How Long Should You Boil Snow Crab Legs? The Ultimate Guide

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, we decided to treat ourselves to a little bit of snow crab. Specifically, a crab boil with potatoes and corn. As a rule, seafood boils like this are served in the summer, but we felt like we needed something to break up the middle of winter. It was -7 degrees when we woke up on Sunday, so we’d like to do anything that will make our house feel like summer.

This meal couldn’t have possibly been easier. Everything is boiled in one big stock pot. The only rule is that the things that take the longest to cook should go in first. I added Old Bay seasoning to the water and put in the potatoes first, then the corn, and finally the crab. It only takes a couple of minutes for the crab to warm up. And just for fun, I added some shrimp. But those coral-colored crab legs were the real star.

Snow crab legs are a delicious seafood treat that many people love. Their sweet succulent meat is packed with flavor. However to enjoy snow crab legs at their best, it’s important to know how long to boil them. Overcooking can make the meat rubbery, while undercooking leaves the crab legs underdone. So how long should you boil snow crab legs?

An Overview of Snow Crab Legs

Snow crab legs come from snow crabs, which are crustaceans that live in cold, deep waters across the Northern Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The snow crab’s scientific name is Chionoecetes opilio. They are also sometimes called spider crabs or queen crabs.

Snow crabs have spiny legs with white meat inside. Their legs can grow up to 18 inches long. The males typically have larger claws while mature female snow crabs tend to have a wider abdomen for carrying eggs.

Snow crab legs are harvested as a sustainable seafood source. Only the legs of mature male crabs over 4 inches wide are taken during regulated seasons. The bodies are returned to the ocean. The legs are then processed, cooked, and frozen to be sold to consumers.

Why It’s Important to Cook Snow Crab Legs Correctly

Properly cooking snow crab legs helps bring out their naturally sweet, delicate flavor. When boiled for too long, the meat can become rubbery and stringy. Undercooking leaves the meat tough.

Getting the cook time right also kills any bacteria, making snow crab legs safe to eat. As filter feeders, crabs can harbor pathogens. Thorough cooking to an internal temperature of 165°F destroys any dangerous organisms.

So for peak flavor and food safety, it’s vital to know how long snow crab legs need to boil. Here’s a look at cooking times based on various factors.

How Long to Boil Snow Crab Legs Based on Size

  • Small clusters or individual legs: 3-5 minutes
  • Medium clusters: 5-8 minutes
  • Large clusters: 8-12 minutes
  • Extra large clusters: 12-15 minutes

As a general rule, smaller legs require less time while bigger pieces need longer boiling. Gauge the size of your snow crab legs and adjust the cooking time accordingly.

For example, if you’re boiling a few individually quick-frozen legs, they’ll probably only need about 5 minutes since they’re petite. A long, thick leg cluster may need up to 15 minutes since the meat is thicker.

Check packages for any cooking time recommendations based on the specific products. This can help narrow down the right boiling time.

Factor #2: Frozen vs. Thawed

Are your snow crab legs frozen or thawed? Their condition makes a difference in how long to boil them.

For Frozen Legs

If boiling frozen snow crab legs straight from the freezer, add 2-3 extra minutes to the cook time. Frozen legs take longer to reach 165°F in the center.

So if your recipe calls for boiling medium, thawed clusters for 8 minutes, increase the time to 10-11 minutes for frozen legs.

For Thawed Legs

If you thaw snow crab legs in the fridge overnight or under cold running water for 30 minutes, follow the recommend cooking times based on size. Since they’re already thawed, there’s no need to extend the boiling time.

Factor #3: Altitude

Higher elevations affect water’s boiling point, which subsequently impacts cooking times. At sea level, water boils at 212°F. But for every 500 feet above sea level, the boiling point drops by about 1°F.

So if you live 5,000 feet above sea level, the boiling point of the water decreases by about 10°F. This means it will take longer for the water to get hot enough to cook the crab legs thoroughly.

To compensate, add about 5 minutes extra boiling time for every mile of altitude if you live significantly above sea level. It may take some trial and error to get the timing right based on your specific elevation.

How to Tell When Snow Crab Legs Are Done Boiling

Checking doneness visually and by texture ensures snow crab legs are perfectly cooked without overdoing it.

