


Ask ten people how to cook hard shell blue crabs and you will hear ten different variations on the theme. We talked to a Marylander; a Maryland transplant now a Wilmington chef; and a native Wilmingtonian.



With a shallow draft Carolina Skiff and 50 traps, self-taught waterman Sam Romano brings a mess of live crabs to the dock, below.

His best months for crabbing are September through November after shellfish have had time to fatten all season. Graded or culled crabs are separated by size into wooden boxes before they are delivered to market.

Masonboro Sounder Jeff Wolfe eyes a fat Jimmy crab. He s careful to hold the pinching claw between rubber gloved fingers.

Wolfe has been working the water for more than 20 years. Each season he sets between 150-160 crab traps, or pots. Each trap holds 50-60 crabs, nearly a bushel full.

I like to check my traps every other day,  Wolfe says.  Then the smaller crabs have time to escape, and I have to do less grading.


Sizing Crabs

Blue crabs are sized by the watermen who trap them. A No. 1 Jimmy is the biggest male crab caught at any point in time. They may be called Colossal, Legend or Jumbo, shown respectively from the bottom. The size of a No. 1 escalates as the season progresses. If you can, find a crabber and get the No. 1s right off the boat, says Marylander Patrick Fitzgerald.

Crabs shed their shells during the new moon and hide in the weeds while their new shell is forming. As the new moon approaches, crabs tend to be heavier as a whole. Generally, if the belly of the crab is white, the shell is newer. If the belly is darker, then the shell is older and the crabs tend to be heavier. If the crabs are heavy, or full of meat, a large crab is better than a Jumbo that is light.

Female crabs, or sooks, tend to be smaller and may be egg carriers, shown at top.


How To Steam Blue Crabs

Chef Trinity Hunt's Steamed Blue Crab Recipe

Chef Trinity Hunt, Boca Bay, is a Marylander. His steamed blue crab recipe is as simple as they come:

Fill one quarter pot with liquid. Hunt suggests a combination of salted water and a light-colored beer, with Old Bay or pre-packaged Maryland crab spice. (The beer will add a little flavor to the crab while the alcohol is burned off when cooking.)

Fill half the pot with live blue crabs. Steam for 12-15 minutes, until shells are bright orangey red. Reserve the leftover liquid and mix with melted, drawn or browned butter to season.



Use a steam pot equipped with a basket insert or a steam rack that fits snugly in the bottom, and a tight-fitting lid to prevent crabs from escaping the steam bath. Heat water on medium high heat to boil. Using long-handled cooking tongs, layer two or three live crabs into the steaming water bath, belly side down. Sprinkle with crab spice. Repeat layer with two or three live crabs. When steamed, remove with tongs and dash with more seasoning.


Pot Likker

Instead of beer, a 50/50 mix of white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar and water can be used to fill the bottom of the pot to approximately 1 inch. The vinegar helps separate the meat from the shell. Do not allow the liquid to boil off unless you like your crabs with a smoky taste and a burnt pot.


Spice Mixes

Prepackaged Maryland crab spice mixes are supplied by JO Spice. A 32-ounce package will season a bushel of crabs, approximately five to six dozen in a bushel. For variations, Old Bay is the main ingredient in many spice mixes; some add black pepper, coarse salt and/or dry mustard, others prepare their own from scratch, experimenting with this list:

Bay leaves

Celery seed

Whole cardamom

Mustard seed

Whole cloves

Sweet Hungarian Paprika





Crushed red pepper

Cayenne pepper





Crab Condiments

If you want to dip, melt or draw butter into a small cup, add some of the dry seasoning or scrape the seasoning off the top of the crab. You can also dip the crab in apple cider vinegar, or a combination of both. Some people like lemon juice in their butter -- or even ketchup to make it thicker, like a cocktail sauce.

Other condiments include tomato/horseradish cocktail sauce, Texas Pete hot sauce, Old Bay seasoning, fresh lemon wedges and saltines.


How To Pick a Blue Crab

What you need:

Precooked crabs

Newspaper or butcher paper (at the end of the meal, just roll up all the crab shells in the paper and throw away)



Small knives

Paper towels




Picks or small forks

Wooden boards, one 8x8 inch-ish board per person

Small finger bowls


1. Twist off claws and legs, set aside. On the belly of the crab is an apron; on a male (pictured here) this is an upside down T shape in the center. On a female, this is a wider triangle. Pull this off and discard it.

