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Grilling Soft Shell Crabs for Summer: A Beginner’s Guide

Once the weather warms up, the beauty of outdoor grilling commences. Sure, there are dependably tasty options like one of the best grilled chicken recipes, or perhaps a side of tasty grilled watermelon salad. However, if you’re really looking to impress guests, turn to some new seafood ideas — particularly grilled soft-shell crabs.

This crustacean variety has an edible exterior, making it an ideal candidate to consume off of the heat. And the cooking method brings out the best of the sea critter, without the oily clean-up of pan or deep frying. Prepared on a scorching hot grill, they’ll develop aesthetic scorch marks that’ll beautifully accentuate their naturally sweet flavor.

It’s possible to employ frozen soft shell crab for the application, but it’s worth the effort for fresh exemplars. Thankfully, their harvest season overlaps with the grilling window. The crabs are available at fishmongers in Southern states come late springtime, with a transition northwards into the late summer. So buy a batch for your next dinner party — you won’t regret it.

Season and prep the soft shell crabs before grilling

soft shell crabs displayed on plate

Since there’s no need to deshell these crustaceans, minimal prep work is required before cooking. Some like to remove the lungs – found on the back of the crustacean — since the organ brings an off-taste. Additionally, most also snip off the face and apron — a flap on the backside– to ensure the animal’s ready to eat all at once. Next, it’s a good idea to wash the crabs with cold water, to remove any adhered debris. Afterward, dry the crabs well, as a surplus of moisture will worsen the cooking process.

Next, it’s time for seasoning. No need to overcomplicate — a classic combination of olive oil or butter, and salt is all that’s necessary. If you’re dealing with a set of crabs that’s on the stale side, consider throwing them into buttermilk to gently increase sweetness. For a bit of a heavier hand in seasoning, you can also experiment with combinations of compound butter, which can be basted onto the crabs during cooking.

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Fire up the grill to an extra hot temperature — it’ll prevent any crabs from sticking — and it’s time to cook. Soft shell crabs don’t require a long grilling time; only about five minutes on each side. You’ll know they’re done once the shell turns an attractive red-orange color. Dip in while the crabs are hot and tasty.

Serve the soft shell crabs with a tasty sauce and sides

close up of fresh soft shell crab

If you’re wondering how to eat soft-shell crabs after grilling, remember to keep it simple. Rather than repurposing the sea creatures into intricate dishes, you’ll want to taste their delectable mixture of sweet and smokey flavors created by the grill. As with other crab varieties, a butter dipping sauce is always a welcomed accompaniment. Such a fatty dip can be flavored with ingredients like cayenne for a bolder take, made bright and zesty with citrus, or kept to regional favorite palates like Old Bay. Pick one — or several — and pair the seafood with summertime favorites like grilled corn on the cob, and coleslaw.

Alternatively, consider serving the crabs alongside a simple carb. They can be a delicious topping for a batch of creamy garlic butter noodles, with a simple garnish of parsley on top. Or throw them into bread rolls to make impromptu crab sandwiches. Paired with a soft dough, the crispiness of the crabs makes for a great filling. However overall, there are few ways to ruin the crustacean. Once summertime hits, it’s one of the best foods to delight seafood lovers.

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