How do you store blue crabs before cooking?

Quick Answers

Blue crabs should be kept alive until right before cooking. To store live crabs:

  • Keep them in a bushel basket or cooler with a damp towel over the top.
  • Store in a cool area out of direct sunlight.
  • Keep crabs moist by misting them with water periodically.
  • Cook within 1-2 days of catching or buying.

Proper storage keeps crabs alive, healthy, and tasty until ready to cook. Storing in a bushel or cooler prevents escape and keeps them in the shade. Misting helps crabs breathe through their gills. Cook soon after catching for best flavor and texture.

Storing Live Blue Crabs

Blue crabs need to stay alive and uncooked until right before going into the pot or steamer. Their flavor and texture deteriorate quickly after death, so storing live crabs properly is important for ensuring the best tasting crab meat. Here are some tips for keeping blue crabs alive before cooking:

Use a Bushel Basket or Cooler

The best way to store live blue crabs is in a bushel basket or cooler. This contains the crabs and prevents them from escaping and wandering off. A bushel basket is a large basket often used by crab fishermen to hold a bushel’s worth of caught crabs. A regular cooler works equally well. The container should have ventilation holes so oxygen can circulate. You want to contain the crabs but not fully seal them in an airtight space.

Keep in a Cool, Shaded Area

Don’t store blue crabs in direct sunlight or hot areas. Excessive heat will stress and kill them quickly. Find a shaded spot out of the sun, such as under an awning, tree, or shrub. A temperature between 45-55°F is ideal, but regular shaded ambient temperatures are sufficient. You can place a reusable ice pack in the bottom of the cooler if you need to lower the temperature. Just don’t allow direct contact between the crabs and ice pack to prevent freezing.

Use a Damp Towel

Place a damp towel over the top of the bushel basket or cooler. The towel helps retain moisture and creates a humid environment. Fold the towel so it lays across the top with the edges hanging down the sides. Mist the towel periodically with fresh water to re-dampen it. The damp towel prevents the crabs from dehydrating.

Mist the Crabs

To keep stored crabs moist, mist them directly with fresh water every few hours. Blue crabs breathe through gills that must stay wet. Misting replaces moisture lost from evaporation. Use a standard spray bottle to mist a light coat of water over the crabs whenever the bushel seems to be drying out.

Cook Within 1-2 Days

For peak flavor and texture, cook blue crabs within 1-2 days of harvesting or purchasing. The sooner they are cooked, the better they will taste. Their flesh starts deteriorating quickly after death. To ensure quality, only keep live blue crabs for 1-2 days before preparation.

How to Tell if Crabs are Still Alive

It’s important to check that crabs are still alive right before cooking. Dead crabs have poorer flavor and texture. Here are some signs that crabs are alive and healthy:

– Movement – live crabs will move their legs or claws when handled or disturbed. Limbs may twitch as well.

– Reaction to touch – live crabs will react when touched by pulling in their limbs. Dead crabs won’t respond.

– Clear, bright eyes – the eyes of a live crab are clear and bright instead of cloudy or milky.

– Solid shell – the shell should feel firm and solid, not soft or squishy.

– Heavy for size – live crabs feel heavy for their size since the meat is still moist and plump.

– Bright orange color – healthy crabs have a vibrant orange hue instead of faded or gray.

– Strong sea smell – live crabs smell strongly of the sea but shouldn’t have an unpleasant odor.

If the crabs pass these checks, they are still fresh and ready to be cooked. Any crabs that appear dead should be discarded.

Storing Cooked Blue Crab

Cooked blue crab meat doesn’t preserve well after picking. For best quality, cooked crab should be consumed immediately or refrigerated and eaten within 1-2 days. Here are some guidelines for storing cooked crab:

Refrigerate below 40°F

Keep cooked crab meat chilled at all times, at a temperature below 40°F. Crab meat is highly perishable and prone to bacterial growth when not refrigerated. Place picked meat in an airtight container or zip top bag. Seal tightly and place in the coldest part of the refrigerator immediately after cooking and picking.

