North Carolina Sea Grant
Mariner's Menu

Mariner's Menu

June 12, 2012 | Joyce Taylor

how to select, handle, clean and store seafood

Live shellfish can be successfully transported, but great care must be taken to ensure food safety.

A cooler makes the most practical container for holding shellfish during travel.


Place 3 to 4 inches of ice in the bottom of the cooler. Cover the ice with waxed cardboard or plastic foam in which holes have been punched. This allows the cold to escape, but keeps the crabs out of contact with ice or water. Place the crabs on the cardboard or foam and cover them with damp burlap or several layers of damp cheesecloth. Leave the cooler lid slightly ajar for air circulation.

Maintain a temperature of 40 F to 50 F. The crabs will be inactive, but they will revive when removed from the cold temperature. Limit holding time to one day. Do not use any crabs that die. Live crabs show movement of the legs.

Dressing Live Crabs


Pick up crab by one or both back flippers so that claws cannot pinch you.


Turn crab over and stab straight down at the point of apron. Make two cuts from this point to form a V-pattern that will remove the face of the crab (eyes and mouth).


Do not remove knife after removing the face. Firmly press crab shell on cutting surface without breaking the shell. With other hand, grasp crab by legs and claws on the side where you are holding the knife. Pull up. This should pull the crab body free from the shell.


Remove gray, feathery gills, often called “dead men,” which are attached just above the legs. Cut and scrape upward to remove them.


Remove all loose material — viscera and eggs —from the cavity.


If apron did not come loose with the shell, remove it. Rinse dressed crab thoroughly under cold, running water. The dressed crab can be used whole or halved.

From: Mariner’s Menu: 30 Years of Fresh Seafood Ideas 

Contributed by Joyce Taylor

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