Can You Freeze Crab? Legs, Meat, and More

Can you freeze crab? Yes, and it isn’t as complicated as you might think. Learn how to freeze everything from crab meat to a whole crab.


Freeze-ability Index
Freezability Index of Five

Best Stored In…
Freezer bag

How to Thaw
Refrigerator


How To Freeze Crab

Explaining “how to freeze crab” depends on the state of the crab when you acquired it. You either:

  • Caught it fresh or bought live crabs from a fish market or other specialty market; or
  • Bought it frozen, either whole or just the legs, from a grocery store.

I asked friends and family as to how they usually get their crab. Based on their feedback, as well as my own personal experience, most folks tend to buy their crab frozen at the grocery store. If this is the case for you, it’ll probably look like this:

This crab has already been cleaned and boiled—all you have left are the legs and the knuckle (the white part.)

If your crab looks like this, it has already been cleaned and boiled. So, all you need to do is heat it up and eat it. And yes, even if you bought it frozen, you can safely refreeze it. We’ll explore this in full detail a little later.

If you bought a frozen whole crab, you’ll need to clean it before you reheat it. We’ll show you how to do this later, too.

Can You Freeze Live Crabs?

Now, if you caught your own crabs or bought them while still alive from a specialty market (side note: here’s a resource on how to keep your crabs alive) this next part is extremely important:

You must never, ever put live crabs into the freezer to kill them. Crabs release dangerous toxins into their bodies when they are killed. There are a few ways to stop this from happening so you don’t get food poisoning. You can:

  • Boil or steam the crab and freeze it whole;
  • Boil or steam the crab, clean it (removing the shell and guts) and freeze it as legs; or
  • For soft-shelled crabs only, you can clean them, freeze them, and cook them later.

It’s much easier to clean crabs after cooking them, and you risk tough, discolored meat if you don’t cook before freezing (this doesn’t apply to soft-shell crabs.)

If you find cleaning crab sounds gross, then you might prefer buying crab at the grocery store, as most of us tend to do.

Now you see why learning “how to freeze crab” isn’t as simple as one straightforward answer! To make things even easier to follow, here’s a visual diagram that explains the different ways you can prepare crab for freezing:

How To Freeze Crab - A Visual Guide
Click the image to make it larger.

Fortunately, the acts of cleaning, boiling, freezing, and defrosting crab are easy. So, let’s go through each one of these methods one-by-one.

Can You Freeze Crab Meat?

Yes, you can freeze crab meat. To clarify, “crab meat” consists of meat removed from the legs and claws—no shells.

If you’re freezing fresh crab meat, boil or steam the live crab first and clean it. Then, follow these steps to remove the crab meat.

If you’re removing crab meat from a whole frozen crab, defrost the crab, clean it, and then remove the crab meat.

Check the packing date on store-bought, thawed crab. If it wasn’t packed on the same day, then eat the meat within 3 days. Don’t freeze it if you aren’t sure—it’s not worth potential food poisoning.

Can You Freeze Lump Crab Meat?

Yes, you can freeze lump crab meat. When you think of crab meat, you likely picture white chunks—this is lump meat. It’s used in cake cakes, pasta, and seafood cocktails and salads.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the different kinds of crab meat, and how to use them in cooking:

  • Jumbo lump – big chunks of white leg meat. Best for salads or chilled cocktails.
  • Lump meat – smaller pieces of white leg meat. Best for crab cakes and pasta dishes.
  • Backfin – smaller pieces of white leg and body meat. Best for stuffings, dips, and soups.
  • Dark brown claw – darker claw meat. Best used in sauces and dips.
Can you freeze lump crab meat? Yes, you can.
A plate of jumbo and regular lump meat. You can freeze lump meat by putting it in a freezer bag, removing all the air, and storing it deep in your freezer.
Plastic freezer bag

How To Freeze Crab Meat

Wrapping and packing the crab meat to put it into the freezer is the easiest part of the process.
Prep Time 10 mins
Total Time 10 mins

