The Best Summer Crab Boil

Plucked from our hometown waters, a fresh bounty of plump blue crabs prepared three classic ways makes for the best summer crab boil.

summer crab boil spread out on a table
Photos by Jennie Tewell

Summer is the time for easy outdoor entertaining. Fairhope chef Maggie Weir shares sensational recipes for cooking up a low-key Lower Alabama crab boil with all the fixings. Plus, find additional recipes to put the leftovers to good use. But first, here are a few tried-and-true tips for hosting the ultimate get-together.

Keep It Casual
Backyard dining is always best. Take advantage of the warm sunshine and long days; enjoy a laid-back alfresco meal in the late afternoon and carry it on into evening. 

Set the Scene 
You’ll need newspaper and plenty of it. Line tables with it, and you won’t have to worry about crab shells and butter stains ruining your favorite tablecloth. After everyone has had their fill of the one-pot supper, just roll up the newspaper and toss. Don’t forget the mallets and crab crackers to simplify the picking process. And if you’re hosting newbies, keep our step-by-step hints to picking crabs, listed below, at the ready.

Pick Local 
Scout out the freshest, locally harvested ingredients, such as Gulf blue crabs and Baldwin County silver queen corn. Additional indigenous sides, such as Conecuh sausage, French bread and beer, round out the menu.

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The Send-Off 
Provide guests with moistened hand towelettes and sliced lemons for quick and easy clean up. And don’t send them home empty-handed. Leftover crabmeat is perfect for a next-day dinner of crab cakes or gratin. (See recipes below) Or, fill shells to make fabulous stuffed crabs.

Summer Crab Boil

This traditional coastal meal is perfect for a backyard gathering. Grilled sides, such as spicy, sliced Conecuh sausage and crispy French bread for sopping, make it even more decadent.

8 quarts water
2 (3-ounce) packages crab boil or 1 container pickling spice
1 large yellow onion, quartered
2 lemons, quartered
1/2 head garlic
3 bay leaves
1 bunch thyme
3 pounds small red potatoes
6 ears corn, shucked and halved
2 dozen Gulf blue crabs
Garlic-infused Parsley Butter, for dipping, see recipe opposite
Lemon-infused Chive Butter, for dipping, see recipe opposite
Tabasco Butter, for dipping, see recipe below

1. Pour water into large stockpot.
2. Add crab boil, onion, lemons, garlic, bay leaves and thyme, and bring to a boil. Boil liquid for 10 minutes, then add red potatoes and cook until fork tender (about 15 minutes), then remove. Add corn to water and cook until tender (about 6 – 8 minutes), then remove.
3. Finally, add crabs to boiling water in small batches and cook for 7 – 10 minutes, then remove crabs and place on wire rack in sink and cover with ice until ready to serve. Serve with infused butters for dipping. If desired, toss potatoes in infused butter before serving.


Garlic-infused Parsley Butter

1 stick butter
4 garlic cloves, smashed
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1. In a saucepan, melt butter with garlic. Simmer for 3 – 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in chopped parsley.

Lemon-Infused Chive Butter

1 stick butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped chives

1. In a saucepan, melt butter and turn off heat. Add lemon juice, zest and chopped chives. Stir to combine.

Tabasco Butter

1 stick butter
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 – 3 teaspoons Tabasco sauce 

1. In a saucepan, melt butter and add minced garlic. Sauté over low heat until fragrant, add Tabasco and turn off heat.

How to Pick a Blue Crab

1. Pull off all of the crab’s legs and claws. Set aside the claws.
2. Turn the crab over on its back and open up the apron of the crab, which looks like a tab.
3. Pull off top shell of the crab and discard. Use your fingers to remove the spongy, gray gills. (They are not edible.)

Close-up of picking a blue crab

4. Break the body of the crab in half.
5. Then break in half again. From here, pick the sweet lump crabmeat from inside the cavity and enjoy. Dip crabmeat in butter, if desired. Repeat with other half of the crab.
6. Finally, enjoy the claws. Using a claw cracker or mallet, gently crack open the shells of each claw and pick out the meat, being careful to avoid the cartilage. Dip crabmeat in butter, if desired.

Close-up of picking a blue crab

Blue Crab Gratin

Use any leftover crabmeat to create this mouthwatering splurge.

Crab gratin

1/2 pound unsalted butter, divided
1 1/2 cups minced onions
1 cup small diced celery
1 cup small diced green peppers
1 1⁄2 cups flour
1 cup white wine
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups grated white cheddar cheese, divided
2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Tabasco
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
4 teaspoons Creole seasoning, divided
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and white pepper, to taste
2 pounds jumbo lump crabmeat
1 cup chopped green onions
2 cups panko bread crumbs
2 loaves French bread, grilled and sliced

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Add 4 tablespoons butter and onions to medium sauté pan. Cook gently until onions are tender and translucent. Add celery and green peppers and cook an additional 3 minutes. Remove from heat and reserve.
3. In medium saucepan, melt remaining butter over medium heat. Add flour and mix well. Add white wine, milk and heavy cream. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring constantly.
4. Add 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, 1 cup Parmesan cheese, parsley, lemon juice, Tabasco, Worcestershire, 2 teaspoons Creole seasoning and nutmeg. Stir until cheese is melted. Season with salt and white pepper to taste. Remove from heat.
5. Combine onion mixture with cream mixture. Add crabmeat and green onions. Toss gently to combine. Add salt and white pepper to taste.
6. Combine panko bread crumbs, 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, 1 cup Parmesan cheese and 2 teaspoons of Creole seasoning.
7. Divide crab mixture into 12 buttered gratin dishes. Top generously with bread crumb mixture.
8. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, and then place under broiler for 1 – 2 minutes to brown top. Serve with grilled French bread. Serves 12

Gulf Crab Cakes

Serve this rich and flavorful summertime app while the crab boil simmers.

Crab cakes

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups diced onions
1 1/2 cups diced celery
1 1/2 cups diced green peppers
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
3/4 cup sour cream
3 eggs
1 tablespoon Tabasco
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons Creole seasoning
1 tablespoon dry mustard
3/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups chopped scallions
3 pounds lump crabmeat, rinsed and picked cleaned
5 1/4 cups panko bread crumbs, divided
3/4 cup olive oil
Smoky Remoulade Sauce, see recipe below

1. Heat sauté pan over medium heat. Add butter. Cook onions, celery and peppers until tender.
2. In large bowl, combine next 10 ingredients. Add in cooked onions, celery and peppers mixture. Mix  thoroughly.
3. Gently fold in crabmeat and 3/4 cup bread crumbs to mixture. Stir gently, careful not to break up crabmeat. Portion into 2-1/2-ounce patties and dredge in remaining bread crumbs.
4. Heat nonstick sauté pan over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil and 6 crab cakes.
5. Cook on both sides until golden brown. Leave cooked crab cakes in warm oven. Repeat process. Serve with Smoky Remoulade Sauce. Makes 24

Smoky Remoulade Sauce

2 1/4 cups mayonnaise
3/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon Tabasco
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons Creole seasoning
2 tablespoons horseradish
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
6 tablespoons minced cornichons

1. Combine all ingredients, mix thoroughly. Store in refrigerator.

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