The Magnificent Alaskan King Crab

A sight to behold, these creatures with legs that can span up to 5-6 feet. Their bright red shells hold within them a succulent sweet delicacy. They are caught in the frigid waters of Bristol Bay and Norton Sound in Alaska. Brave fisherman venture into these treacherous waters to fish for the short season of October to January. The state of Alaska does not allow any farm fishing, everything is wild caught. King Crab is Alaska’s second most valuable species, Sockeye Salmon being its first most valuable species.

The US Federal Government and the State of Alaska manage the crab fishing. There are strict guidelines they follow to ensure an abundant and healthy stock: minimum size requirements, male only restrictions and a specific fishing season. To ensure freshness, most crabs are caught, cooked and then blast frozen right on the fishing vessel.

Various sizes of crab legs are available. The sizes are listed as number of legs per 10 pounds. A 9-12 count (per 10 pounds) would be considered Colossal Crab Legs. 12 to 14 count are Extra Large, 14 -17 count are Large and 16 to 20 count are Mediums.

Because these beauties are already cooked, you’re responsibilities have just been greatly reduced. You are just reheating them. You can do this in a variety of ways: boil, steam, bake, broil or grill. I personally prefer a combination bake and steam. The meat is delicate so I like a little bit of steam to ensure I don’t overcook them. The oven allows me to do as many crab legs as I want at a time. The stove top method of steaming or boiling is limiting in space availability. To me, when boiling, I feel like I’m losing some of that sweet flavor to all the water the crab is immersed in. Then, once I’m ready to serve, I have a lot of extra water on the platter and on my guest’s plates.
If it was summer…bring out the grill. Heat grill to medium low (325 degrees). Rub legs with olive oil. Place on grill, cover and cook for five minutes. That’s it!

Some people like to cut the shells in half horizontally to make it easier to eat at the table. That all sounds good in theory but a shell cracker is a lot safer than a sharp knife up against a hard crab shell. I say, if you’re going to enjoy crab legs, just get your hands dirty and enjoy! I do use kitchen scissors to cut them into approximately 6 inch sections (cutting at the joints) to make it easier to serve and crack.

You should thaw your crab legs before reheating. Place in the refrigerator overnight. If you’re in a hurry, run them under cold water. You can figure 1 pound of crab legs per person. If you’re doing surf and turf, allow for ½ pound per person. No reason you have to limit yourself and your guests to one pound, it is such a rare treat it’s kind of fun to indulge yourself a little.

I am a purist when it comes to excellent fish and seafood. Some people like to add flavors while cooking. They’ll add lemon, garlic and herbs. My thought is, this is the sweetest crab on the planet and I’m not going to mess around with its flavor profile. I do add a little fresh lemon juice to the steaming water. That is more to reduce the smells in the kitchen than to flavor the meat. I also add a little fresh lemon juice to the drawn butter. The little bit of acidity brightens up the flavor of the butter.

Do you want to serve the crab meat cold? Easy enough, just thaw. They’re already cooked!

Alaska King Crab with Lemon Sea Salt Butter

Course Main Dish
Cuisine Holiday



  • 1 pound Alaskan King Crab Legs per person
  • Lemon


  • 2 sticks Unsalted Butter 1/2 lb.
  • Lemon
  • Sea Salt



  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat a pan of hot water on the stove top. Place thawed crab legs in a baking dish. You can pile them up. Add the hot water to the bottom of the baking dish, 1/8 inch deep. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice into the water. Bake for seven to 10 minutes. If you are reheating colossal size legs, this could take up to 30 minutes.


  • Over low heat, melt the butter until it is foaming. With a spoon, skim off the foam and save in an air tight container. Gently pour the clarified butter into another air tight container, leaving the milk solids in the bottom of the sauce pan.
  • Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and dash of sea salt. Serve in butter warmers.


Drawn Butter makes 4 servings, can be made a day ahead and reheated.
Clarifying the butter removes the fat solids from the butter. When the butter is over heat the fat solids spatter. By removing the fat solids, you and your guests can indulge without fear of getting burnt.