Equipment

  • Paper towel (for fresh crab only)
  • Plastic wrap
  • Medium-sized freezer bag
  • Freezer labels
  • A straw (optional, but recommended)
  • A permanent marker
  • Space in the back of your freezer

Instructions
 

  • If you've removed fresh crab meat from the shell, rinse the meat under cold running water first and pat it dry with paper towel.
  • Tightly wrap the crab meat in cling wrap. Double-wrap it into a package.
  • Place the wrapped crab meat in a freezer bag. Gently press the air out of the bag, and seal it completely.
  • Straw "vacuum seal" trick (optional): Slide a straw into the bag and suck out the air so the bag "shrinks" around the crab meat packet. Slide the bag down the straw as you inhale, and quickly seal the bag while you remove the straw.
  • Write today's date on a freezer label, stick it to the bag, and place the bag in the back of your freezer.
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How To Freeze Crab Meat In Milk

Another clever way to help preserve crab meat in the freezer is to keep it protected in milk. I don’t know if non-dairy milk works just as well—if you do test this with a nut, oat, pea, soy-based, or other types of milk, let me know how it turns out! I’ll try it myself in the near future and update this article accordingly.

Plastic freezer bag

How To Freeze Crab Meat In Milk

This old-fashioned method for freezing crab meat is sworn by wisened grand-folks and seafood aficionados alike as a superior means of preserving crab.
Prep Time 10 mins
Total Time 10 mins

Equipment

  • Paper towel
  • Whole milk
  • A medium-sized freezer bag
  • Freezer labels
  • A permanent marker
  • Space in the back of your freezer

Instructions
 

  • If you've removed fresh crab meat from the shell, rinse the meat under cold running water first and pat it dry with paper towel.
  • Write today's date on a freezer label and stick it to the bag.
  • Put the crab meat directly into the freezer bag.
  • Add enough milk to the bag to cover the crab meat.
  • Seal the freezer bag, but leave a corner open. Gently squeeze out as much air as possible. Finish sealing the bag.
  • Place the bag deep within your freezer.
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Equipment Shopping List

I put together a quick list for you—it’s the kind of stuff I tend to run out of (freezer bags, labels, etc.) The prices and number glowing of reviews of these items are why I’ve used them or added them to my cart. Pop them into your next Amazon order!


The Best Kitchen Tongs (Kitchenaid)

• Hundreds of Reviews
• 5 out of 5 Stars
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The Ultimate Freezer Bags (Hefty)

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• Tough and easy to fill

The Handiest Freezer Labels (Chinco)

• Hundreds of Reviews
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• Water-resistant, easy to remove, no residue

The Best Paper Towel (Bounty)

• Over 7,400 Reviews
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• Absorbent and durable
• Select-a-size for smaller sheets

The Best Kitchen Shears (OXO)

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Learning how to freeze crabs whole includes steaming or boiling the crab first. Here's a whole crab in a steamer.
If you’re freezing whole crabs, steam them rather than boiling them before cleaning, if possible. Steamed crabs are more flavorful (unless you’re adding seasoning to your crab boil.)
Plastic freezer bag

How To Freeze Crabs Whole

This is the easiest way to freeze whole, hard-shelled live crab. If you follow this how-to guide, remember that you'll need to thaw and clean the crab before you reheat it.
You can either boil or steam the crabs. People prefer steaming crab over boiling it because you need far less water, so it's faster, and you lose less of the crab's flavor. We'll show you how to do both.
Never put live crabs directly into the freezer. Crabs release a dangerous toxin into their bodies when they die, hence the need to clean them and/or boil them right away.
Prep Time 40 mins
Total Time 40 mins

Equipment

  • A large pot (big enough to fit two crabs)
  • A crab steamer (optional)
  • Salt
  • Measuring cup (1/2 cup) – for boiling crabs only
  • Tongs
  • A clean kitchen towel
  • A large bowl (big enough to fit two crabs)
  • Cold water
  • A pair of kitchen shears (or strong scissors)
  • Large freezer bags
  • Freezer labels
  • A permanent marker
  • A straw (optional, but recommended)
  • Space in the back of your freezer

Instructions
 

  • Keep the crabs in the fridge while you prep and boil the water, about 10-15 minutes. This will make the crabs sluggish and easier to handle.

