Alaskan King Crab
The best meat is found in this crab's long, spindly legs, which are cooked and frozen before being shipped.
Plentiful and popular on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, these mild-flavored crabs have dark green to black shells. They are used for much of the pasteurized crabmeat sold across the country, although they are also served whole. See also Soft-Shelled Crab, below.
Large and sweet-flavored, the Dungeness is usually sold cooked in markets on the West Coast—and, with increasing frequency, elsewhere in the country.
A type of spider crab found in Alaskan waters, the snow crab has skinny legs and flavorful meat. The claws are available frozen, already cracked for easy eating, but most of the catch is used for pasteurized crabmeat.
Before they reach their full maturity, blue crabs shed their hard shells several times. When they do, they are known as soft-shelled crabs during the days before they grow new, larger hard shells. Available from spring to early autumn, they are eaten whole, soft shell and all.
The only part of the stone crab that is eaten is the claws. When a crab is caught, the claw is pulled off the live crab. The crab is then returned to the sea, where it will eventually grow a new claw. The claws are usually sold cooked and eaten cold—except in Florida, where they are cooked and served hot.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking, Equipment and Ingredients (Time-Life Books, 2000)