How to Cook Frozen Crab Legs? | Expert Tips & Tricks

Chef Youn

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Frozen crab legs, a treasure trove of sweet, succulent meat, offer a convenient and delightful way to enjoy one of the sea’s finest delicacies. Whether it’s for a special occasion or a casual seafood feast, knowing how to properly cook frozen crab legs is essential for unlocking their maximum flavor and texture. The process of cooking frozen crab legs might seem straightforward, yet it encapsulates a wealth of culinary techniques ranging from steaming and boiling to grilling and baking. This article, titled “How to Cook Frozen Crab Legs” is meticulously designed to guide both seasoned cooks and culinary novices through the steps and secrets of preparing this seafood delight, ensuring a perfectly delectable outcome every time.

Cooking frozen crab legs is not merely about thawing and heating; it’s an art that balances time, temperature, and seasoning to elevate the natural flavors of the crab. The journey from freezer to table involves more than just the cooking process; it encompasses selecting the best quality crab legs, understanding the nuances of different cooking methods, and mastering the art of timing to preserve the tenderness and juiciness of the meat. This exploration aims to demystify the cooking process, offering practical tips and expert advice to make the preparation of crab legs an enjoyable and successful culinary adventure.

Types of Crab Legs

Types of Crab Legs

There are two main varieties of crab legs that are commercially frozen for consumer purchase:

  • Snow crab legs – Snow crab, also called Queen crab, are found in the colder waters of the north Pacific around Alaska and Canada. Their long, thin legs contain sweet, delicate meat.
  • King crab legs – The largest of the commercially harvested crab species, Red and Blue King crab thrive in the Bering Sea and north Pacific Ocean. King crab legs are thicker with a fuller flavor and texture.

Both snow and king crab legs are tasty options for steaming, baking or boiling at home. King crab is sometimes pricier due to larger meat content.

Thawing Frozen Crab Legs

While it’s possible to cook crab legs straight from frozen, thawing first can help ensure more even cooking and reduce total cooking time. There are two easy methods to safely thaw frozen crab legs.

Refrigerator Thawing

Place frozen crab legs in a colander or bowl to catch any drips. Seal the container and place in the refrigerator for 16-24 hours until thawed.

Cold Water Thawing

Submerge frozen crab legs in a bowl of cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes to ensure it stays cold. Smaller legs may thaw within an hour, while thicker king crab legs can take 2-3 hours.

Once thawed, cook immediately for food safety. Do not refreeze thawed crab legs.

How to Cook Frozen Crab Legs?

Frozen crab legs can be prepared using boiling, steaming or baking with slightly different techniques for thawed versus frozen crab.


Boiling is a simple and foolproof cooking method that works for any type of crab leg, thawed or frozen.

For thawed legs:

  • Fill a large pot with enough salted water to cover the crab legs. Bring to a rolling boil.
  • Drop in legs and return to a boil.
  • Cook 8-12 minutes until the shell turns bright red.

For frozen legs:

  • Add legs to pot, cover with cold salted water.
  • Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to maintain a gentle boil.
  • Cook 10-15 minutes until shell is reddish-orange.

Use tongs to transfer cooked crab legs to a baking sheet to drain and cool slightly before serving.


Steaming crab legs locks in moisture and preserves delicate seafood flavor.

For thawed legs:

  • Place legs in a single layer in a steamer basket or colander.
  • Bring 1-2 inches of water to a boil in a pot fitted with the steamer.
  • Steam legs for 8-10 minutes until shell turns bright red.

For frozen legs:

  • Arrange frozen legs in a single layer in steamer.
  • Steam from frozen for 13-18 minutes until shell reddens.

For faster steaming, use a pressure cooker and cook for just 2-3 minutes at high pressure.


Baking crab legs brings out sweet, briny flavor.

For thawed legs:

  • Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with foil.
  • Arrange legs on sheet and lightly brush with butter or oil.
  • Bake 8-12 minutes until opaque and lightly browned.

For frozen legs:

  • Place frozen legs on prepared baking sheet.
  • Bake 18-22 minutes until shells begin to brown.

Rotate pans halfway during baking for even cooking.

Instant Pot (Pressure Cooking):

  • Place the thawed or frozen crab legs in a steamer basket with water in the pot.
  • Pressure cook for a few minutes under high pressure until heated through.

Additional Tips

  • Check for doneness by looking for an opaque, pearly interior when a shell segment is pulled back. Meat should release easily.
  • Do not reheat cooked crab legs more than once to prevent bacteria growth. Refrigerate leftovers.
  • A crab cracker, small hammer or kitchen shears make it easy to break through crab shells and access meat. Target joints to break shells.
  • Remove any thin cartilage strips from meat before eating. Enjoy crab meat chilled, at room temperature or gently warmed.

Serving Suggestions

Cooked crab pairs wonderfully with:

  • Melted butter – For dipping tender crab meat. Clarified drawn butter has the most pure, salty flavor.
  • Lemon wedges – A bright, fresh accent to rich crab.
  • Dipping sauces like aioli, mustard sauce or cocktail sauce.
  • Fresh herbs, garlic butter or seasonings like Old Bay.

How to Open and Eat Crab Legs

How to Open and Eat Crab Legs

Cracking and opening crab legs takes a bit of finesse. Here are some tips:

  • Use a crab cracker, small hammer or kitchen shears. Tap gently along the leg segments to break apart.
  • Twist and pull legs gently where they naturally separate to expose meat.
  • Target thicker parts of shell near joints. Avoid claw tips which have less meat.
  • Use a small fork to pull meat from narrow segments. Discard any thin cartilage.
  • Enjoy meat as you go. Chilled legs will be easier to open once cooked.

Signs of Spoiled Crab Legs

Always inspect thawed or cooked crab legs for any signs of spoilage including:

  • Smell – An unpleasant, fishy or ammonia-like odor. Discard any smelly crab legs.
  • Appearance – Mold, slimy residue on shell, or dull, faded shell color.
  • Texture – Slime on the meat or mushy feel when raw.
  • Color – Grayish, dingy meat color instead of pearly white.

When in doubt, throw it out! Frozen crab has a shorter shelf life after thawing.

Recipes Using Crab Meat

Once you’ve perfected basic crab leg cooking, try using lump crab meat in other seafood fare:

  • Chilled crab salads with lemon and fresh dill.
  • Crab cakes, fried crab balls and fritters.
  • Crab stuffed mushrooms or roasted peppers.
  • Creamy crab dip with artichokes and cheese.
  • Crab quesadillas, tacos or empanadas.
  • Seafood pasta dishes and risottos.
  • Hearty crab soups and chowders.

The sweet flavor of crab complements both rich and light preparations.

Conclusion: How to Cook Frozen Crab Legs? 

With proper thawing and cooking, frozen crab legs become an impressive appetizer or entree option. Boiling, steaming and baking are all reliable methods that yield tender, juicy meat when following recipe guidelines. Served with melted butter or sauces, crab legs make for a special restaurant-quality meal the whole family will enjoy.