Steps for Steaming Crab

  • Fill a large steamer pot with 1 inch of salted water. Use the tongs to put the crab(s) in the steamer basket.
  • Cover the pot and steam until the crabs are cooked through. 10 minutes for small blue crabs, 15 minutes for medium-sized like Dungeness, and up to 20 minutes for even larger crabs. The crab shells should appear red when cooked.

Steps for Boiling Crab

  • Fill the large pot 2/3rd of the way with water. Add 1/2 cup of salt for every gallon of water. Bring the water to a boil.
  • Add the crab(s) to the pot of water; ensure they are fully submerged. Wait until the water returns to a boil and then start a timer for 20 minutes. When the timer ends, the crab's shells should be bright red.

Steps for Packing and Freezing Crab

  • Take the cooked crab out of the water/steamer and place them on the kitchen towel.
  • Fill a large bowl with cold water, and place the crabs in the cool water for 5-10 minutes. This will help stop the crab meat from sticking to the shell.
  • Once the crabs have cooled, remove them from the water. Use a pair of kitchen shears to snip off the tips of the crab legs so they don't poke through the freezer bag.
  • Tuck the legs under the main shell of the crab. Slide the whole crab into a freezer bag and seal it.
  • Straw "vacuum seal" trick (optional): Slide a straw into the bag and suck out the air so the bag "shrinks" around the crabs. Slide the bag down the straw as you inhale, and quickly seal the bag while you remove the straw.
  • Write today's date on a freezer label, and stick it to the bag. Place the freezer bags deep in your freezer.
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The Best Steamer Pot (Granite Ware)

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Can You Freeze Crab Legs?

Crab legs can be frozen. If you’re freezing fresh crab, boil or steam the crab first and then clean it.

As for refreezing crab legs, it must be within 24 hours of thawing them in the refrigerator. Do not refreeze crab legs if you defrosted them in cold water. By the way, you shouldn’t defrost crab legs in cold water.

Plastic freezer bag

How To Freeze Crab Legs (From Whole Crab)

You can either boil or steam the crabs. People prefer steaming crab over boiling it because you need far less water, so it's faster, and you lose less of the crab's flavor. We'll show you how to do both.
Prep Time 1 hr 30 mins
Total Time 1 hr 30 mins

Equipment

  • A large pot (big enough to fit two crabs)
  • A crab steamer (optional)
  • Salt
  • Measuring cup (1/2 cup)
  • Tongs
  • A clean kitchen towel
  • Cold water
  • A large bowl (big enough to fit two crabs)
  • A clean sink
  • A garbage bag/can
  • A pair of kitchen shears (or strong scissors)
  • Paper towel
  • Large freezer bags
  • Freezer labels
  • A permanent marker
  • A straw (optional, but recommended)
  • Space in the back of your freezer

Instructions
 

  • Keep the crabs in the fridge while you prep and boil the water, about 10-15 minutes. This will make the crabs sluggish and easier to handle.

Steps For Steaming Crab

  • Fill a large steamer pot with 1 inch of salted water. Use the tongs to put the crab(s) in the steamer basket.
  • Cover the pot and steam until the crabs are cooked through. 10 minutes for small blue crabs15 minutes for medium-sized like Dungeness, and up to 20 minutes for even larger crabs. The crab shells should appear red when cooked.

