How to Clean Crabs

Many readers who read crab recipes here, asked me to explain how I clean crabs. This is an account of how I do it.

I checked in few of American grocery stores. They had the ‘snow crabs’, which were too big compared to what we get in India. I am not sure how they are cooked. Then in the Chinese shop, I found two different kinds, one was ‘Dungeness crabs’, which were again big compared to Indian crabs and were red in color. The crabs which I bought were ‘Blue crabs’ which more or less looked like when we get in our native.

I could find the live crabs there. Since they had the two big legs (not the walking ones) I was a bit worried to clean them when alive (They are the most dangerous ones in the crab. The 10 walking legs are relatively very less harmful. At our native, the two big legs are usually removed and given seperately by the person who catches the crabs). So I kept the crabs in freezer for 2 hrs and then cleaned them.
Here are the step by step pictures.
Always hold the crab like this (when they are alive). If you try to hold in any other way, they can easily bite your hand :).
Still keeping it pressed to ground, pluck the legs.
If the crabs are not alive, hold them like this, to make the cleaning process easier.
In the picture below, the legs in the upper left corner and stomach portion are used and the walking legs in the upper right corner are discarded.
Now, the most difficult part of the cleaning, cleaning of the stomach portion. To make this easier, first remove the flap like thing in the back side of the crab. For that, first the flap has to be loosened. So, hold the crab in the following way, and hit it to some hard edges to slightly break it. (In the blue crabs, it came out easily without any force applied).
Open the flap.
Hold it with flap opened and hit the hard shell to a hard surface to just crack the outer shell as in the following pictures.
Now, hold the down portion firmly with the left hand, and lift the top portion with right hand (this requires a bit of force, first time it might look a bit difficult).
When the shell is opened, it looks like this.
Clean the soft portion (it looks like lungs, I am not sure though) and all the yellowish portion (some people use the yello thing in the gravy which gives thickness to the gravy. But I never use it.
After cleaning, it looks like this. Hold the crab below running water to remove any other unwanted dirt from crab.
Now your crab is ready for using.
My mom makes two pieces from the stomach to make eating easier (only for bigger crabs). For this, hold the cleaned crab like this and twist the right hand in clockwise and left hand in anti-clockwise direction.
Clean the crab once again thoroughly before using.
She also slightly crushs the legs with pestle(beat it just once or twice just to crack the outer shell slightly) to make the eating easier.
Make the Crab gravy / Kurle ambat and enjoy :). (One strange thing I noticed was, the blue legs turned to red after cooking!!!)
I hope after reading this, you can clean the crabs on your own. For any further doubts, leave a comment here and I will be happy to answer them.

40 thoughts on “How to Clean Crabs”

  1. Thanks for the procedure. What worries me is that the crabs are alive when brought home!!

    I wish there was some way to watch a video of this!! I still feel I should drop by your place and enjoy the stuff!!

  2. Thanks SO Much for this post, and the kurlya ambat… Will definitely check out the local Chinese grocer for crabs.. 🙂 Thanks once again

  3. Shilpa, this is a great tutorial. Thank you so much! I much prefer to have someone else make the kurlyachi amti and I just enjoy it rather than deal with live crabs. My uncle is famous for bringing home live crabs and losing them on the way to the kitchen, despite having carried them from the market with no mishap. He then proceeds to climb atop a chair and calls out to his wife to get as many pots as crabs. He then gives her directions on how to disorient and trap the crabs by placing overturned pots on them. Did I mention that through all of this he continues to stand on the chair??!

  4. Shilpa,

    Wow!That’s one hell of a job to clean the crabs. Hats-off to you for such a detailed and informative post. I am sure it is going to be useful to people who cook crabs at home.

    Also, you have got a great website. I am novice in this area, come visit me when you get a chance.


  5. Hi all, Thanks a lot for your comments. I hope it will be helpful for you when you want to clean the crab.
    Manisha, thats very funny :). I have seen some people trying hard to catch the crabs. Since I loved the crabs, I learnt to clean them at an early age :).

  6. Wow Shilpa!
    Reminded me of my mother, she used tie these live crabs until she was ready clean them and then one by one she would untie. Remember sitting and watching her do this. But appreciate the effort you have taken to show the readers.

  7. The green-blue hue of the crab outer shell (or exoskeleton) is due to certain protein complexes that predominate over carotenoids like astaxanthin. Boiling, steaming or cooking in any other way causes the proteins to denature and the protein coils to unravel. This causes the carotenoid pigments (similar to the ones in carrots) to rise to the surface. And since carotenoids are more stable (by nature than long coiled protiens) the cooked product retains the pink red hue. That is how the blue crab legs become red.
    Btw, nice explanation; though I still feel squeamish about doing it myself and will probably get home a box of crab meat.

  8. Shilpa

    Great effort in capturing every minute step in cleaning the crab, a very tedious job.

    Crabs are great to eat, anyway u cook, they are delicious, a children’s favorite too.


  9. hi,
    many many thanks on the detailed crab cleaning process. since coming to the usa 6 yrs ago i have been begging practically all the elderly ladies who know how to do it to show me how to do it but no use they just cant seem to share their knowledge. thanks once again. i shall bring a crab & most def try u r steps & if i get stuck shall get back to u for further clarification. regards rema

  10. Hi Shilpa,

    Exactly the way my mother showed me, except that she never cleaned live crabs – at least live crabs with “Denge”.

