How to Cook Frozen Crab Legs Perfectly Every Time

There are three easy ways to cook crab legs: boiling, steaming, and baking. In less than 10 minutes, each method will give you perfectly warmed crab meat. There are also lots of tips in this post on how to choose and cook the most common types of crab legs.

Fresh crab is every seafood lover’s dream. And the good news is that crab is super easy to cook at home. Why? Because the crab you purchase from your local fishmonger is already pre-cooked and frozen. Many people don’t realize this. But crab is immediately cooked and flash-frozen to preserve its freshness when it’s caught. That means all you have to do to cook crab is warm up the legs, which only takes a few minutes!

You can dip crab in a tasty sauce (I’ll talk more about that below), or you can use fresh crab as a protein in crab salad, bowls, and other things. It’s easy to make a crab boil dinner that looks fancy but is actually very simple because the crab is already cooked.

Crab legs make for an easy yet impressive meal that is quick to prepare While fresh crab legs are delicious, you can get fantastic results using frozen crab legs as well. The key is knowing how to properly thaw and cook frozen crab legs so that they turn out tender and flavorful

In this article, I’ll go over everything you need to know to cook frozen crab legs like a pro. We’ll cover:

  • The best ways to thaw frozen crab legs
  • How long to cook crab legs (boiling, steaming, baking times)
  • How many crab legs per person you need to buy
  • Pro tips and mistakes to avoid
  • Recipes and serving suggestions

Let’s dive in!

Thawing Frozen Crab Legs

Crab legs sold at the grocery store are pre-cooked and flash frozen to maintain freshness. So cooking them is just a matter of heating them up to serve warm

To do this right, you first need to thaw frozen crab legs properly. There are a few methods you can use:

  • Cold water bath: Place legs in a bowl and cover with cold tap water. Change water every 30 minutes until thawed, about 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on amount.

  • Refrigerator thawing: Place crab legs in a bowl in the fridge 24 hours before cooking.

  • Microwave thawing: Place legs in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30 second intervals, checking and flipping between rounds, until thawed enough to bend legs slightly, 5-7 minutes.

The cold water bath method thaws crab legs the fastest without cooking them. Thawing in the refrigerator takes longer but requires no effort. Microwaving works in a pinch but can start cooking the crab, so work quickly once thawed.

How do you know when they’re ready to cook? The shells should feel cold and the joints should move freely. Undercooked crab tastes gummy, while overcooked turns rubbery, so properly thawing beforehand is key.

Cooking Frozen Crab Legs

While boiling and steaming are popular cooking methods, baking crab legs is hands-down my favorite way to prepare them. It leaves you with tender, moist meat bursting with sweet flavor.


Baking frozen crab legs is simple:

  1. Line a baking sheet with foil and arrange frozen crab legs in a single layer.

  2. Bake at 375°F for 15 minutes. Then increase heat to 400°F and bake 5 more minutes until heated through.

  3. Brush with butter and sprinkle with Old Bay seasoning once out of the oven.

Since the legs cook from the outside-in, baking avoids overcooking. The two-stage method ensures the meat gently warms without becoming rubbery.

Pro Tip: For a show-stopping presentation, leave claws and legs intact while cracking open the body and filling it with a crab imperial stuffing.


Boiling is a quick and classic way to prepare crab legs that infuses them with seasoning flavor. It does require constant monitoring though to avoid overcooking.

  1. In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil with crab boil seasoning if desired.

  2. Gently add legs and return to a boil.

  3. Boil 5-7 minutes until heated through and shells turn bright red.

  4. Drain and serve with melted butter.

Pro Tip: For the best flavor, make the boiling liquid a seasoned crab broth. Simmer crab shells, bay leaves, garlic, lemon, and spices in water 20 minutes before adding legs.


Steaming crab legs locks in moisture while heating them through gently. The result is succulent meat that nearly falls off the shell.

  1. Fill a large pot with 2 inches of water and bring to a boil.

  2. Place legs in a steamer basket, cover, and steam for 4-5 minutes until cooked through.

  3. Remove basket from pot and brush legs with butter or olive oil.

Pro Tip: Add corn, potatoes, and smoked sausage to the pot to make it a seafood boil! Layer underneath the crab legs 20 minutes before finishing cooking.

How Many Legs Per Person?

When buying crab legs to serve, use this guideline for portions:

  • As an entree: 1 lb per person
  • As an appetizer: 1⁄2 lb per person
  • For crab feasts: 11⁄2-2 lbs per person

The number of legs in a pound varies by type. King and snow crab legs are larger so there are fewer per pound compared to smaller Dungeness or blue crab.

For all-out crab boils or feasts, go big with 11⁄2-2 pounds per person since you’ll likely have other seafood and sides too. Appetizer-sized portions are perfect for starters or surf and turf pairings with 6 ounces of meat.

Pro Tips for Cooking Crab Legs

Follow these pro tips when cooking frozen crab legs at home:

  • Watch out for salt: Most frozen crab legs are pre-brined so avoid adding extra salt when boiling or steaming. Taste the water first before seasoning more.

