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What Does Crab Taste Like? Your Guide to Crab Taste, Smell, Texture, Recommended Seasonings, and All Things Crab Flavor!

What Does Crab Taste Like? Your Guide to Crab Taste, Smell, Texture, Recommended Seasonings, and All Things Crab Flavor!

“Crabcakes and football — That’s what Maryland does!” Growing up in Maryland, I can confirm the crabcakes part, but football…wasn’t our strong suit. Wedding Crashers is a great movie, but only partly accurate with that statement.

It took my family less than an hour to get to the Chesapeake Bay, and blue crabs were available in my town, as well as pretty much every surrounding town you could find. When I meet people who aren’t from the area, and those who have never tried crab, I get the same question: What does crab taste like?

The short answer: They’re a little sweet, a bit salty, and somewhat mild. Overall, crab meat has a fantastic flavor profile.

And if you’re planning on picking at some steamed crabs with friends – It’s an experience.

Crab may be daunting to look at in its original form — and it has the potential to be dangerous to the wallet — but it is one of the tastiest and most versatile kinds of seafood on the market.

We’ll walk you through taste, texture, smell, and seasonings. Dipping sauces to make your crab sing. Side dishes to make it pop. And give you all the tips you need to create your own delicious crab centerpiece.

We cover the following items in this post:

What Does Crab Taste Like?

Two cooked crabs on a table. What does crab taste like?

Crab has a slightly sweet, slightly salty, delicate flavor that lends itself to countless herbs and seasonings. It’s a bit sweeter than your average fish and has a softer, easier texture to break through than lobster.

Crab has a milder flavor than crayfish and lobster — although still along the same lines — making it ideal for those who like their seafood without the ‘fishiness’.

The body of the crab is where you’ll find the lump crab meat — providing the larger, white chunks of sweet crab meat. The general rule is claw meat has a very strong crab flavor, while body meat is sweeter and provides a mild crab taste.

What Does Crab Smell Like?

Aside from smelling minorly like the ocean, crab doesn’t have a strong smell. There may be a very faint sweet smell to the meat, but that’s about all you’ll get if the meat hasn’t been seasoned.

Many people may associate the smell of crabs with Old Bay seasoning, as it’s used very often when crabs are being steamed. Old Bay has a mix of celery salt, paprika, and other spices.

If the meat has a strong odor or smells like ammonia, the crab has gone bad. As such, it’s generally a great sign if your crab doesn’t have a strong smell!

What Is The Texture Of Crab?

Crab meat. What does crab taste like?

The texture of any crab you cook is going to be influenced by what type of crab you’re cooking (more on this in a minute), which part of the crab you’re using, how you cook it, and how you prepare it in the final dish.

Let’s take King crab, for example. The body of the crab will vary from flaky white to beige meat to something the texture of pate. The legs are more firm lending themselves well to salads, casseroles, fish pie, and chowders.

When boiled and dunked into an ice bath — a must to stop your crab from over-cooking — the texture can be firmer and denser. Some seasoned crab cookers liken it to the texture of lobster.

The time of year that a crab is caught can also influence the texture, since the crab’s physiology changes with the seasons.

Overall, though, the body meat of the crab is richer, flakier, and softer in texture than the leg meat.

Is Crab Healthy To Eat?

Yes, it is.

According to WebMD, “Research suggests that people who eat seafood, such as crab, at least once per week have a reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Crab is a highly digestible source of protein for a balanced and nutritious diet, containing as much protein per ounce as many types of red meat — but without the high levels of saturated fat.

It also delivers other beneficial vitamins and minerals to promote bone and heart health, boost the immune system, and reduce inflammation. Crab contains:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids. These can help improve heart health.
  • Vitamin B12 and folate. These can aid in preventing anemia.
  • Selenium. Selenium is an essential mineral that aids in lowering the risk of chronic diseases, improving thyroid health, and maintaining healthy brain function.

What Should I Serve With Crab?

Crab meat is an incredibly versatile seafood staple that has been incorporated into cuisines globally for generations.

Southeast Asian, European, Mediterranean, and coastal American communities have built their culinary reputations around crab — and here’s how you can enjoy it at home.

Crab As The Centerpiece of A Meal

  • Wasabi crab cakes: Use spicy wasabi and the freshness of lime to bring out the sweetness of flaky crab meat.
  • American crab cakes: Native to the Pacific Northwest, these crab cakes mix flaked white crab meat, breadcrumbs, or potatoes, and are crumbed and fried until golden.
  • Crab bisque: A fancy French crab soup, crab bisque uses the flesh and shell of the crab to reduce waste and wring out every ounce of flavor.
  • Deep-fried soft-shell crab: Enjoy this Cajun delicacy — shell and all — with a bold dipping sauce.
  • Black pepper crab: This Singaporean icon involves stir-frying quartered crab with chili, salt, pepper, and Kecap Manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce).
  • Durban crab curry: Surprisingly, this mild and sweet meat works spectacularly with a spicy South African curry in a tomato-based sauce.

What Does Crab Meat Taste Like When Dipped In Butter?

Melted butter in a bowl. What does crab taste like?

In a word: Incredible.

