I love crab. Crab cakes, crab bisque or just plain shelled crab dipped in garlic butter. To taste the very best crabs, it's best to buy live, fresh crabs and cook them yourself. It's easy do but important to know how long you can keep crabs safely on ice. Live crabs can be kept on ice for a few days if you follow these easy guidelines.
Delicious crab is a delicacy and it's important to store it well to keep it the best quality possible. The sooner you cook fresh crab, the better. But if you need to store it for a brief time, here's how to do it properly.
(Looking for some great crab recipes? These are my favorite Crab Cakes, Crispy Corn And Crab Fritters, and Gluten-Free Crab Cakes. If you make them, read What To Serve With Crab Cakes for a delicious dinner.)
- How Long Can Live Crabs Be Kept On Ice
- Storing Live Crabs On Ice
- Storing Raw, Cleaned Crab On Ice
- Tips To Keep Crabs Live Longer
- Food Safety
- Different Crab Species
- How To Prepare + Clean Crabs
- How To Videos
- How Much Salt To Equal Sea Water
- Cooking Crab
- How To Store Leftover Crab Legs + Crab Meat
- How To Check If It's Safe To Eat
- Related Recipes + Articles
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How Long Can Live Crabs Be Kept On Ice
The short answer is 8-48 hours but it depends on the type of crab and the conditions in which it is stored. Live crabs can be kept on ice for up to 24-48 hours at most, but cooking them within 8 hours is recommended.
It is important to cook them immediately if they die. Mud crabs, Dungeness and Snow Crabs can be kept up to 48 hours if conditions are ideal. Blue crabs can be kept alive for up to 24 hours. Read on for how to do it safely and reliably.
Uncooked crabs are extremely perishable and it's important to maintain a cold and stress-free environment for optimum results.
Storing Live Crabs On Ice
To prevent bacterial growth and keep crabs fresh as long as possible, they should be immediately stored on ice. The optimum temperature is 2-4 degrees celcius or 35-39 degrees Fahrenheit. Basically as cold as possible without risk of freezing them.
To keep live crabs at this temperature, the best way to store them is on ice in a firm sided bushel, basket or cooler with a drainage hole with drain plug. This way, the crabs have enough space to move around and won't be crushed or left sitting in standing water left by melted ice.
To keep the crabs fresh as long as possible, you also need to keep them moist. If you're on the ocean, laying them in seaweed on top of ice is a great option. Damp or wet burlap, newspaper or a towel all work fine.
Line a bushel, basket or bottom of the cooler with a bed of ice (a bag of sealed ice is great). Top ice with some wet newspaper or a moist towel. Place live crabs on top, making sure that the crabs are not in direct contact with the ice as this can freeze them. You can also place a damp towel or newspaper on top of the crabs.
To prevent the ice from melting too quickly, add ice packs to the cooler. Place the cooler in a shaded area to keep it as cold as possible. If you're storing the crabs for a long time, make sure to drain any standing water from the cooler regularly to prevent harmful bacteria growth.
Storing Raw, Cleaned Crab On Ice
Cooking crab as quick as possible is the best choice but if that is not an option, you can store uncooked, cleaned crab legs on ice for up to 24 hours. If you choose to do this, gut and clean the crab legs well before storing on ice.
Note: There is a decline in flavor and texture in crabmeat that is not cooked right away. The enzymes in the crab stomach start to act fast once a crab dies. It speeds bacteria growth, starts to make the crab meat mushy and negatively affects the delicate flavor. If a crab dies and is left whole, the enzymes and bacteria in the body can multiply and contaminate the crab in as little as 30 minutes.
Don't leave dead crabs intact. It is imperative that dead crabs be cleaned immediately to prevent the gut bacteria from contaminating the entire crab.
If you do not know when the crab perished (died), it is best to err on the side of caution and discard the crab.
Tips To Keep Crabs Live Longer
To keep live crabs fresh for a long time, follow these tips.
- Most importantly, make sure that uncooked, whole crabs are alive when you buy them. Look for crabs that are moving or twitching as this indicates that they are alive and healthy. If the crabs are not moving, don't buy them. If they hang limp, definitely don't buy them as they are almost certainly dead or at the very least, extremely stressed.
- Try not to stack the crabs on top of each other as this can lead to crushing, fighting and damage to the crabs.
- Don't leave crabs in standing water or they can drown. (Crabs can live in salt water but not fresh.) Dead crab = bad crab.
- Avoid putting the crabs in direct sunlight or in a warm area. This can cause the ice to melt quickly, leading to the crabs being exposed to warmer temperatures.
When storing live crabs on ice, you need to take precautions to shellfish poisoning. To prevent food poisoning it is important to ensure the crabs are fresh and alive when you buy them.
