San Francisco Dungeness Crab

San Francisco Dungeness Crab

. 3 min read

One day if I go to heaven, I’ll look around and say “It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco”.

— Herb Caen

I spent a number of years living in San Francisco, one of my favorite cities on the planet. San Francisco is known for its food, and one of the quintessential San Francisco meals is Dungeness crab. (Not Rice-a-Roni like the commercials say.)

Crab season starts in early November in San Francisco. If you’re lucky enough to reside in the “cool, grey city of love” you can just pop down to Fisherman’s Wharf or Chinatown and pick up fresh crabs for dinner.

If you’re not in the Bay Area, try an Asian market. I just looked it up and there are two Asian markets in Las Vegas (where I live now) that sell live crabs. We will definitely be having some crab dinners this holiday season.

Dungeness crabs served the San Francisco way come with lots of melted butter and a loaf of crusty real sourdough bread (another San Francisco tradition).

In addition to being delicious, crabs are also very nutritious. Dungeness crabs are rich in vitamin B-12 and lots of minerals.

How to Buy Dungeness Crabs

It’s best to buy live crabs because this way you know they are fresh.  When choosing a live Dungeness crab, look for the lively ones. Avoid listless crabs.

If you can’t find live crabs, you can also buy crabs that have been pre-cooked. Look for crabs that have their legs curled up underneath them. This is a sign the crab was cooked alive, which is what you want. Crabs cooked after they die are probably bad.

How to Clean and Eat Dungeness Crab

I just serve the whole crab at the table and we pick it apart. Here are some tips for cleaning and eating the crab:

1. Throw away the intestine, which runs down the center of the back.
2. Most people wash away the “crab butter” (the yellow stuff in the cavity). But these organs are a delicacy and are very nutritious. Give it a try!
3. Use a mallet to crack the legs.
4. Use a small fork or pick to dig out the meat.
5. Eating crab is messy. Make sure you have plenty of napkins on hand. If you have kids, you may want to lay down some newspaper or butcher paper on the table and let them have at it. Have fun with it!

Here’s a good post with pictures that explains in detail how to clean the crab.

Be sure to save the shells to make crab stock! Just freeze until you are ready to use. Similar to lobster stock, this makes a delicious and nutrient-dense bone broth you can use for seafood soups and stews, risotto, sauces, and other dishes.

San Francisco Dungeness Crab

Serves 4


Water, filtered
Sea salt
Live Dungeness crabs (2 crabs)
Lemons (2)
Butter from grass-fed cows — where to buy grass-fed butter
Optional: Real sourdough bread (1 loaf) — (click here for my recipe)


Large stock pot


1. Add filtered water to a large stock pot. There should be enough water so that the crab is completely submerged, plus an additional 4 or 5 inches. Use about half a cup of salt per gallon of water. If you prefer, you can also steam the crabs — just use less water, set them on a rack in the pot, and cover.
2. Bring to a boil on high heat.
3. Place crabs carefully in liquid.
4. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until crabs turn bright orange.
5. Drain well.
6. Serve with cut lemon wedges, bowls of melted butter, and warm sourdough bread.

NOTE: If using pre-cooked crabs, just put them in the salted water for 5 minutes to reheat.