Steps for Boiling Crab

  • Fill the large pot 2/3rd of the way with water. Add 1/2 cup of salt for every gallon of water. Bring the water to a boil.
  • Add the crab(s) to the pot of water; ensure they are fully submerged. Wait until the water returns to a boil and then start a timer for 20 minutes. When the timer ends, the crabs should have turned red.
  • Take them out of the water and place them on the kitchen towel.
  • Fill a large bowl with cold water, and place the crabs in the cool water for 5-10 minutes. This will help stop the crab meat from sticking to the shell.
  • Once the crabs have cooled, remove them from the water.
  • Move a crab to the sink. Under cold running water, flip the crab over. On its belly, you'll see its apron—it's circular on a female crab and pointed on a male crab. In the picture below, the apron is pointed, so we know it's a male.
    Use your thumb to flip the apron away from the crab and then break it off, away from the shell.
    Can you freeze crab legs
  • Stick your thumb into the hole left after removing the apron, and use it for leverage to remove the top shell and carapace from the crab's body and discard it. At this point, crab "butter" and guts may begin to fall from the crab. This is normal. Rinse the crab's body under running water to clean it off.
  • Remove the crab's gills, otherwise known as the "dead man's fingers". They're rubbery and spongy. Pull them off the crab and discard.
    Can you freeze crab legs - Removing the gills
  • At the front, near the crab's mouth are its mandibles. Crack them off and discard. Rinse the inside of the crab's body thoroughly again under cold tap water. There shouldn't be any more guts, only shell and legs/claws.
  • Flip the crab around, hold the center of it with both hands and crack it cleanly down the middle like you were opening a book.
  • Rinse the legs and claws thoroughly under cold running water once more. Pat the legs and claws dry with a paper towel.
  • Use a pair of kitchen shears to snip off the tips of the crab legs so they don't poke through the freezer bag.
  • Put the crab legs into the freezer bag, gently squeeze the bag to remove as much air as possible, and seal it.
  • Straw "vacuum seal" trick (optional): Slide a straw into the bag and suck out the air so the bag "shrinks" around the crab legs. Slide the bag down the straw as you inhale, and quickly seal the bag while you remove the straw.
  • Write today's date on a freezer label, and stick it to the bag. Place the freezer bags deep in your freezer.
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Plastic freezer bag

How To Freeze Soft Shell Crabs

Soft-shelled crabs, like blue crabs, are a little bit different than hard-shelled crabs, namely that you don't need to remove the shell when you clean them. You also don't need to cook them before freezing.
Soft-shell crab can be thawed in the refrigerator and cooked either by steaming or in a hot pan.
Prep Time 45 mins
Total Time 45 mins

Equipment

  • Kitchen shears
  • A clean sink
  • Paper towel
  • A garbage bag/bin
  • Plastic wrap
  • Large freezer bag
  • Freezer labels
  • A permanent marker
  • A straw (optional, but recommended)
  • Space in the back of your freezer

Instructions
 

  • Chill the crabs in the fridge for about 10-15 minutes. This will make the crabs sluggish and easier to handle.
  • While holding the crab by its back legs, use the kitchen shears to quickly cut the front edge of its body off, just behind the eyes (about 1/4 inch). Discard this part.
  • Reach into the hole created by cutting behind the eyes to remove the crab's stomach. Discard it.
  • Flip the crab over. On its belly, you'll see its apron—it's circular on a female crab and pointed on a male crab. Pull the apron off.
  • Gently fold back each side of the top shell and remove the spongy, rubbery gills. Do not remove the shell. Since this part gets a bit technical, we included a short video to help illustrate these steps.:
  • Rinse the crab under cold water and pat it dry with a paper towel.
  • Wrap each crab individually and tightly in plastic wrap. Place each crab in a large freezer bag.
  • Gently press the air out of the bag, and seal it.
  • Straw "vacuum seal" trick (optional, but recommended): Slide a straw into the bag and suck out the air so the bag "shrinks" around the crabs. Slide the bag down the straw as you inhale, and quickly seal the bag while you remove the straw.
  • Write today's date on a freezer label and stick it to the bag. Place the bag deep within the back of your freezer.
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How Long Can You Freeze Crab?

You can store whole crab, legs, or meat in the freezer for up to 3 months.

It’s actually better to freeze crab to preserve it than keep it in the fridge. If you buy crab and you know you won’t plan on using it for a few days, freeze it.

How Long Can You Freeze Crab Legs?

You can freeze crab legs for up to 3 months.

