How To Smoke Crab Legs


Beautiful king crab legs smoked over oak and bathed in a blend of butter and spices. The perfect seafood barbecue recipe for summer and all year round!

Smoked crab legs recipe

Many of us have seen crab legs on the menu of various restaurants. While these are usually steamed or boiled, today we’re going to do something completely different. That’s right, let’s smoke these beauties.

Many would argue that the smoke can’t penetrate deep enough into the crab’s carapace, making the effort a waste of time. Couldn’t be further from the truth. Once you try grilling them you will never look back.

Snow crab or king crab?

Two of the main types of crab we use for cooking in North America are snow crab and king crab, with snow crab being perhaps the most common.

Snow crab actually refers to a subspecies of crab that includes seven different species. They generally inhabit the cold northern oceans, hence their name. Our Canadian friends may also know them as king crabs.

King crab is actually a species of crab too, but we mostly use “king” to refer to red king crab or Alaskan king crab. This is rarer than snow crabs and therefore much more expensive.

Smoked crab legs resting after grilling

Which one should I choose?

The snow crab is smaller but has longer legs. Its shell is weaker and easier to break, in contrast to the king crab’s hard, pointed shell, which tools usually force tools to break open.

When it comes to budget, Snow Crab is the way to go. It can be difficult to even find a place to buy king crab depending on where you live. But don’t let its lower price fool you, it WILL give you amazing flavor when grilling.

You have a completely different button. The snow crab has scaly and friable flesh with a slightly sweet and salty flavor. King crab has rich, sweet flesh that is often captured with the flesh of lobster tails due to its soft texture. It’s not about which is best, they just taste different, your choice comes down to the situation and personal preference.

Either way, GO for about a pound and a half to two pounds per person if served plain. Tends to a pound per person when served with a side dish. The cooking times are also very similar, so you can use these guidelines for both.

How to grill crab legs

Preparation of the crab legs

You have already selected and purchased the crab legs you want. You should know by now that all crab legs in the US are cooked and sold frozen. They are usually cooked right away in the pot. The smoking process flavors the meat and cooks it a bit more, but it will take very little time since it’s pre-cooked.

Stir butter

Now let’s prepare a delicious butter spread. First, melt some butter, either in the microwave or on the stovetop. Go for about a pound for every 10 pounds of crab legs.

Once completely melted, you will see that a thick, white, frothy layer has formed on the surface. These are solid dairy products that can slightly change the flavor of the butter.

Take a spoon and scoop it all out. When you’re done, your butter should look a translucent yellow with no white whatsoever. This IS referred to as clarified butter and is slightly better for brushing meats and dunking, but is entirely optional. You can leave the white there if you’d like.

The spices

Next, YOU put your clarified butter in a pain and start adding the spices. As always, this depends on the flavor you want in the end. Different dishes and different tastes are different seasonings, so don’t worry. You can always add a little and experiment until you find your perfect blend.

Here is an example of a crab leg seasoning mix:

  • ¼ cup salt
  • ½ tablespoon mustard seeds
  • ½ tablespoon peppercorns
  • 2 table spoons of coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon celery seeds
  • 2 teaspoons whole allspice berries
  • 2 teaspoon dill seeds
  • 2 tea spoons of dried oregano
  • 2 tea spoons of peppers
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 4 bay leaves

Throw everything in a spice blender or food processor until it’s a powder and you’re good to go! Of course, you can also use a store-bought mix if you want.

Once the melted butter and spice mix are combined, pour into a baking pan or similar. Now take each crab leg and dip it in the butter. Turn it over to make sure it’s completely covered and set aside. When you are done with all of the crab legs, move on to the next step.

Choosing the right wood

Most shellfish require a lighter hardwood because of their mild flavor. Crab legs are no exception. Hickory or mesquite should be reserved for tougher, heavier cuts of meat like beef and pork.

In the middle ground we have mildly flavored woods like most fruitwoods(apple, cherry, peach). These are more versatile and go well with lighter meats like poultry, but can be used with almost anything.

For these crab legs we want soft or smooth woods, ranging from alder(lighter) to oak(soft-strong). Between these you can use whatever you want, like I said before most fruitwoods look bland and sweet in flavor.

Citrus woods are fine too, they taste similar to other fruit woods. Other examples are apricot and mulberry.

Stay away from mesquite, hickory, and acacia. These are too strong and mask the flavor of the crab meat. Also, never use softwood, they are not suitable for grilling. They are resinous and will ruin your food.

Smoke is

As we learned, we don’t cook the crab, we heat it, so it takes about half an hour at 225-235F. Make sure the temperature is right before you put them in, as you can overcook them if it’s too hot. Depending on the size of the legs, it may take a little more or less.

Brush with the remaining butter a few times every 10 minutes while they cook. Simply open the lid and use a pastry brush to brush the crab legs with butter. Halfway through, about 15-20 minutes, you should turn them over.

You can check if they’re ready and break your leg. You can crack open with your hands or use a crab leg cracker. Hold one piece of the shell while you remove the other. It should pull away from the meat with ease. Then remove the meat from the other piece of shell. It should also slide easily.

Now the best part about cooking:


Crab legs are delicious and can be served alone with some dipping sauces(tartar sauce, brandy mayonnaise, devil sauce, cocktail sauce…). Most people dip them in the butter they just made, it’s really delicious. A little lemon can also bring out their unique flavor.

Speaking of butter, you should try serving it with corn on the cob. They are just made for each other. Other great side dishes include baked potatoes, coleslaw, or salad. If you want to go crazy, macaroni and cheese or the always wonderful Surf and Turf(serves it with steak).

No matter what you enjoy your smoked crab legs with, I’m sure you’ll never steam one of them again.

How to open crab legs

You’re not alone if you’ve found that crab legs are difficult to open once they land on your plate. But fear not, it’s a lot easier to make than it sounds and can be made with just a cocktail fork and a shrimp cracker(these are easy to buy on Amazon if you need them).

First, separate the leg from the ankle joint at the base of the leg, and then snap off the bottom end of the leg. This lower part will mostly contain gristle and won’t have much of the good stuff. The middle part is what we really want.

Carefully crack the visible leg section on each side and gently break open to preserve the crab meat. Once you’ve completely broken through the shell, you’ll need to detach the pieces and expose the flesh. Then you can slide this delicious meat.

That’s not all. Use your cocktail fork to dig up any remaining white meat on the knuckle.

Finally, separate the claws at the end of the leg and crack the shell around with the shrimp cracker.
Watch this Orlando Sentinel video on the best way to open king crab legs.

Smoked king crab legs

Beautiful king crab legs smoked over oak and bathed in a blend of butter and spices. The perfect seafood barbecue recipe for summer and all year round!
Course dinner, main course
American cuisine
Preparation time 10 minutes
Cooking time 30 minutes
Total time 40 minutes
Serving 4


  • Oak shavings


  • 5 pounds king crab legs

Distribute butter

  • 1 cup butter
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon pepper seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder or minced garlic

Spice mix

  • ¼ cup kosher salt
  • ½ tablespoon peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika powder
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes


  • Heat smoker to 107°C. Place the wood chips in the smoker box or over the coals.
  • Combine the butter ingredients to baste a pain. Place in the microwave and microwave on high for 30 seconds, or until melted. Take out of the microwave.
  • Stir the spice mixture into the butter for the basting until well combined.
  • Transfer the crab legs to the smoker. Boil 30 minutes. Baste with butter mixture every 10 minutes.
  • After 30 minutes, cook or grill on high for 2 minutes on each side.
  • Smoking diseases and comfort benefits.

Leave a Comment