There are few things more quintessentially Baltimore than Maryland blue crabs. (The name comes from the color of their claws, but once cooked they turn a red-orange.) And while they can be found in the waters along the entire East Coast, Marylanders have perfected the art of eating them. In fact, approximately 50% of the country’s blue crab comes from the Chesapeake Bay.
Maryland crabs are at their most bountiful in the summer and early fall, and a traditional steamed crab feast is best enjoyed outside, accompanied by all the trimmings, from melted butter, Old Bay seasoning, corn on the cob and ice-cold beers. If you’d like to tuck in while you’re in town, here is an insider’s guide to the crab.
Where to get steamed crabs
In Maryland, we steam our crabs. If anyone suggests any other means, such as boiling, you’re in the wrong place. Some longtime local favorites include Captain James Landing, Phillips Seafood, L.P. Steamers and Bo Brooks. You can feast there or take your crabs to go along with other add-ons like Maryland crab soup, crab cakes or mussels.
How to pick a crab
Picking crabs is meant to be a communal experience, best enjoyed with the breeze of the water rolling in and an ice-cold beer in front of you, but it can be done anywhere. Just put down some newspaper or brown craft paper on the table for easy cleanup and toss a few dozen crabs on top to get started. You’ll need tools, of course: a knife comes in handy for cracking the shell, and a wooden or metal mallet for crushing the legs. Be sure to take your time picking the meat out so you don’t miss any of the good stuff.
We asked Nancy Faidley Devine, third generation owner of Faidley’s Seafood in Lexington Market, to show us her technique:
Where to get a great crab cake
If you don’t want to go through all the work of picking your own crabs, your next best bet is a crab cake (jumbo lump and no filler whenever possible). Faidley’s Seafood has been serving softball sized crab cakes since 1886. Oprah Winfrey (who started her career in Baltimore) is a big fan of Pappas Seafood Co. crab cakes. Seasoned locals might also mention Costas Inn, Gertrude’s (which also offers a vegan option), Jimmy’s Famous Seafood and Koco’s Pub.
What’s the deal with Old Bay?
No crab dish is complete without the beloved seasoning Old Bay. A blend of 18 spices, it was invented by a German immigrant named Gustav Brunn and become popular in the 1940s. In 1990, Baltimore-based McCormick & Co. bought the recipe and it remains the same as it did nearly 100 years ago. The full recipe is top secret, and while you may find some pretty good imitations, nothing compares to the original. And Baltimoreans love to put it on just about anything—seafood, chicken, fries, popcorn, pizza—the list goes on and we encourage you to experiment.
Where to find the best seafood in town
If crabs still aren’t your thing, we won’t kick you out of Baltimore, but we will direct you to some amazing seafood restaurants that offer other Chesapeake Bay specialties like rockfish, oysters and mussels.