Signs snow crab legs are fully cooked:

  • Shells turn bright orange-red
  • Meat becomes opaque and white
  • Flesh feels firm yet tender when pierced with a fork
  • Legs separate easily at joints

Discard any legs that still appear translucent or gelatinous when boiled sufficiently. This indicates they were underprocessed when initially cooked at the manufacturing facility.

Step-by-Step Boiling Instructions

Here is an easy step-by-step guide for how to boil snow crab legs to tender, flaky perfection.


  • Snow crab legs, thawed if frozen
  • Water
  • Old Bay seafood seasoning (optional)
  • Melted butter for dipping (optional)


  1. Fill a large pot with enough water to cover the crab legs. Bring to a boil over high heat.

  2. Add 2-3 tablespoons of Old Bay seasoning for extra flavor if desired.

  3. Once boiling, carefully drop in snow crab legs.

  4. Cover and return to a boil. Start timing according to recommended cooking duration for your legs’ size.

  5. After timed boiling, turn off heat. Use tongs to transfer crab legs to a plate or serving platter.

  6. Enjoy hot with melted butter, lemon wedges, etc. if desired.

That’s all there is to it! Properly boiling snow crab legs seals in moisture and gives the meat a deliciously tender bite.

Tips for the Best Results

Follow these tips for successfully boiled snow crab every time:

  • Wait until water is at a rapid boil before adding legs. This returns frozen legs to temperature quickly so they cook through.
  • Stir legs occasionally to prevent sticking together. But avoid constant stirring which can make the meat mushy.
  • Check for doneness a minute or two early. You can always boil a minute longer if needed. But you can’t undo overcooking.
  • Shock in an ice bath immediately to stop the cooking process if legs will be served cold.
  • Reheat boiled legs in the microwave with a splash of liquid to restore moisture if serving later.

What to Serve with Boiled Snow Crab Legs

Beyond just eating snow crab legs by themselves, there are lots of tasty ways to serve them:

  • Lemon or clarified butter for dipping
  • Melted garlic butter
  • Tartar sauce or seafood cocktail sauce
  • A sprinkle of fresh parsley, dill, or lemon pepper
  • A squeeze of lemon or lime juice
  • Baked potatoes
  • Corn on the cob
  • Cole slaw or crab salad
  • Garlic bread or biscuits

You really can’t go wrong pairing boiled snow crab legs with just about anything. A chilled white wine or light beer are perfect beverages to wash it all down.

Common Questions about Boiling Snow Crab Legs

Still have some questions about how to boil snow crab legs? Here are answers to some commonly asked questions.

Can you overcook snow crab legs?

Yes, it’s possible to overcook snow crab legs. Boiling them too long can make the meat rubbery and dry. Follow recommended cook times for the best texture.

Do you add seasoning to the water when boiling snow crab legs?

Adding 2-3 tablespoons of crab boil seasoning, Old Bay, or herbs to the water adds extra flavor. But plain water is fine too. Avoid adding salt which can make the crab salty.

Can you reheat leftover boiled snow crab legs?

It’s best to eat boiled snow crab legs right after cooking. But you can reheat them briefly in the microwave with a splash of liquid. Just don’t reheat more than once.

Do snow crab legs need to be thawed before boiling?

You can boil frozen snow crab legs, but extending the cooking time is needed. For quicker results and more even cooking, thaw legs first in the fridge or under cold water.

Enjoy Perfectly Cooked Snow Crab Legs Tonight

Preparing snow crab legs doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Follow this handy guide for how long to boil them based on their condition and size. In less than 15 minutes, you’ll have deliciously sweet, tender crab legs ready to crack open and savor.

So grab some snow crab clusters at the seafood market next time you’re there. Then get ready to make them for dinner using these simple boiling tips and tricks for foolproof snow crab every time.

how long do you boil snow crab

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Alongside the boil I set out bread, melted butter, lemon slices, and cocktail sauce. He gave me a set of lobster crackers for Christmas this year, so I put those out too. To go with the food I picked up some Perrin Brewing Company Gold ale. Something light and refreshing to wash down all the rich crab and butter.

For dessert, Jay whipped up his favorite chocolate chip cookies. He made the dough, but the cookies haven’t come together yet, so for dessert we had raw cookie dough. I can’t complain.

This would be such a great meal to serve a group of people this summer. You can easily change how much of each ingredient you use to fit any number of guests, and it’s very easy to make. Or keep the portions small make it for someone you love for a relaxing night in.

How to Cook Crab Legs

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