How to eat crabs without losing an eye

My extended family, about to gut some crabs at our beach cottage in the Outer Banks, NC.

Human beings have evolved from their spear-chucking, cave-dwelling, hunter-gathering days. Today’s man walks upright when not sitting in lounge furniture, lights fires with starter logs, and procures meat from the Harris Teeter deli counter.

Thanks to the advent of modern-day farms, fisheries and meat packing plants, men can fill their bellies with meat without even getting their khakis dirty. However, there is one particular circumstance in which modern man continues to voluntarily, willingly, and even eagerly maim, slaughter and gut his pray with his bare hands.

As long as there are plenty of twist-top beers available, modern men actually enjoy the experience of butchering their own steamed blue crabs. But eating steamed crabs is not all ruthless savagery. There is a specific step-by-step method which has been passed down to generations of beach vacationers.

First, one must cover their dinner table with newspapers to protect it from mallet blows, flying debris, and spilled innards.

Next, pile the hot steamed crabs in the center of the paper-covered table, and surround the pile with various accompaniments – lemon wedges and bowls of melted butter. Don’t bother with napkins, just have a garden hose ready for clean up at the end.

Important! Before handing out wooden mallets and alcoholic beverages, it is highly recommended that the host ask each participant to sign a release form absolving her of liability for any resulting physical injuries or mental trauma.

When everyone is seated at the table, tell each person to take a crab from the pile and place it on the table with the abdomen facing up. Considering this critter is nothing more than a glorified spider, it is very important to follow this specific series of steps in order to extract the edible bits of meat.

Place a thumb under the “pop tab” on the white underbelly, and gently lift. Without revealing that this is actually the crab’s genitals, snap off the shell tab to reveal a small opening. If breaking off the creature’s reproductive organs was not savage enough, now place both thumbs in the opening and apply pressure until the upper red shell separates from the white abdomen shell.

Discarding the red top shell, one is left with what appears to be a totally revolting carcass full of gills, intestines, membranes, fecal matter and multicolored goo. Take a deep breath and a sip of beer to ward off any gag reflex, and beware of wannabe crab connoisseurs who actually eat the gooey yellow and green “mustard” of the crab, claiming that it is some sort of delicacy. Don’t be fooled – if it looks like crab guts, it’s probably crab guts.

Holding either side, crack the rest of the crab in half down the middle. If the guests have not completely lost their appetite by now, explain that it is finally time to extract the meat.

 Pinching the paddle leg at the top joint, ease the lump of meat out of the carcass. Look at the morsel attached to the end of the leg. That’s as good as it gets, folks. Dip it in butter, drizzle it with lemon, and enjoy it for the nanosecond it lasts. It’s all pretty much downhill from here.

Take each of the other legs, and one by one, use the same pinching method to ease any attached meat out of the crab carcass. Then, if anyone hasn’t already fainted from starvation, break each of the tiny picker legs in half and suck out the miniscule bits of meat and juice, reserving the claw for last. In order to avoid common claw cracking injuries, goggles, helmets, Kevlar vests and steel toed boots are advised.

Using the provided wooden mallet, viciously pound the claw at the center joint to break open the shell without smashing the meat. Be advised that shell fragments will often fly across the table and hit other guests, or crab juice will squirt into someone’s hair. As long as no one is injured, firing crab shrapnel at your dinner guests is an acquired skill and should be considered part of the fun.

Once the claw meat has been extracted and eaten, repeat the aforementioned steps until the rest of the crabs have been picked. But don’t forget the last thing to be picked – where to go get pizza when everyone complains they’re still hungry.

Making pigs of ourselves at the annual crab feast.

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Comments: 11

  1. Maz July 26, 2012 at 1:10 pm Reply

    Nothing is more bonding than the blue crab gutting & cracking experience. It separates the men from the boys, the weak from the strong, the prospectors from the timorous.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari July 26, 2012 at 1:16 pm Reply

      But Maz, don’t you realize that people who crack crabs on a table covered with newspaper (as opposed to ordering filet of beef oscar) are not the type to even know what the word “timorous” means????

  2. Charli Prather July 26, 2012 at 10:02 am Reply

    oh if only I had had this tutorial BEFORE my first try…………where were you?

  3. energywriter July 20, 2012 at 5:39 pm Reply

    Now you know why I became a vegetarian. Great descriptive writing.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari July 21, 2012 at 6:28 am Reply

      You’re right, Sharon — although arguably not as tasty, beans and rice is a much more palatable alternative to cracking and gutting crabs!

  4. Mike Farley July 19, 2012 at 3:21 pm Reply

    Crab Wars. A trilogy written by Lisa Molinari. Produced and directed by George Lucas. Just a thought.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari July 19, 2012 at 11:28 pm Reply

      Interesting pitch, Mike. It may be a plausible with my hairy husband as Chewie and me as Jaba the Hut’s sister (at least that’s what I feel like after two weeks of overeating at the beach!

  5. Day 3 of #Last5Days | 95 TO THE 5 July 17, 2012 at 9:01 am Reply

    […] How to eat crabs without losing an eye ( […]

  6. lauriebest July 16, 2012 at 11:27 am Reply

    You really have to love crab! More power to you. I prefer mine in San Francisco, already ‘prepared’…

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