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Do You Thaw Crab Legs? The How-To Guide On How To Safely Defrost Crab Legs 

Do You Thaw Crab Legs? The How-To Guide On How To Safely Defrost Crab Legs 

Crab legs are delicious. There’s no other way around it. But, if you’re like me, you likely usually get crab legs at a restaurant, where all the preparation is done for you. If you want to cook them at home, you’re likely buying frozen crab legs, and you may have some questions about preparation. One we hear often is: Do you thaw crab legs?

The short answer is yes. However, it’s not required. Most people do thaw their crab legs prior to cooking them, but some cook them from a frozen state. We recommend thawing your crab legs, and we have provided the various options available to you below!

In this article, we’ll share why you should take the time to defrost your crab legs properly and how to go about it so you can have the perfect crab meat every time.

We cover the following items in this post:

Do You Thaw Crab Legs?

Cooked crab legs. Do you thaw crab legs?

Yes, most people do. Although it’s not vital to successfully cook crab legs, it is recommended to thaw them prior to cooking.

Fresh crabs and other shellfish are highly perishable if kept fresh and not frozen for too long. That is the reason why most crab legs you can find will be frozen or on ice when you purchase them. In fact, many crabs are quickly cooked and flash-frozen when fishermen catch them to maintain their quality.

Once frozen, they can be shipped all over without spoiling, so we can have fresh-tasting crab almost anywhere. Since most crab legs are frozen when you purchase them, you’ll need to thaw them before reheating them.

Thawing the legs before you cook them will ensure that the meat heats up evenly and doesn’t leave you with dry, rubbery crab.

Additionally, we highly recommend washing your crab legs in cool water prior to cooking them. It helps to remove dirt and other sea-based materials from the crab legs.

How To Defrost Crab Legs

There are a few ways you can successfully defrost your crab legs that will maintain the quality of the meat and keep you safe from foodborne illnesses.

However, before we dive into each of the three choices, we want to note that you should never let the crab legs thaw at room temperature throughout the day. All crab meat, regardless of if it’s cooked or frozen, shouldn’t be left out for more than 2 hours.

The USDA says after two hours, regardless if the protein looks and smells fine, it should still be discarded due to safety risks.

Now, onto the thawing options.

1. Refrigerate For 8-12 Hours

A refrigerator. Do you thaw crab legs?

One way to defrost your crab legs if you have ample time to spare is to store them in the refrigerator overnight or for 8-12 hours before you need to cook them. We refer to this method as the refrigeration method. This is our recommended way to defrost crab legs since the meat will have time to defrost evenly, it’s done in a temperature-controlled environment, and you won’t need to take any measures to quickly thaw them.

Simply remove your crab legs from the freezer well before you intend to cook them and store them in a water-tight container to prevent any juices from leaking onto other items in your fridge. Raw meat is a hotbed for bacteria that can contaminate your shelves and other items inside the fridge, so it needs to be sealed and drip-proof. 

Using this method ensures the least amount of stress and work on your part and will give you the most evenly thawed meat.

2. Run Under Cold Water

If you forgot to store your crab legs in the fridge or don’t have time to do so, there is another method for defrosting them. If the fridge is no longer an option, you can run the crab legs under cold water.

You should place the crab in a bowl or container and let the cold water run over them for 1-2 hours. This method is faster than leaving them in the fridge to defrost; however, it may not thaw the meat as evenly as you would like.

3. Microwave Them

While defrosting in the microwave isn’t ideal, it is a relatively safe method for defrosting frozen crab legs.

It is best not to place large amounts of frozen crab legs in the microwave, as it will exacerbate the uneven heat distribution and make the meat mushy and/or tough. 

We don’t recommend this method as our first choice but share it as an option that can be used. As most frozen crab legs have already been precooked, you may even just decide to cook them in the microwave if you’re in a time crunch.

How Long Do You Let Crab Legs Thaw?

A clock. Do you thaw crab legs?

It depends on the method you use:

  1. Refrigerator: 8 – 12 hours
  2. Sink: 1 hour per 2 lbs.
  3. Microwave: Less than 1 hour

How To Thaw Crab Legs Fast

Sometimes, you won’t have the time necessary to thaw your crab legs properly. Whether you didn’t plan well enough in advance, or you purchased the legs thinking they were thawed when they’re frozen; there is a way to thaw them quickly if needed!

If you have a major time crunch, you can take each leg and put them in the microwave one by one and thaw them that way. It is important that you check on them frequently, so you don’t overheat them and end up with dry, rubbery meat.

Place the legs in the microwave for short increments of time and don’t leave them unattended.

Do You Need To Thaw Crab Legs Before Cooking?

It is usually recommended to completely thaw crab legs before you cook them. This is because it will help the meat heat up evenly during the cooking process and give you tender, sweet crab meat.

However, even though thawing is recommended, you do not have to thaw your crab legs before you cook them. Since most are already cooked before they are sent to stores, it is not required that the meat be “cooked” all the way through to ensure they are safe to eat. 

But be sure to check if your crab legs were precooked prior to being frozen. Most are, but not all.

Frozen crab legs. Do you thaw crab legs?

Final Thoughts On How To Defrost Crab Legs

Defrosting and cooking crab legs can be an easy and straightforward process if you know what to do. Just remember that the worst thing you can do is let your crab legs thaw at room temperature for more than 2 hours, as this leads to bacteria growth and potential foodborne illness.

Oh, also, heat up some butter before it’s time to eat. It’s always a great compliment!


Where To Buy Crab Legs?

You can usually find crab legs at your local grocery store or any specialty food store. You can also sometimes find crab legs at your local butchers if they sell seafood.

What Type Of Crab Legs To Buy?

There are plenty of different crab legs you can buy to cook at home. The most common one served in restaurants and found in grocery stores is Alaskan King Crab legs. You can also sometimes find Snow Crab, Blue Crab, or Dungeness Crab.

What Tools Are Needed To Serve Crab Legs?

You will need crab crackers and picks to crack the shells and safely open them to dig out the meat. You may also want extra bowls for the shells and bibs to keep your clothes free from stains. We highly recommend the bibs!

Can I Cook Crab Legs From a Frozen State?


Even if health concerns from undercooked crab are not a problem since it is already technically cooked when you purchase it, you ideally still want your crab to be one temperature throughout when you consume it.

If you want to cook crab legs from a frozen state, you can drop them in a pot of boiling water for 5 to 6 minutes. This method will be the most effective in quickly thawing and heating the meat.

You can also:

  • Steam the crab legs over a pot of boiling water.
  • Bake them for a short time at 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Grill them at a low temperature.

All these cooking techniques will effectively thaw and cook your meat. However, cooking from a frozen state may not yield the best meat quality.

How To Steam Crab Legs Without a Steamer

If you don’t own a steamer basket, you can improvise. If you have a colander and a pot large enough to set it in, you can achieve the same results as you would with a proper steamer basket.

Fill the bottom of the pot with some water, place the colander inside and cover the pot with a lid. Bring the water to a boil and allow the crab legs to steam for about 10 minutes.