There’s nothing quite like a succulent crab leg feast but knowing which one will hit the spot requires a bit of crab knowledge. Crab comes in a variety of sizes, shapes, textures, and flavors. The two most common varieties are the snow crab and king crab, yet they have many notable differences that distinguish them apart from one another. So, what are the differences between snow crab and king crab legs? Which crab legs have a more desirable flavor? If both crab species are so popular, which one should you choose for your next restaurant or home delivery meal? We have the answers to all your snow crab vs. king crab questions, from selecting your crab legs to cooking and cracking. Let’s start with a few quick facts before taking a more in-depth look at the two crabs.
Both the snow crab and king crab species are well known for their tender, flavorful meat. Snow crabs and king crabs share common culinary uses, and the two’s preparation options are the same. You can find both of these delicate and sweet crab legs at your local grocery stores or from reputable online seafood markets who will have your crab at your door in no time. Both crabs are typically cooked and flash frozen on the fishing boat, preparing them for safe and easy transport.
Five different factors separate snow crabs from king crabs:
Let’s examine each of these areas to help you determine which crab fits your needs.
Size is the most apparent difference between snow and king crab. King crabs can weigh up to twenty pounds and measure as much as five feet across. Even though king crab legs are shorter than a snow crab’s, they make up for it in weight. King crab legs can weigh an average of six pounds.
On the other hand, snow crabs have extraordinarily long legs and a noticeably thinner shell. Snow crabs can weigh an average of two to four pounds, but their smaller stature offers a mouth-watering flavor. You’ll likely receive a male with the snow crab species, as the male snow crabs are approximately double the size of female snow crabs.
The texture of a snow crab is firm and more fibrous than a king crab. Its meat breaks apart effortlessly in long pieces, making it easier to shred into pieces. The shells of snow crab leg shells break apart and crack open with your hands when not overcooked.
King crab legs require a bit more work. The king crab legs are substantially thicker with a spikey, hard-to-crack shell but worth the effort when you bite into one. A cracking tool is usually in order when attempting to reach its delicious meat. The meat is delicate in texture, and its snowy white and red-streaked meat breaks off into larger chunks.
Alaskan king crab has an undeniable reputation for its flavor. One bite will usually turn anyone’s taste buds into an undying fan. The leg meat of the king crab is sweet and rich, much like lobster meat.
The snow crab gets its name from its meat, which will turn from red to a snowy white upon cooking. The snow crab has a deliciously sweet yet subtly briny flavor.
Snow crab legs are typically much less expensive than king crab legs. Snow crabs are sustainably managed and responsibly harvested, making them an excellent seafood choice. Snow crabs have a longer harvesting season and are typically easier to find, accounting for their lower cost.
Snow crabs live in the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans, where they prefer the colder, deep water conditions of these northern waters. Fishermen find them in the frigid waters near Maine, Alaska, Canada, Russia, Greenland, and Norway. Their harvesting season starts in late fall and may extend into the early summer months, but may vary depending on their location.
The Alaskan king crab has a significantly shorter harvesting season, and smaller habitat. The king crab resides in the Bering Sea between Russia and Alaska, where fishers harvest them for a few short weeks between the late fall to early winter. Due to these factors, their limited supply and high demand make them a higher-priced delicacy for seafood lovers.
The USDA recommendation chart provides all the information you need to prepare a safe and delicious seafood meal. The ideal cooking temperature for your king crab or snow crab legs should reach approximately 145 degrees. Keep a close eye as you “cook” your crab legs; remember, you are essentially reheating pre-cooked meat. You’ll notice a pearly, opaque white color that lets you know your crab legs are cooked thoroughly.
Selecting a method of cooking doesn’t have to be a tedious one. While there are several ways to create the perfect snow crab or king crab feast, it typically comes down to your preference. Select from five main ways to cook your snow crab or king crab legs – boil, steam, oven, grill, and instant pot.
Most people tend to choose the boiling method for their crab legs. It’s simple, traditional, and relatively foolproof. Boiling your crab legs allows the water to flow in between the crab meat and shell evenly, keeping your crab meat moist and full of juices. It is worth noting that some prefer a different method, feeling the boiling method can make the crab legs a tad watery if they do not drain completely.
Like the boiling method, steaming your crab legs is simple and effective for both snow crab and king crab legs in a large enough pot. While the average steaming basket holds approximately a pound of more massive crab legs, plan ahead to accommodate your meal needs.
Steaming is a popular choice for preparing your crab meat, as it allows the flavor of the crab to remain inside the shell rather than leaking into the cooking water. You will also eliminate the chance of yielding watery legs with the steaming preparation option. The downside is that most steaming baskets can only hold about a pound of crab legs, so plan accordingly.
Crab legs in the oven are divine and straightforward. Whether you choose to bake or broil, they won’t disappoint. Both methods offer a near foolproof heating option and enhance their already incredible flavor.
Oven baking your crab legs locks in juices and provides a method of little cleanup. If you’re planning to prepare a full feast, this option allows plenty of opportunities to tend to your side dishes while it bakes almost effortlessly. Baking your snow crab or king crab legs in foil packs per cluster will yield the best results. Choose a heavy-duty aluminum foil for four clusters. In just twenty-five minutes for frozen crab legs or fifteen minutes for thawed legs, you’ll have perfection.
Choosing to broil your crab legs in the oven offers an incredible opportunity to infuse butter flavoring deep into the crab meat while they heat. The broiler temperature will add a slight caramelization to your crab legs, enriching their flavor. The only drawback may be the lack of room your sheet pan has if you plan to cook for a large group, so plan your broiling accordingly.
King crab and snow crab legs are delicious hot off the grill. For additional flavor, use a charcoal grill and prepare to amaze your dinner guests. Grilling will add a tasty smokey flavor to your snow crab or king crab legs, and if you choose to grill them in foil packets, you’ll have an easy clean up ahead of you. If you decide to grill your crab legs without foil packets, brush your crab with a bit of olive oil or butter to prevent them from sticking to the grill.
Preparing your crab legs in an instant pot is a great time saver and keeps your crab meat tender and juicy. While the size of your instant pot will undoubtedly determine how many clusters you can pressure cook at a time, your snow crab and king crab legs can be manipulated a bit to fit more in. Depending on your instant pot size, this method may be ideal if you cook for a small family or plan to use the smaller snow crab legs. The crab legs can be bent at the joints for a better fit into your instant pot, but be mindful not to overcrowd them. Ideally, this works better with thawed legs, as they fold easily, allowing three to four clusters in your pot at a time. The great news is, you’ll only pressure cook the crab legs for approximately four minutes so you can enjoy your first helping as another is heating and locking in moisture.
No crab leg dinner is complete without a side of the warm, flavorful side of dipping butter. The proper way to serve your snow crab or king crab legs is with a side dish of clarified butter and a few lemon wedges. A tasty, clarified butter can be melted in a small saucepan over low heat, simmering for approximately ten minutes to allow the solids to separate from the fat. Add in some minced garlic, salt, and pepper to taste, then stir occasionally as the flavors simmer. Once you remove your sauce from the heat, skim the foam off the top. Then, using a fine-mesh strainer, drain the remaining clarified butter into a dish. The flavor is heavenly, and you’ll love using the butter over your side dishes, including pasta and vegetables. If you make a large enough batch, you’ll be happy to know it can be frozen for up to six months or left in a sealed container in the fridge for up to three months.
Squeeze a bit of lemon juice into your clarified butter or over top of the crab leg meat once you remove it from the shell, then dip it into your butter and enjoy it!