    By the way, any guidance on how to select the Crabs. (e.g. some heuristics that I know of – red ones are “ushna” than black ones. Sea crabs are better than river crabs or bay crabs.) Also what are good dishes one can make of small crabs? (Small crabs dont have enough meat in it.)

    Personally I feel that crab is best honored in Kurlyache suke or rassa. Especially in Monsoon, it is night time and the rain is falling since morning, has made the whole weather like – “let me just be inside the house watching rain” type. It is dinner time, let there be enough moist and chill in the air. And let the menu be – Chapati/Bhakari/Amboli, Kurlyache Suke/Rassa, fried Saranga, bhaat, alyache raite and solkadi!!!

    Commercially, I had my best Crab dish in (Crab Masala cooked in Chettinad style) in Annachi on 100 ft Road, Indiranagar.

    I just dont like Eurpoean or chinese recipes for Crab.

    Finally, what are Konkan style dishes for lobster (Shivada)? How to cook it?

    Shilpa: Sorry Jagmohan, I don’t have too much knowledge about crabs. I usually pick out whatever looks good to me. Next time when I visit Bangalore, I have to go to Annachi, I love crabs cooked in Indian style. Thanks for info. Never tried lobster 🙁

  11. Hi Shilpa,
    If u get some live crabs home and dont know how to start,you should first boil some water in a large pan,drop the crabs one at a time into the boiling seconds the shell will change colour ,drain water and proceed with the cleaning..

  12. Hi,
    Is it really necessary to separate, and keep separate for dishes, the claw meat, the backfin meat, etc. Thanks for your help

  13. Thnak you very much for this information…I was looking for a away i could clean crabs as I have naver cooked or cleaned them. You have exlained it with pictures and I am so glad and thankful.

    God Bless you!

  14. who ever you are, where ever you are, thanks a million, i have never cleaned a crab before, will try them now, i hope your explanation will help for sure,


  15. Helo,
    Thank you very much dear.I could make a delicious crab curry.The article is truly helping .Especially the images

  16. Thanks for the info. My 7 yr old son loved the idea of cleaning (fighting) the crabs. I used nose pliers and prongs used to make papad! You should tell everybody that this could be a family affair!! And you get an unbeatable meal afterwards!!!

  17. Shilpa – a new restaurant called Anjappar Chettinad has opened closeby and guess what they serve – crab masala – and it is yummmmmyyyyy!!! they use the snow crabs and it is impossible to eat at the restaurant with everyone giving you sly glances
    cleaning the crab is not an easy task – i tried many times. wanted to also mention that in shoprite in the seafood freezer section they have cleaned blue crabs – hooray!!

  18. Its really very very Useful information and I am very fond of Crabs i am really very eager to learn to Cook crab.Thank You very much for the Information.I myself am a GSB it was great looking for the GSB receipes I was really not aware that i can read & get such nice receipes on the site. Thank You.


  19. Hi Shilpa
    Thanks for the info
    ilove crabs but its just has been a dream to eat now after i got married as i dont know to clean them
    I will surely try today and let to know.
    Is there any easy way like boil them and then break the hard portion

  20. Hey Shilpa,
    Why so they say that if a crab isnt cleaned properly it is poisonous. Is it really? I mean I love crab curry – kurle ambat – but I am scared of poisoning my family if I am not able to clean it the way it should be. Please inform me.

    – Gauri

  21. Shilpa,
    Thanks for the step by step description of cleaning crab. The pictures make it easy to understand. My husband loves crab curry. I am going to try it.


  22. hii shilpa,

    this is really a good way of cleaning crabs also the pictures make it easy to understand. my husband loves all crab recipes bt i cant’t cook at home as i was scared crabs. now i will go through your steps and try. wish me luck shilpa.

    if i kept live crabs in freezhe they will dead or unconsious… please reply me.

    thanks and waiting for your reply.

  23. Hey Shilpa.

    fabolous site! My mother used to buy the crabs and clean it, slowly i took over cleaning the crabs since my teen days. One point though, always have the claws removed from the vendor selling the crab.
    One Tip my mother gave to me : Always buy the crab during the full moon to the new moon phase i.e. from Pournima to Amavasya. the closer to new moon the better. Crabs put on more muscle during just before the new moon.

  24. LOL.. I’ve always been scared of touching live crabs. Is there any way to make sure they are dead and can’t hurt? This was a nice guide to cleaning crabs. Thanks!

  25. Shilpa Shanbhag


    After reading this tutorial, i am going to attempt getting kurlo at home, have been terrified for last 8 years and hence could not eat this favourite ambat.

    Thanks a lot


  26. Chanced upon this site today when looking recipe of Oondi to share with my colleague. This is a nice pictorial explanation of cleaning crabs, which as the comments show, is very very helpful.
    I love crabs n hence learnt to clean them long back. The yellowish thing u mentioned which is present in the cavity inside, are fats. My mother doesn’t let even little go waste. It makes the recipe tastier, is what she says. You can find similar yellowish stuff when you clean prawns as well!

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