Your Stop-by-Stop Guide to Maryland’s Best Blue Crabs

Follow this guide for a tasty journey through

<p>Getty Images / Eliyahu Parypa</p>

Getty Images / Eliyahu Parypa

As a 20-year resident of Maryland, I know one thing to be true: Our crabs are the best in the world. This simple fact was proven to me again on a recent outing in the Midwest, where a family member insisted on ordering a crab cake appetizer at a buzzy new restaurant. I dug into the thin-fried assortment that looked and tasted nothing like a Maryland crab cake, dense with chunky, jumbo lump crab browned on top from broiling.

Marylanders take much pride in the delicate, rich flavor and preparation of Maryland blue crabs dredged from the Chesapeake Bay — responsible for half the blue crab harvest in the U.S. Though blue crabs can be found in other coastal waters, nearly half of all travelers to the Chesapeake Bay consume crabs and other local seafood, searching for that local-only taste.

“Maryland blue crab has such a distinct taste — the sweetness, the freshness,”  says Jasmine Norton, owner of the Urban Oyster, a raw bar and seafood restaurant that serves a noteworthy cream of crab soup. “The meat is so tender and buttery. ”

Crab consumption takes on many forms here: crab cakes, crab soup, crab pretzels, crab dip, and crab fries. But the true Maryland crab experience involves cracking whole crabs over a paper-strewn table with family and friends, relishing each bite as fingers turn red from Old Bay seasoning. And our preferred cooking method is steamed, not boiled.

“Dunking the crab in water is going to wash out the flavor and make the meat soggy,” says Amanda Mack, whose crab pies at Baltimore bakery Crust by Mack have won customers as far away as Dublin.

Visitors should note that the Maryland crab season extends from April to November, so if you’re ordering them outside of that stretch, there’s a good chance the restaurant hauled crabs from another state.

We’ve listed some of the best places to eat steamed crabs and crab cakes in Baltimore and beyond. You’ll find additional stores and restaurants on True Blue, a state site that identifies spots that serve Maryland blue crab, and on the Maryland Crab and Oyster Trail.

Steamed crabs

L.P. Steamers offers city views on its deck and an unpretentious interior inside a rowhome, the city’s most abundant dwelling. Two of Mack’s favorites include Conrad Crabs and Seafood Market and Xash Crabs, a Black-owned pop-up whose meatiness and dry rub seasoning she loves.

Norton says Bill’s Terrace Inn in Essex, 20 minutes from downtown, steams their crabs perfectly. “They always have the heaviest crabs. The taste is mind-blowing.”

Many visitors also head to Ocean City to hit the bustling crab shacks like On the Bay Seafood and Crab Bag.

Eat Maryland crabs on the water

Nothing compares to the joy of eating crabs outside next to the water. Captain James Crab House serves all-you-can-eat crabs Monday to Thursday with a side of corn, Maryland crab soup, and views of the Canton Waterfront. Arrive early to grab a table on the deck at Nick’s Fish House, which fills up on summer weekends.

Norton likes Dock of the Bay in Sparrows Point for its plump, fresh, and not overly cooked steamed crabs, while Kara Mae Harris, who chronicles Maryland food history on her blog Old Line Plate, enjoyed the hearty and reasonably priced crab cakes at Cantler’s Riverside Inn in Annapolis. Harris notes that they serve another crab delicacy: soft-shell crabs, which are crabs that have shed their hard exterior. “They have tanks out back, so you can see the crabs  shedding.”

Crab cakes

There’s no shortage of good crab cake spots, but most locals would agree that Koko’s Pub is a true neighborhood gem, known for its hearty 11-ounce serving and colorful, license plate- and bumper-sticker-strewn interior.

Oprah gets her crab cakes shipped from Pappas Seafood Co., and so can you. Or pop into one of their four restaurants and sports bars in greater Baltimore. Located in the newly renovated Lexington Market, Faidley’s Seafood has also won over fans around the country with its secret recipe and ships its crab cakes, as does G&M Restaurant.

For crab cakes in fancier digs, hit True Chesapeake Oyster Co., Blk Swan, the waterfront Cindy Lou’s Fish House in Baltimore, or the Tide Room in Ashore Resort and Beach Club in Ocean City.

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