The richness of butter brings out the sweetness of the crab. Butter is the key ingredient in many crab dipping sauces. And a Southern US tradition is to serve crab with a rich, buttery Seafood Boil sauce, accented with garlic, a few herbs, and spices.

For those with a taste for the extravagant, Chesapeake Bay crab can be made into a sauce with melted butter and old bay seasoning, then served over seared beef tenderloin.

What Does Crab Taste Like When Dipped In Vinegar?

Vinegar has a nice, sour taste, that pairs very well with slightly sweet crab meat.

This is my favorite dipping sauce for crab meat! My personal preference is white vinegar, but malt vinegar and apple cider vinegar also complement crab meat beautifully.

Southeast Asian dishes sometimes use Chinkiang vinegar as a dipping sauce to bring out the sweetness of the crab, while apple cider vinegar is often served alongside crab in the US.

How Does Crab Taste With Old Bay Seasoning?

Crabs covered in Old Bay. What does crab taste like?

I worked in a crab restaurant in college and Old Bay was all over the restaurant. Packages of it were stored as we went through it at a rapid pace. Many crab restaurants steam the crabs with Old Bay seasoning, to help bring out some flavor during the cooking process.

And the taste? Well, it’s awesome.

Old Bay seasoning has a sweetness that comes from paprika, and a nice blend of heat from cayenne peppers. These flavors mixed with some subtly sweet crab meat make for a phenomenal combination.

Old bay seasoning gives many US seafood sauces their unique taste and is designed to bring out the delicate flavors of crab.

Aside from Old Bay seasoning, crab meat can be paired with so many classical and bold flavors:

  • Garlic
  • Lemon pepper
  • Onion
  • Chili
  • Mayonnaise – Level up by adding a splash of brandy and ketchup
  • Aioli – Zesty lemon and garlic aioli brings out the best in crab
  • Chili butter – Lightly brown melted butter with crushed garlic and red chilies
  • Tartar sauce – With capers, parsley, and shallots, tartar sauce is a classic seafood pairing for a reason

Do Male Or Female Crabs Taste Better?

A bushel of cooked crabs. What does crab taste like?

There is no true distinction in flavor between the two. Some people have claimed that female crabs have a sweeter flavor, but there is no universal understanding that that opinion is a fact.

But, in the hundreds of times eating crabs in my life, I’ve never heard anyone ask about the sex of the crab before eating it. So don’t overthink it!

Final Thoughts: What Does Crab Taste Like?

Crab meat has a slightly sweet slightly salty flavor. It is an excellent protein to pair with other sauces and dishes as it complements many different flavors.

Whether you’re dipping it in butter, vinegar, or some Old Bay — it’ll be good. And the same goes for the way you eat the crab. If you eat the meat right out of a steamed crab or have a delicious crab cake — they’re all delicious.

Insider tip: If you ever find yourself in a crab restaurant that has all-you-can-eat crabs, make sure they’re not re-steaming crabs from the night before. Many places claim they don’t do it, but I’ve seen it happen firsthand. It makes for much lower-quality meat. If there is any question around whether they’re re-heated, I’d specifically ask for a set of medium, large, or XL crabs caught that morning.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is Crab Meat Salty?

Yes, but in a subtle manner.

We describe the taste of crab as slightly sweet and slightly salty. It is far less salty than other shellfish — for example oysters and mussels — and probably most on par with crayfish.

Why Is Crab So Expensive?

Crab prices increase the further you get from the coast, as you’re paying for the crab, plus the cost of storing and transporting the meat.

Processing prices also drive the price up, as crab is picked almost entirely by hand.

Crabbing and preparing crab meat (picking the meat) are both very involved processes, which drive the costs up.

What Tastes Similar To Crab?

Crayfish, lobster, crawfish, and shrimp have the closest texture to crab, but these shellfish have a slightly more savory, salty taste than crab.

The closest flavor may be Pollock, which is often used in making imitation crab.

What Do Crab Legs Taste Like?

Crab legs taste slightly sweeter than the rest of the crab and have a denser texture in general. They are also slightly salty. They almost have a buttery taste to them, very subtly.

They’re often served with melted butter, which as we noted above, provides a rich flavor and beautiful complement to the flavor of crab meat.

Do Crab Legs Taste Fishy?

They shouldn’t, and if they do, they’ve likely gone bad.

Crab meat doesn’t taste as salty or fishy as other sea-dwelling snacks.

Is Crab Supposed To Taste Sweet?


Is Crab Very Fishy?

No. If it’s overly fishy, it’s gone bad.

How Much Meat Is In A Crab?

It depends on the type of crab and the size of the crab. However, the average blue crab is about 1/3 lb and you can hope to get about 2.25oz of meat from it.

For some people, that may be enough. But for many, if you’re eating crabs, you go for 2-5 crabs. You might want to complement them with some beers, corn on the cob, shrimp, and any other sides your heart desires!

Why Does Crab Smell Like Ammonia?

In short: the crab has gone bad. This may happen due to the following reasons:

  • The crab may have already been dead when it was caught
  • The crab wasn’t stored correctly once it was caught
  • The crab died during transportation

There are quite a few reasons. But the most important thing is that you remember not to touch it if it smells like this.