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TIP OF THE DAY: Dungeness Crab Season

Just-steamed Dungeness crabs. Photo by
Ken Ishirotie | IST.


There are East Coast crabs, West Coast crabs and crabs on many other global coasts, as you’ll discover in our Crab Glossary.

But the current cause for celebration is that Dungeness crab season has begun. Chefs across the country are cooking up this West Coast delicacy. If you’re a crab lover, make plans to get your share; and if you have a good local fish market, you can cook them at home.

Dungeness crab has been compared by some to the Maine lobster in flavor, but the meat is more tender. The meat is perhaps the sweetest of the Pacific crabs, flavorful and a bit nutty. Perhaps it’s so sweet and tender because of its fine diet: It enjoys clams, other crustaceans and small fish.

The crab variety is named after the seaport of Dungeness, Washington, but is found all along the Pacific coast from the Aleutian Islands of Alaska to Santa Cruz, California. Its Latin name, Cancer magister, means “master crab” because it can measure as wide as 10 inches. Only male crabs with shells measuring 6.25 inches across or larger may be harvested. A single crab in a good season like this one can weigh two pounds!


According to the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission, Dungeness crabs molt between June and August and spend the next few months eating and filling up their new shells. The crab’s meat-to-shell ratio is tested, and once it’s high enough for a consistent, high-quality product, the season is opened for commercial fishing. Male crabs are about four years old before they are large enough to be harvested.

In San Francisco, “Dungeness crab season is like Christmas for adults,” Matt Violante, general manager of Alioto’s restaurant, told Nation’s Restaurant News. “Everyone calls to ask when we’re going fishing, when the season starts,” so they can book a table.



While a favorite preparation is simply to steam the large crab legs and claws and dip the meat in melted butter, you can prepare anything from Dungeness crab cakes and crab fritters to Dungeness crab mac and cheese and cioppino, an Italian version of bouillabaisse made with seafood in a spicy tomato broth.

Then there are Dungeness crab casseroles, Dungeness crab mousse, Dungeness crab sandwiches on grilled ciabatta or other bread, and Dungeness crab-stuffed ravioli in caper butter sauce. Dungeness crab bisque with large chunks of crab leg meat is a tasty way to start the meal.

For us, the freshly-steamed crab meat is best absolutely plain, without covering up the flavor and texture nuances that make it such a treat. We don’t even need butter.


Dungeness crab claws and legs marinated with cilantro, garlic, parsley and olive oil and sautéed. Photo courtesy



These recipes can be used in any season with any type of crab.

  • Dungeness Crab Club Sandwich, with basil-thyme mayonnaise
  • Dungeness Crab Deviled Eggs
  • Dungeness Crab & Potato Salad
  • Dungeness Crab Quesadilla with apple-jicama slaw
    Find many more Dungeness crab recipes from the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.


    Now, about crab meat in general: Do you need to spring for the costliest, jumbo lump crab meat? Not unless you’re entertaining people you really want to impress, who will know the difference.

    Here’s the way to decide among the grades of crab.


    Related Food Videos: For more food videos, check out The Nibble's Food Video Collection.

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