There are so many different types of crab across the globe. From the dungeness variety, that San Francisco is most well known for, to the King crab found in the Alaskan waters. There are over 6,500 different varieties of crab species in the world. Because of that, we know how hard it can be to decide which different types of crab to eat and how to determine the best tasting crab.
Thankfully we don’t need to learn the differences between 6,500 different types of crab. In fact, only about 7 of the 4,500 crabs are edible crabs, easily accessible and not toxic to humans. Some of the other crab types may not be toxic to humans but they may just not have enough meat to make it worth it for us to eat. In other cases, certain types of crabs to eat may be too hard to capture. Other may be endangered. Some crab types may not even technically be crabs, like hermit crabs. All this to say, we know that it can be overwhelming to approach finding the best tasting crab.
This guide will give you a good overview of different types of crabs, their defining characteristics and the best ways to cook, serve, and crack these crabs.
Types of crabs
Let’s do a deep dive into some of the most common varieties of crab. These 3 variates embody all the characteristics that we think make up the best tasting crab. We’ll look at the different types of crab legs, their habitats, what they taste like, and the best way to serve and prepare these different types of crustaceans. After this you’ll be an expert and will easily be able to tell the difference between Dungeness crab, King Crab, and Snow Crab.
We may be biased, but we think the dungeness crab variety is the best of them all. It might be because these crabs are often found outside of San Francisco bay and have quite the history in our city. This variety of crab used to be known as a pest, and it is now a delicacy that is celebrated whenever its season comes around.
Where does it come from?
While San Francisco is world famous for dungeness crab, this species can be found all throughout the pacific northwest. Typically it is found from the SF bay all the way up to Alaska. However, some dungeness crabs have been found as far south as Mexico. When it comes to crabbing season for this crab variety, the typical commercial crabbing season runs from November to June. While it can vary from year to year, that time period is usually when you’ll see Dungeness crab dishes on menus.
What does it taste like?
This variety of crab is known for its delicate taste and silky texture. These are the types of crab legs that you want to serve for dinner. While the leg meat isn’t as tender as the body meat, it is just as delicious. The taste is also sometimes described as nutty, and very sweet. We recommend, of course, coming into Crab House and trying our secret garlic sauce since it is the perfect compliment to the succulent crab leg meat. However you eat it, once you do, we think you’ll agree that this is the best tasting crab! Want more info? Check out our full blog post on Dungeness crab here!
Best ways to cook and serve Dungeness Crab
We cook our killer crab dishes by roasting them in our secret garlic sauce, it’s absolutely our preferred way to serve up dungeness. Once you try it, you’ll understand why! It will blow your mind! However, there are so many ways to cook crab. From steaming to boiling, roasting to broiling. You can’t go wrong. If you want some inspiration for the best ways to cook up crab make sure you check out this blog post “Tips and Tricks: The Best Way to Cook Crab” from our sister restaurant, Pier Market.
You’ll know you are having king crab by the types of crab legs you are looking at. King crab legs are wildly different from any other crab. These massive crustaceans can sometimes weigh up to 25 pounds, and measure up to 10 feet, most of that being in the legs of the crab. These iconic crabs are not to be missed when you get the chance to eat them. Much more of a delicacy and more of a special occasion meal because it can tend to be more expensive of all the different types of crab.
Where does King Crab come from?
King crabs are also known as “Alaskan King Crabs”, “Japanese King crabs”, denoting where these huge crabs can be found, or “Red King crabs” noting their bright red color when cooked. However, in the ocean these crustaceans are more of an orange or burgundy hue and some are even closer to brown. This species enjoys cold, shallow, and muddy water. They are mostly found in the Bering sea between Alaska and Russia. Unlike Dungeness crab, king crab has a shorter crabbing season that only lasts about 3 months. Compare that to the 8 month crabbing season for Dungeness crab. That is a huge reason why King crab tends to be priced higher than other crab varieties.
What does it taste like?
Fun fact: we only eat male king crabs. These are the bigger of the two sexes and we get more meat from the male making it more worth it for those of us who are breaking them down. If you’ve never had king crab before, these are different crab legs than you’ve ever tried. King crab is quite the delicacy. It is decadent while still being delicate and its meat melts in your mouth! Trust us, this is the crab meat that is most often said to taste like lobster! The king crab legs, although shorter than snow crab legs, are thicker. This means more juicy crab meat to dip in clarified butter. You’ll also notice that these crab legs have spikes!
Best ways to cook and serve King Crab
Similarly to dungeness crab, there are many ways to cook king crab. The focus here is really on the legs. While the king crab is large and heavy, only about ¼ of it is actually edible crab. The easiest way to cook king crab legs is to boil them. Once cooked they should reach that classic red color. We always recommend serving with melted butter, lemon and fresh parsley.
Where does Snow Crab come from?
Snow crabs live in a couple of different locations. Most often this crab variety lives in either the North Atlantic or North Pacific oceans. Unlike king crabs who like shallow water, snow crabs prefer the deepest and coldest waters in the ocean. Snow crabs are typically living at depths of up to 7,175 feet. 2022 and 2023 mark the first time in history that the snow crab season . In normal years snow crab has a longer crabbing season from around November to early summer. Fun fact is that snow crabs are also often referred to as “queen crabs” they have similarly long legs like king crabs, but just not as large.
What does it taste like?
Snow crab has a sweet, if slightly more briny flavor than both King Crabs and dungeness crabs. It has a more fibrous texture compared to the other two as well. Snow crabs are one of the more common crabs that you can find in your supermarket or fish market. That’s not to say that it isn’t just as delicious as dungeness or king, it is just best suited to different types of preparation.
Best ways to cook and serve Snow Crab
The dungeness and king crab varieties are best when you serve them on their own with melted butter or garlic sauce. However, our preferred method for serving snow crab is a little different. Because of its more fibrous texture snow crab has found its best uses into making dips, appetizers, or as an accompaniment to rice or pasta dishes. It’s even great in omelettes. They typically sell Snow crab legs in clusters since the legs are usually the only part of this crab that we eat.
How to Crack Crab
You may be asking yourself, how do I crack a crab? Thankfully, our sister restaurant, Pier Market has put together a great guide on how to break down lobster which works just as well for crab! Check it out for all the tips and tricks. Make sure to bring some hand wipes for the mess!
Here at Crab House, we focus on all things crab which we like to think makes us a little bit of an expert. We hope that this guide helps you choose the type of crab you want to eat. We also hope that if you ever get a chance, make sure to visit us on PIER 39. Not only will you get the best crab on Fisherman’s Wharf, you’ll also get an incredible view of the SF Bay. We recommend all our crab dishes but in particular recommend trying our roasted killer crab served in our secret garlic sauce, our crab fried rice, or even our crab topped cheeseburger. You’ll thank us later! Our award winning chefs dedicate their time to creating dishes that will not only inspire but also delight every guest.
Whether you live in San Francisco or are coming to the city on vacation, you shouldn’t miss the incredibly vibrant pier. Our destination is full of incredible wildlife, and fresh seafood. Make sure you get a taste for the local SF favorites, Dungeness crab, Cioppino, and of course Sourdough bread. And, make sure to taste Dungeness, King, and Snow crab when you can, and let us know what you think and which type is your favorite.