2. Using both hands, pry the body apart from the top shell. Scrape away and discard the inner organs including the feathery gills. Meat will be inside the hard body. Crack in half.

3. Extract the meat from inside the body using a knife or your fingers. Wiggle the large pincer claw and pull out meat, or crack with mallet or cracker to access the meat in legs and claws.


What to serve with crabs?

Corn on the cob, boiled new potatoes and beefsteak tomatoes.


Family Traditions

Wilmington native Dolores Hansley eats blue crabs during the summer and always turns it into a family party.

When did you first start eating blue crabs?

I ve lived in Wilmington all my life, so probably when I was around nine. It was always a family thing. My parents would eat them so we wanted to join in. Now, I ll eat them alone but it s more fun when you can enjoy them with company.


Was it a family tradition?

We ate blue crabs most every weekend during the summer and even in the winter when they were available. On holidays, friends and family would come over for a seafood boil, but on the weekends it was mainly about bringing the family together.


How often do you eat them?

Depending on price, generally twice a week. When they are cheaper, we eat them as often as every other day.


How do you cook your blue crabs?

I use a big boiler filled with a little bit of water (some people use beer), sea salt, and Old Bay seasoning for steaming. Bring the water to a boil, add in corn and potatoes and let them cook first because they take longer. Add in sausages, and eggs (whole), and then add in blue crabs. Cook shrimp in a separate skillet, and then once the crabs are done, you add them on top of everything in the boiler.


Where do you buy blue crabs?

Local fish markets here in Wilmington.


Favorite Spices?

Old Bay, crushed red pepper and a little cayenne.


Dipping Sauce?

Melted butter, garlic salt, and a little hot sauce is my favorite. 





Mayor Bill and Mary Blair Residence


Cooked crab, mallets, crab crackers and seasoning

Ronnie s Crab Shack


VIETRI pottery ramekins, crimped tin cake stand

The Fisherman s Wife


Sunflower blooms

Fiore Fine Flowers


Table and Chairs 

Wrightsville Beach Museum of History


Recipes from Our Readers


Mary Keith's Crab Meat Souffle


2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup milk

1/2 cup cream

1 pound crab meat

2 1/2 teaspoons sherry


Cayenne pepper, to taste

2 eggs, separated

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce


Preparation: Make white sauce by cooking butter, flour, milk and cream in a saucepan on the stove. After it thickens, add beaten egg yolks and cook for two minutes. Add salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Stir and remove from heat.  Allow the mixture to cool. Add crab, sherry, and stiffly beaten egg whites to the mixture. Place into a buttered baking dish and crumb the top. Bake at 300 degrees for 35 minutes. 


Makes 4-5 servings


Martha D. Jeter s Crab Dip

Served at the historic Denny Cottage, 523 South Lumina Avenue, since 1939.


1 pound picked crab meat

1 8-ounce package cream cheese

8 ounces sour cream

4 tablespoons mayonnaise

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon dry mustard

3 shakes garlic salt

A little tad of milk to thin

Parmesan cheese


Preparation: Combine all the ingredients in a casserole side dish and stir. Sprinkle lightly with parmesan cheese across top. Heat until bubbly at 325 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Serve with toast points, crackers.


Barbara Edmonds  Crab Stuffed Mushrooms

Thelma Truitt s Recipe


1 pound crabmeat

24 large mushrooms, approximately 11/2 inch in diameter

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon celery salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Dash cayenne pepper

1/4 cup butter, melted

1/2 cup light cream

2 tablespoons mushroom stems, chopped

1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon sherry

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated

Paprika to taste


Preparation: Rinse mushrooms in cold water and pat dry. Remove stems and chop. Set aside mushroom caps. Blend flour and seasonings into butter. Add cream gradually and cook on medium high until thick and smooth stirring constantly. Add chopped mushroom stems, parsley and sherry; mix well. Stir in crabmeat. Stuff mushroom caps with crab meat mixture. Sprinkle with cheese and paprika. Place on a well-greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned.


Mrs. Ashley M. Curtis Corn Pudding

From The Ministering Circle Cookbook


4 - 6 ears of corn, or 1 package of frozen cream-style corn

2 eggs, well beaten

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup milk

1 1/2 teaspoon salt


Preparation: Mix all of the ingredients and pour into a baking dish.  Bake at 300 degrees until firm.


Makes 6 servings.



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