If you live on the Pacific coast, this is necessary information! Dungeness crabs are a fantastically tasty treat, as well as a lean, healthy, delicious holiday tradition. This Instructable will teach you how to cook and clean your own fresh Dungeness crab at home

Why settle for soggy, pre-cooked and pre-picked Dungeness crab when you can prepare it fresh? Here are the basic tips you need to host your own crab feed, or make a perfect crab dinner for yourself

Step 1: Get a Fresh Crab

There are many options.

1) Go crabbing. Get your fishing license and set out some crab traps! If you’ve got a boat, or a friend with a boat, this should be easy. If not, consider getting a free boat

2) Buy a fresh crab. Your local farmers’ market might have a fresh crab stand; I got mine at the Oakland Grand Lake market. Seafood shops, yuppie grocers, and asian grocery stores may also carry fresh crab

3) Buy a pre-cooked crab. This is sub-optimal, but will certainly do if you really can’t find a live source or don’t want to deal with live pinchers. In any case proceed to step 4 to clean your crab

Note that a happy crab will be active and feisty when disturbed. Pick him* up with tongs or carefully with your hands, making sure to grab at the back of the shell. The crab can reach pretty far back under his body to pinch, but your upper fingers are quite safe. You can also grab hold of a couple of back legs on either side to immobilize your crab, but be careful not to break them off

Step 2: Cook

Steam or boil your crab at ~7-8 minutes/pound, lid on but cocked to allow a bit of venting. I chose to steam mine because I’ve got a large steamer insert, and steam decreases the amount of water retained in the body cavity. Boiling will get the job done quite well, though, and more people are likely to have a big pot than a big steamer

If you’re adding a large number of crabs, start your timer when the water comes back to a boil. Base your number of minutes on the average crab weight, not the sum total

Round times down whenever necessary; raw/undercooked crabs can always be cooked further, while overcooked rubbery crab is unsalvageable. Thankfully there’s a decent margin for error in crab-cooking

If you’re boiling, you can add some seasonings to your water. Add salt (or use sea water), a bay leaf, some celery chunks, a carrot, some pepper corns, and any other whole spices you’ve got sitting around. Pre-mixed crab boil seasonings are available, but not necessary

Step 3: Rinse and Cool

Remove your crab from the pot, and rinse under cool water in the sink. This will stop the cooking process, cool down the shell enough for you to handle, and rinse off any icky crab guts that may have oozed out during cooking

Flip him over a couple of times to get both sides with the spray

Step 4: Remove the Apron

Flip up the apron and use your thumb to break it off at the back of the shell

This is a male crab; the female’s apron is wider and more oval in shape. Female crabs must be thrown back to keep the population up.

Step 5: Remove Carapace

Stick your thumb into the hole left from removing the apron, and lift up gently but firmly. The carapace will detach from the body, trailing lots of attached guts. Fully remove the carapace

If you want to keep the carapace for serving or dry it for your next art project, remove all of the squishy bits from its nooks and crannies. You may need to employ a small brush or tool to remove guts from the furthest recesses. After you’ve dislodged everything, give it a thorough spraying to make sure you’ve rinsed all the yuck off. Now you’re ready to fill it with crab salad, or a seasoned crab/breadcrumb mixture for baked stuffed crab