  • Use a thermometer: An instant-read thermometer should read 140°F when inserted at thickest part of meat.

  • Prevent drying: Baste crab legs with butter or oil right before serving to prevent meat from drying out.

  • Embrace messiness: Cracking and picking crab is part of the fun! Set out crab crackers, picks, and wet wipes for easy cleanup.

  • Spice it up: Dress legs up with a spritz of lemon and sprinkle of Old Bay, paprika, or cajun seasoning once cooked.

Common Crab Leg Cooking Mistakes

It’s easy to over or undercook crab legs if you aren’t careful. Here are some common cooking mistakes to avoid:

  • Not thawing properly – Crab won’t heat evenly unless thawed completely.lead to gummy, icy sections.

  • Overcrowding – Too many legs in the pot will steam instead of boil or bake unevenly. Work in batches if needed.

  • Overcooking – It’s easy to go past tender to rubbery texture. Use a thermometer and don’t exceed cooking times.

  • Letting dry out – Serve legs immediately or keep warm wrapped in foil to prevent drying. Cold, dry crab meat is disappointing.

  • Skipping seasoning – Don’t rely on mild frozen crab flavor alone. Season the cooking liquid or finish with buttery, lemony drizzle.

Serving Suggestions

Beyond serving crab legs doused in melted butter, here are some tasty ways to prepare them:

  • Crab cakes with lemon aioli
  • Crab salad stuffed avocado
  • Crab mac and cheese
  • Cold crab dip with crackers
  • Crab quesadilla with mango salsa
  • Crab fried rice
  • Crab sandwiches or rolls

You really can’t go wrong when pairing crab with carbs, lemon, and butter. Get creative with your own crab leg recipes!

Ready to Cook Crab Legs Like a Pro?

Baking is my favorite way to prepare crab legs for a restaurant-worthy presentation. But boiling and steaming are also easy and infuse more seasoning flavor.

When in doubt, go low and slow. You can always cook crab legs a bit longer, but you can’t reverse overcooking. Use a thermometer and stick to the recommended times for tender, moist results every time.

how do i cook frozen crab legs

How Many Crab Legs Per Person?

You need to know how many crab legs each person will need for your seafood or crab boil. A simple way to figure this out is to remember that two to three clusters of crab legs weigh one pound. Each cluster includes crab legs, a claw, and a part of the shoulder.

Then, guess that each person will need about one pound, plus two pounds for someone who is really hungry or for seafood lovers at the table. If you’re making a “surf and turf” meal with filet mignon, 5 pounds is plenty.

Helpful tip: There’s a bit more meat in king crab legs compared to other varieties. So if you’ve got big seafood eaters, this could be a great option to buy with fewer legs.

how do i cook frozen crab legs

Different Types of Crab Legs

There are over a dozen types of crabs you can eat across the world. But your local market will most likely have the options below. Let’s talk through these.

  • This is the most common type of crab used in home cooking, and you’ve probably seen them before. Good news: Dungeness crab legs are usually sold in groups of three to five, and they don’t cost too much. Also, their meat is soft, slightly sweet, and slightly nutty, which makes it great for making crab salad or crab dip.
  • King crabs: These are a bit more expensive and are sold by the piece, but the crab legs are worth it for a seafood boil when served on their own with butter. Their meat is sweet and tender, like lobster tails. They have twice as much meat as Dungeness crabs because their legs are so much bigger.
  • If you don’t want to use king crab, snow crab is the next best thing for big legs. Their meat is sweet, savory, and a bit briny. Even better, the meat on snow crab legs is a beautiful white color, while king crab meat is bright red. Only bad thing is that they’re getting more expensive because of climate change and fewer people living in the area.

How to Cook Frozen Crab Leg : Making Meals Delicious

How do you cook frozen crab legs?

Carefully drop the frozen crab legs into the boiling water. King crab will need about 6-8 minutes, whereas snow crab will be done in about 4-6 minutes. Once cooked, drain the water and serve immediately with melted butter and lemon wedges. Boiling can make the crab legs rubbery and less flavorful, so use this method only as a last resort.

How do you cook crab legs in the oven?

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Arrange the crab legs in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil, optionally brushing them with butter mixed with crab leg seasoning. Tent the foil around the crab legs and bake for 25-30 minutes, depending on the variety and size of the legs.

How do you thaw frozen crab legs?

Thawing allows the legs to cook evenly and ensures the meat remains tender and juicy. Here’s a simple method to thaw your crab legs: Place the frozen crab legs in a colander. Run cold water over the crab legs until they are completely thawed. This usually takes about 30 minutes. Pat the crab legs dry with a paper towel to remove any excess water.

How do you cook crab legs without overflowing?

Most large stockpots or Dutch ovens can fit about 2 pounds of crab legs without overflowing. Once you’ve found your pot, fill it with cold tap water and add the salt. Place the pot over high heat and bring the water to a boil.

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