How To Thaw Crab

Crab should always be thawed in the refrigerator. Place the freezer bag of crab on a plate or towel, put it in the fridge, and allow it to thaw overnight. Eat it or use it in a recipe within 3 days.

Avoid thawing the crab until the day you plan to use it. Crab tends to expire quickly—defrosted or fresh crab lasts in the fridge for 3 days.

Defrosting in cold water

How To Thaw Crab (Whole)

If you froze a whole crab, you still need to clean it before you reheat it or use it in a recipe. Here's how to do it.
Note: these steps only apply to hard-shelled crabs, not soft-shelled ones like blue crabs.
Prep Time 30 mins
Defrost Time 20 mins
Total Time 50 mins

Equipment

  • A clean sink
  • Paper towel
  • A garbage bag/can

Instructions
 

Thaw The Crab

  • Fill the sink with cold water. Place the whole frozen crabs in the sink. Ensure the crabs are submerged in cold water.
  • Let the crabs sit in the cold water for 20 minutes.
  • After 20 minutes, take the crabs out of the water and drain the sink. Pat the crabs dry with paper towel.

Clean The Crab

  • Under cold running water, flip the crab over. On its belly, you'll see its apron—it's circular on a female crab and pointed on a male crab. In the picture below, the apron is pointed, so we know it's a male. Use your thumb to flip the apron away from the crab and then break it off, away from the shell.
    Can you freeze crab legs
  • Stick your thumb into the hole left after removing the apron, and use it for leverage to remove the top shell and carapace from the crab's body and discard it. At this point, crab "butter" and guts may begin to fall from the crab. This is normal. Rinse the crab's body under running water to clean it off.
  • Remove the crab's gills, otherwise known as the "dead man's fingers". They're rubbery and spongy. Pull them off the crab and discard.
    Can you freeze crab legs - Removing the gills
  • Near the crab's mouth are its mandibles. Crack them off and discard. Rinse the inside of the crab's body thoroughly again under cold tap water. There shouldn't be any more guts, only shell and legs/claws.
  • Flip the crab around, hold the center of it with both hands and crack it cleanly down the middle like you were opening a book.
  • Rinse the legs and claws thoroughly under cold running water once more. Pat the legs and claws dry with a paper towel. The crab is now ready to reheat for consumption or to have its meat removed and used in a recipe.
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How To Thaw Crab Meat

Crab meat should always be defrosted in the refrigerator. I won’t even suggest a cold water bath for defrosting crab because refreezing seafood that wasn’t defrosted in the fridge just isn’t safe.

Place the freezer bag of crab meat on a plate or towel and pop it into the fridge. Allow for it to defrost overnight. Eat it or use it in a recipe within 3 days.

Fridge

How To Thaw Frozen Crab Meat In Milk

Prep Time 5 mins
Defrost Time 1 d
Total Time 1 d 5 mins

Equipment

  • A plate OR paper towel
  • A fine strainer/colander

Instructions
 

  • Remove the bag of frozen crab meat in milk from the freezer. Place it on a plate or paper towel, and put it in the refrigerator.
  • Allow the crab meat to thaw overnight in the fridge.
  • Take the defrosted crab meat and milk out of the fridge.
  • With a very fine strainer like this one, empty the freezer bag of crab meat and milk into the strainer. Rinse the crab meat under a gentle stream of cold water.
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How To Thaw Crab Legs

If you want to eat the frozen crab legs right away, don’t bother with thawing them. Get a big pot of salted water or a steaming basket ready and cook crab legs directly from frozen.

If you need to thaw them for a recipe like crab cakes, thaw them in the fridge overnight. If you decide the next day that you aren’t going to eat the legs, you can re-freeze them.

Best Way To Cook Frozen Crab Legs

The best way to cook frozen crab legs is to steam them rather than boil them. Steaming uses up less water and crab will retain more of its flavor when steamed.

