How to Grill Crab Legs Like a SEA-soned Professional

Steaming might be the go-to method for shellfish, but for our money, there’s nothing like the smoky flavor of food cooked over an open flame. Since it works so well for rich and savory meats, why shouldn’t it do the same for seafood?

In this guide, we’ll teach you how to grill crab legs to perfection. Aside from the basics, we’ve included one of our favorite–and most foolproof–recipes. The next time you invite friends over for a midsummer bash, you’ll be able to impress the socks off them with this elegant twist on tradition.

Tips On Grilling Crab Legs

The main thing to remember is that the crab legs you buy at the fish market have probably been cooked already. That means all you’ll have to do is heat them up.

If you aren’t sure whether or not they’ve been precooked, just look at the color. Crab shells don’t turn red until after they’re cooked due to changes in the pigmentation that are brought on by exposure to heat. So if the shells are bright red, you’ll just be defrosting them if they were purchased frozen, then putting them on the grill to heat.

Thaw frozen crab for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. If you need to thaw them quickly, place them in a sealed zip-top back and set the bag in a sink of cold water. Don’t be tempted to speed the process along by using hot water, as this could promote the growth of dangerous bacteria. Change the water every half hour or so until the crab legs have thawed. It should take 1-2 hours, depending on their size.

When it comes to grilling crab legs, you have two options: Either wrap them in aluminum foil and heat them in these makeshift packets, or place them directly on the cooking grates. While we prefer the carefree nature of the latter method, grilling them in foil packets allows you to experiment with different flavor combinations. Try adding handfuls of herbs and dashes of lemon juice to the foil along with the crab.

If you do choose to place the legs directly on the grill, the flesh will have a meatier texture and more smoke flavor. They’ll also stay warm longer.

Don’t be tempted to oil the crab legs beforehand. Some chefs will take this extra step, but we’ve found that the crab shells are hard enough to make the move unnecessary. The only reason to oil them would be to prevent sticking, but we’ve never had a problem in this regard.

Keep the small tips of the legs as far from the direct heat as possible to keep them from drying out. These will get enough residual heat from the claws and thicker segments.

As soon as you take the crabs off the grill, either place them in a pre-warmed pan or wrap them in foil. This will help keep them from cooling off too much before you’re ready to serve them.

Unless you’re using the foil packet method, don’t bother to add any seasoning to the crab legs until you’re ready to take them off the heat. Most of it will end up falling to the bottom of the grill anyway, so you’re better off just mixing it in with the melted butter.

Individual crab legs will always cook faster than legs that are still grouped together by the lower segment of the body.

Like most grilled meats, the crab will continue to cook after it’s been removed from the heat. Don’t be tempted to leave the legs on the fire too long. As a precaution, make sure everything else is ready before you start to heat the crab legs.

Melt the butter in advance and keep it over low heat to keep the crab from cooling off in the meantime.

Grilled Alaskan King Crab Legs Recipe

This is a simple yet delicious recipe that pairs well with grilled corn on the cob. Make sure there are plenty of cold beverages on hand, preferably your favorite beer.

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds Alaskan king crab legs, precooked and thawed
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • Pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 lemons, cut into quarters

Directions

1. Build a hot fire in a charcoal grill, or set a gas grill to high. If you opt to use a pellet grill, set the temperature to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a mild wood like alder so as not to overwhelm the delicate crabmeat.

2. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the Old Bay seasoning and the black pepper. Set the mixture aside over low heat.

3. When the fire is ready, place the crab legs directly on the heated grill grates. Make sure they’re in a single layer, but don’t worry if they overlap in certain areas. The key is to make sure they heat evenly, with no cold spots. Depending on the size of your grill, you may need to cook them in two separate batches.

4. Cook for 4-8 minutes over direct heat, using a pair of sturdy tongs to turn them every 2 minutes. The smaller the legs, the less time they’ll take to heat up, so make sure to pay attention.

5. Once the shells are blackened, they should be finished. The important thing to remember is that the crab is already cooked, so there’s no danger of undercooking them–you just don’t want to overdo it, or the meat will be too dry.

6. Remove the crab from the grill and serve immediately with the seasoned butter and the lemon wedges. To store leftovers, place the legs in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

If you’d like a visual demonstration on grilling king crab legs, take a look at this video tutorial.

It goes without saying that we prefer to cook outdoors, but in this case, the results are particularly impressive. Once you’ve learned how to grill crab legs, you might never reach for the steamer basket again.

Happy grilling!

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