How to Eat the Florida Stone Crab


Photo: Kelly Dean

How to Eat the Florida Stone Crab

By Kelly Dean

In Florida, Stone Crabs are harvested for generally one claw alone, and then released, so it is highly likely your meal is still swimming around with another big claw to live on – and defend itself against predators. I feel better about this, compare to other methods. I don’t know about the outcome, but I like the logic. That said, here are a few tips.

Those who eat crabs know what is meant by the “big bite.” It’s the carefully cracked portion that fits perfectly in your mouth and leaves the cocktail sauce for silly folks.

Really, eating a stone crab is kind of an adventure. If you’re used to eating conventional crabs, yeah, stone crabs can be a bit tricky by comparison. Stone crabs have shells that are nuclear hard. These critters eat lobsters, so yeah, they are bad-ass. As stone crabs don’t have unusually large brains. The creator has blessed them with unusually large “chelae,” or claws (I promise I won’t use that word in the rest of the article because it makes my head hurt. I’ll just use claws.).

This is my theory about the “size-thing” in general: Small things are blessed with large things that matter. Large things are blessed with football talent. Stone crab claws are a delicacy to the local people of Florida and are revered for their unique flavor. I love them from October 15 to May 15, at which time they are available at about 15 bucks per pound.

Stone crab shells are quite hard. Although, most establishments serve them steamed, semi-cracked and on ice, you must work to create the “savory bite,” the bite that’s big enough to say, “I am smart enough to crack this claw methodically and get the biggest bite of coolness I’ve ever had so I can savor it.” Crab freaks know what I’m talking about. It can be done and it’s worth the effort.

I know that’s a tall order, but once the flavor of a truly big bite is squashed between your mouth’s roof, teeth and tongue, you’ll know what I mean. That bite is the essence of enjoying stone crab in Florida. So here’s the secret.

stone-crab-custom-2The main claw is the opportunity to get the very large-single-bite-taste-of-wonderment. Most restaurants serve stone crab cold and partially cracked, but not all. In some establishments, you’ll do all your own cracking. Nevertheless, the main claw is the main thing.

Starting from the “palm-part” itself, chip off the shell from the first elbow toward the pincer, cracking and chipping away as needed. Once you have all of this shell off, you’ll have the main portion of meat. After that, focus on the smaller, hinged pincer. One must separate the smaller pincer from the bigger, fixed larger pincer. The small one comes off with some careful sideways wiggle work but it leaves its meat contents with the main meat “bite,” if taken off carefully. At this point, you should have a naked, meaty palm portion, except for the unhinged big claw. There is a flat, thin disk of cartilage running through the middle of the “big bite,” if this is removed intact, in one effort, along with the top, big claw, you have a one-piece bite that is huge — to dip in your butter, horsey sauce or cocktail sauce, if desired.

So carefully grasp the big claw, meaty portion and slide it off the internal cartilage disk with a bit of wiggling. It works. Sorry, the top pincer seldom relinquishes its internal meat intact, but the cocktail fork can get to it.

Nevertheless, you have a meatball-sized chunk of upper-Atlantic seafood goodness you just can’t experience anywhere else. Oh, and don’t forget to try the Florida blue crab too.

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