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How To Tell If Crab Is Cooked (To Enjoy Safely!)

How To Tell If Crab Is Cooked (To Enjoy Safely!)

There is nothing better than preparing a beautifully cooked crab and indulging in its delicious, buttery meat.

Yet, it can be one of the most challenging kinds of seafood to prepare properly, as both undercooking and overcooking crab pose problems. However, once you understand precisely how to tell if the crab is cooked, you’ll be amongst the great chefs preparing shellfish like a professional.

Of course, the best way to tell if a crab is cooked is to watch for a perfect, bright-red orange color. Yet, many elements may impact how you reach that ideal coloring.

“If I only ate one meal for the rest of my life, it would be king crab cakes…”

Skai Jackson

How Do You Tell if a Crab Is Overcooked or Undercooked?

A perfectly done crab has a red or orange shell, with firm and moist inner meat that tastes fresh and lightly sweet.

However, the outer appearance will be very different with an overcooked or undercooked crab. An overcooked crab will be pink, and an undercooked crab will have natural, dark colors. 

What Does Crab Meat Look Like Overcooked?

With an overcooked crab, the outer shell will be light red or pinkish. Unfortunately, if you accidentally cook crab to this point, the inside flesh will be yellowish, mushy, and taste slightly fishy. 

Additionally, if you buy already-cooked crab meat or crab legs, the outside appearance will not change when you reheat them. In this case, you can rely on an impeccable sense of smell (ignore the occasional green stuff).

If fresh, sweet seafood aromas are wafting from your stove, oven, or grill, it’s ready to take off the heat and enjoy. 

What Does Crab Meat Look Like Undercooked?

On the other hand, undercooked crab comes with brown, gray, green, or dark burgundy shells. If your crab has any of these colors, they are raw or undercooked. A sure way to tell if the crab is cooked is to use a meat thermometer and check the internal temperature. It is not ready if it is below the standard 145°F for seafood.

If you were to look inside a raw or undercooked crab, you would find the flesh very hard to separate from the shell or scoop out. It is incredibly moist and gelatinous.

That said, it is crucial not to sample raw or undercooked crab as there are dangerous risks of food poisoning. It is best to check the exterior color and the internal temperature. 

Is Store-Bought Crab Cooked or Raw?

Crab Meat

When you head to the grocery store or fish market to buy crab, you may be curious if you are purchasing cooked or raw crab. After all, this will make all the difference in your cooking method and time

If you live in a coastal region, you most likely know some fish markets where you can pick up a live crab. Likewise, you can find markets or fish counters to pick a live crab from an aquarium in some areas.

That is the only way you should purchase an uncooked crab. However, if you notice already-killed uncooked crabs, whether they are whole crabs or crab legs, it is best to steer clear.

They will not only taste terrible, but their bacteria also spread quite quickly and can make you ill. The only exception is frozen, uncooked crab meat as it quickly reaches deep freeze temperatures. 

If you are shopping in a grocery store, you may only find cooked (or canned) crab. Typically, you can buy it in refrigerated lump crab meat, crab legs, or whole crabs. You can purchase it either refrigerated or frozen.

It is easy to tell if your grocery store carries cooked crab by the orange-red color. You can also ask the fishmonger if it is cooked or uncooked if you have any doubts or concerns.

How Long Does It Take for To Be Cooked?


Now that you know how to tell if the crab is cooked, you’ll be able to spot when your crab is ready to eat. Yet, you may not know how to get your crab to that perfectly cooked spot.

There are many different ways to cook your crab, including reheating, boiling, steaming, grilling, and roasting. Depending on your method of choice, it will take varying amounts of time for your crab to change color and reach the best internal temperature. 

Reheating Cooked Crab

If you bought a cooked crab, you can enjoy the crab as part of a chilled meal, or you can reheat it. You can reheat cooked crab through boiling or steaming. In this way, you can retain the moisture inside the crab meat.

Boiling already-cooked crab only takes four minutes. Likewise, steaming cooked crab only takes around five or six minutes. 

Boiling Crab 

Boiling crab is one of the most popular methods of cooking fresh crab. The crab can absorb all the flavor added to the boiling water, retain its moisture easily, and cook quickly. You should add the crabs to the seasoned water once it is at a boil.

Cookbook author and culinary expert Cynthia Nims recommends to “cook the crab for eighteen minutes for a two-pound whole crab (a few or less based on other sizes); cook for about ten minutes if using cleaned crab portions or blue crab.” When it’s that nice vibrant color, they are ready. 

Steaming Crab

Steaming crab is another excellent way to retain all the moisture within crab meat and keep that delicious, natural crab flavor. Once you bring a pot of water to a rapid boil, you can add crabs to your steamer basket.

Cover the crabs and let them steam for about 20 minutes. Again, you will notice the change to a distinctive color when they are ready to enjoy.

Grilling Crab

Grilling crab is a summer favorite, providing a unique, smoky flavor to the crab meat. To ensure your crab cooks thoroughly, begin by boiling or steaming the crab partially (for around 5 minutes)

After doing so, you can clean them and get them ready for the grill with seasonings and oil. Then, you should grill each side for 3 to 5 minutes. Since you are cooking crab on the BBQ, it is vital to check for a proper internal temperature rather than relying on color.

Roasting Crab

Like grilling crab, you can begin the process by boiling or steaming your crabs for 5 minutes. Then, clean them properly and prepare them with seasonings and oil while preheating your oven to 450F or 500F.

Once it’s settled in a roasting pan, place the dish in the oven for 10 minutes. Your finished crab will be brown, so it is essential to check the internal temperature.

How Long Does It Take to Cook Frozen Crab?

If you are cooking frozen uncooked crab, you most likely have a frozen whole crab, crab legs, or lump crab meat. In any of these cases, you should thaw the crab before cooking it.

Depending on the size of crab portions, this can take up to 8 hours in the refrigerator, or you can run cold water over the meat for 30 minutes

After this process, your crab should take as long as a fresh crab to cook. However, if you are working with frozen, cooked crab, it may only take as long as reheating. 


Here are a few commonly asked questions.

Is Crab Ever Served Raw?

You should never serve or eat raw or undercooked crab. Raw crab contains bacteria and parasites that can cause severe food poisoning and life-threatening illnesses. Therefore, it is imperative to ensure you cook your crab correctly and thoroughly. In the process, you will kill harmful pathogens and parasites. 

Can You Eat Crab Cold?

You can eat this delicacy cold or chilled when you have pre-cooked crab meat. In fact, many delicious dishes call for cold crabs, such as crab sliders, crab-stuffed mushrooms, and crab dip. Hard, cooked crab meat poses no risks to your health unless it is not cooked, cooled, handled correctly, or prepared within proper freshness dates.

What Does Crab Meat Look Like Uncooked? 

Healthy raw crab meat has white flesh with bright red markings where it meets the shell. Look for bright, clean colors indicating health and freshness. If the meat has a brown tinge, it’s been separated from the shell for some time, and you won’t get that fresh crab flavor.

Are Crab Legs Pre-Cooked?

If you bought crab legs or lump crab meat from the market, look for an indication it is already cooked. The raw crab must be live and whole to ensure proper safety. Portions of crab need a label stating “cooked” or displayed as cooked by their red or orange exterior shell.