Use within 1-2 days

Cooked crab meat doesn’t keep long. Consume refrigerated crab meat within 1-2 days for best flavor, texture, and safety. The fragrant seafood flavors start diminishing quickly. Discard any uneaten crab after 2 days refrigeration. Do not attempt to freeze previously refrigerated crab meat.

Avoid cross-contamination

Be careful to avoid cross-contamination when storing cooked crab. Keep picked crab meat sealed in its own container, away from raw seafood, meat, and other foods. Never place cooked crab back in the original bushel basket or cooler used to store live crabs unless thoroughly cleaned first.

Freezing Blue Crab

To extend shelf life, blue crab can be frozen alive or cooked. Take steps to prevent freezer burn and quality loss. Here are some freezing tips:

Freeze live crabs

For whole crabs, it’s best to freeze them alive. First place them in freezer bags or airtight containers. Seal while still dry – don’t add water. Arrange them so they aren’t crushing each other. Freeze rapidly at 0°F or below. Properly frozen, live crabs can last up to 9 months frozen. Thaw in the refrigerator before cooking.

Cook then freeze meat

You can freeze already cooked crab meat for longer storage. First pasteurize the meat by heating to 185°F for 1 minute to destroy bacteria. Cool completely, then portion into freezer bags or airtight containers, removing excess air. Seal tightly and freeze at 0°F or below for 3-4 months maximum.

Avoid freezer burn

Take steps to prevent freezer burn on frozen crab. Use moisture-proof packaging like freezer bags or plastic containers. Remove excess air and seal tightly. Freeze immediately in single layers, not in piles. Place packages directly on freezer shelves rather than in door. Label packages with dates for tracking.

How to Store Different Types of Crab

Proper storage depends partly on the type of crab:

Blue Crabs

– Store live in bushel or cooler with damp towel, misting periodically
– Cook within 1-2 days
– Refrigerate cooked meat below 40°F for 1-2 days
– Freeze live whole or cooked meat

King Crabs

– Keep live in fish tank or cooler with circulating cold water
– Use within 3 days or freeze sections and legs for longer storage
– Refrigerate cooked meat up to 3 days

Snow Crabs

– Store live in cooler with damp towel, misting regularly
– Refrigerate pre-cooked snow crab legs up to 2 days
– Freeze clusters or individual legs while still raw
– Thaw gently under refrigeration to prevent breaking apart

Dungeness Crabs

– Store live in fish tank or cooler with cold water, covered by wet towel
– Cook within 2 days or freeze whole
– Refrigerate picked meat 3-4 days maximum
– Reheat frozen meat gently to avoid toughness

Storing Crab Safely

Proper storage prevents spoilage and foodborne illness when handling blue crabs:

– Keep live crabs cool – between 45°F-55°F
– Cook raw crabs within 1-2 days
– Refrigerate cooked crab immediately after picking
– Monitor refrigerator temp, keeping below 40°F
– Use cooked crab within 1-4 days depending on type
– Discard crab that smells unpleasant or looks dull in color
– Freeze for longer storage at 0°F or below
– Prevent cross-contamination between raw and cooked crab
– Rapidly chill crab after cooking before refrigerating

Always err on the side of caution when storing seafood. Keeping crabs alive until cooking and using refrigeration and freezing to slow bacterial growth allows safe storage for 1-9 months depending on the technique.


Proper storage is crucial for ensuring blue crabs stay fresh and tasty until ready to cook. The keys are keeping them alive, cool, moist, and only cooking right before eating. Refrigerate cooked crab immediately and use within 1-4 days depending on the type. Freezing can also extend shelf life when done carefully to prevent damage. Follow these simple guidelines for storing whole blue crabs, cooked crab meat, and other crab varieties. Proper handling will help yield the best flavor and texture when cooking these delicious crustaceans.

Leave a Comment