Fridge

How To Thaw Frozen Blue Crab (Soft Shell Crabs)

Never defrost soft-shell crabs in cold water. Always defrost crabs in the fridge.
Defrost Time 1 d
Total Time 1 d

Equipment

  • A plate
  • Paper towel
  • A steamer pot (if you're steaming the crab)
  • Salt (if you're steaming the crab)
  • Water (if you're steaming the crab)
  • Tongs (if you're steaming the crab)

Instructions
 

  • Take the soft-shelled crabs out of the freezer.
  • Place the wrapped crabs on a plate and put it in the fridge to defrost overnight.
  • Unwrap the crabs, rinse them clean under cold running water, and pat them dry with a paper towel.
  • To cook the crabs, steam them or fry them.

How To Steam Soft-Shelled Crabs

  • Fill a large steamer pot with 1 inch of salted water. Use the tongs to put the crab(s) in the steamer basket.
  • Cover the pot and steam until the crabs are cooked through, about 10 minutes. The crab shells should appear red when cooked.
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You shouldn't doHow NOT To Thaw Crab

Never thaw crab in the microwave. Never ever thaw crab on the counter or allow it to come to room temperature.

You cannot thaw crab in cold water, either. There are no shortcuts when it comes to defrosting crab.

Freezing Crab Meat – FAQ

Here are some questions I frequently get about freezing crab:

Can you freeze live crabs?

No, you cannot freeze live crabs. Never put live crabs into a freezer to kill them. When they die, a toxin releases into their flesh. You must kill them instantly by steaming, boiling, or cleaning crabs before freezing them.

Can you freeze blue crabs?

Yes, you can freeze blue crabs. Boil or steam the blue crabs, and freeze them whole or clean them and freeze their legs. Preparing crab for freezing doesn’t really change from crab to crab, whether it’s Dungeness, Red Rock, or blue crabs.

Can you freeze cooked crab?

You can freeze cooked crab. Any crab that isn’t bought alive is likely cooked. Crabs are normally flash-frozen and cooked upon being caught before they are brought to a processing facility to be cleaned prior to packaging. You can refreeze cooked crab on the same day of defrosting it in the fridge only. You cannot refreeze cooked crab that was thawed in cold water or otherwise.

Can you freeze stone crab claws?

Yes. Boil or steam the stone crab and either freeze it whole or clean it and freeze its claws along with its legs in a freezer bag.

Can steamed crabs be frozen?

Yes. Steaming crabs is arguably better than boiling it before freezing. You can steam a crab and freeze it whole, but you’ll need to clean it after defrosting it. You can also steam a crab, clean it first, and then freeze it.

Can you freeze unopened canned crab meat?

It isn’t wise to put unopened cans in the freezer. They can burst. You should remove the crab meat from the can and freeze it. Canned crab meat should last a long time—longer than frozen crab meat. Just keep it in the can; there’s no need to freeze it.

Do you need to thaw frozen crab legs before cooking?

No, you don’t need to thaw frozen crab legs before cooking them. You can steam or boil them directly from frozen because they were flash-frozen and boiled upon being caught.

What to Expect After Defrosting crab meat

Most crab meat bought at the store has already been flash-frozen. Since it was frozen at an extreme temperature so close to its initial capture, the texture and taste of the meat will not change.

Eat cooked crab meat or use it in a recipe within 3 days of defrosting it.

Cook defrosted soft-shelled crab immediately, and eat it within 3 days of cooking it.

Crab meat can become stringy and dry if you refreeze it—especially if it was not refrozen in its shells (leg or carapace.) If this is the case, use the meat to make crab cakes.

Can You Re-Freeze crab meat After Thawing?

Crab legs, meat, or whole crab can be refrozen, but only under these conditions:

  • The crab was first defrosted in the fridge; and
  • it must be refrozen within 24 hours of being defrosted.

Never refreeze crab if it was defrosted in cold water—by the way, you shouldn’t ever defrost crab in cold water or using any tool or method other than the refrigerator.


Ok, But What About…

Do you know a better way to freeze crab? Or are you looking for info on something else? Leave a comment below or email us—we’d love to hear from you!


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