- Keep the crabs as cold as possible without freezing them.
- Only store them in clean, sanitized containers and make sure to clean any surfaces that come into contact with the crabs, such as the cooler or cutting board.
- Immediately store any leftover fresh crab meat in the fridge or a cooler with ice.
Different Crab Species
Different types of crabs have different shelf lives and require different storage methods.
Live dungeness crabs, for example, can be kept on ice for up to 48 hours. Live blue crabs can be kept on ice for up to 24 hours. Soft shell crabs, which are a delicacy, have a short shelf life. Soft crabs should be consumed within 24 hours of purchase.
Cooked crab can be stored for up to 3 days on ice or in the refrigerator.
How To Prepare + Clean Crabs
Preparing live crabs for cooking can be tricky, but done right, it's quick and easy once you get the hang of it. The most important thing to note is to keep yourself safe from getting pinched by a live crab. (The pinch can do some really bad damage, something I've learned first hand.)
First rinse off any dirt or debris. Next decide if you want to boil or steam the whole crab (the easiest and safest method) or crack the crab in half and clean it before boiling or steaming.
To clean the crab (killing it) you can either break it apart with your hands or place it on its shell and cut it in half with a large chefs knife or meat cleaver.
To use your hands, grab the top of all the crab legs on one side with one hand (rendering the crab immobile so it doesn't pinch you). With the other hand, pull the top shell off strating from the side your first hand is holding and pulling quickly towards yourself. Grasp the remaining legs with your free hand and break the crab in half, hold it over a sink or bucket and shake the guts out.
To use a knife, place the crab on it's back. Using a large chefs knife or meat cleaver, quickly and firmly cut right through the middle of the crab. Turn it over and pull the large shell off and shake out the guts over a sink.
Remove the crab's gills, which are the feathery pieces on either side of the crab's body. Finally, rinse the crab under cold water to remove any remaining bits.
How To Videos
How To Clean Dungeness Crab
How To Clean Snow Crab
How To Clean Blue Crab
How Much Salt To Equal Sea Water
The best boiled crabs are boiled in clean seawater or in a mixture of fresh water and salt that is equivalent to seawater. To do this at home, use 7 teaspoons (just slightly less than 2 tablespoons) of sea salt for each liner of water in your pot.
Kosher salt or rock salt is also fine. This may seem like a lot of salt but when you eat your crabs you'll see they are seasoned beautifully and keep a nice firm texture.
If you are lucky enough to be out on a boat in a pristine area of the ocean, fill your pot with pure sea water for a perfect salt water boil.
Finally the best part! Cooking crab is so easy and doesn't take long. Choose a large pot that will fit the crabs in with plenty of extra room so the water doesn't boil over. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Add cleaned or whole crabs to the boiling water and boil 10-12 minutes depending on the size of your crabs. Smaller Dungeness crabs only take 10 minutes and even small blue crabs are done in 6-8 minutes. Drain immediately and serve hot or rinse with cool water and shell.
Once you've cooked your crabs, you can pick out the fresh crabmeat. Once the crabs are cool enough to handle, you can remove the legs and claws and crack them open to extract the meat. Don't forget the meat in the body too.
You can cook crab other ways. Grilling, stir-frying and even baking or broiling are tasty ways too. Crab will cook quickly, usually within 10-15 minutes. Simply follow your chosen crab recipe to try these other ways of cooking it.
To remove the meat from the body, crack the shells with your hands, a nut cracker, a crab cracker or a heavy knife. With your hands or a small seafood pick, slide the juicy morsels of crab meat out.
How To Store Leftover Crab Legs + Crab Meat
If you have any leftovers after cooking the crabs, you can store them in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. While some say crab is safe for up to 5 days, I disagree. Crab meat is particularly perishable and the flavor and texture will suffer. and you will risk consuming bad crab past the 3 day mark.
To store crab legs, place them in a bowl covered with plastic wrap or foil and or place them in an airtight container. This will prevent them from leaking in the fridge, drying out and keep them as fresh as possible.
How To Check If It's Safe To Eat
To tell if a live crab is safe to eat, you can look for certain signs. First, the crab should be moving or twitching. If it's not moving, it may have died and should not be eaten.
Second, the crab should be firm and not limp. If it's limp, it may be dead or dying and should not be eaten.
Finally, the crab should not have any foul odors or discoloration. If it does, it may be spoiled and should not be eaten.
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Whether you have caught your own crab or bought them from a local fisherman or fish monger, I hope this has helped you keep them fresh and tasty. Sweet delicate crab is one of my favorite treats and a good source of protein. Enjoy!
Cheers and happy cooking, Friends! Sabrina