How to Clean & Fry Soft Shell Crabs

Soft shell crab season is in full swing here on the coast of NC.  They’re possibly my favorite seafood, but I can’t really choose a favorite.  I love ALL seafood.

Fried Soft Shell Crab Sandwich

“Soft shell” simply means the crab has molted and the shell is still soft.  Fishermen will place the crabs in a cold environment, keeping them dormant so that their shells take longer to harden than normal.

The first time I tried my hand at frying up soft shell crabs, I screwed up.  BIG TIME.  After calling my Mom (about to cry) I figured out that my oil wasn’t hot enough and they were all soggy.  I ate them anyway.

Blue Ocean Market, Morehead City NC

My local seafood market is Blue Ocean Market in Morehead City, NC.  Their seafood is always fresh and LOCAL.  They know me by name and Eric even helps me figure out what I’m going to cook for dinner that night.  Most times I don’t even know what seafood I want to buy when I go in the market.  Eric is a chef and has some mad cooking skills.

Live Soft Shell Crabs

I recently asked if they would show me how to clean soft shell crabs.  I went in for my little tutorial and suddenly realized why I’ve always purchased these little critters already cleaned:  they’re freakin’ alive and moving.  I just can’t do it, but I love to cook and eat ‘em.  I watched the process and it didn’t break my heart too bad; it was quick.  But I’ll definitely continue to purchase them already cleaned for sure.

Male & Female Soft Shell Crabs

Eric showed me the difference between male and female soft shell crabs. Once you look, it’s kinda obvious, but it’s something I’ve never thought of.

Cleaning Soft Shell Crabs

The crab is positioned for cutting–the blue lines show what needs to be cut first.  Cut the face first (this kills the crab), then the tail (apron) using a sharp knife or kitchen shears.  The apron will look different for males and females.

Cleaning Soft Shell Crabs

Pull the “points” back on the top of the shell and remove the lungs or “gills” from each side; they have a feathery texture.

Cleaning Soft Shell Crabs

Squeeze the “mustard” (fat) out of each tip.

Cleaning Soft Shell Crabs

Peel the shell back and remove the organs (I’ve read that some people don’t do this part and it is personal preference).  What you see in the above picture is the female ovaries.  I choose not to eat those :-|.

Cleaning Soft Shell Crabs

Rinse the crabs good to remove any remaining “mustard” (fat).

Breader for Soft Shell Crabs

This was the easy part for me…frying up these little critters.  :-)  This is how I’ve always done it and it’s really simple.  I mix House Autry Seafood Breader with a little Old Bay Seasoning in a large bowl.  Some people prefer to shake it in a baggy.  I choose to dip my soft shell crabs in a bowl gently because the crabs are fragile.

Frying Soft Shell Crabs

Make sure the oil is HOT before placing the crabs in the pan.  If the oil is not hot enough, your soft shell crabs won’t be crispy; they’ll be soggy.  I always test the oil by placing a tip of a claw in the oil; if it sizzles and bubbles then I know it’s ready.

Cook for a couple of minutes on each side, turning gently.  The crabs are ready when they’re a coral color and the breading is golden brown.  Place on a plate lined with paper towels to drain.

I like to eat my soft shell crabs on a bun with coleslaw and tartar sauce.

A very special thanks to Eric and Chris at Blue Ocean Market for teaching me how to clean soft shell crabs.  You guys rock!  :-)

5 from 1 reviews
Fried Soft Shell Crabs
  • 4-6 soft shell crabs, cleaned and dampened with water
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups House Autry Seafood Breader
  • 3 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning (more or less, to taste)
  1. In a large bowl, whisk seafood breader & Old Bay Seasoning to combine.
  2. Gently dip crabs in breader mixture to coat on both sides.
  3. Heat oil in a skillet over moderately high heat.
  4. Place crabs in skillet & cook for approximately 2 minutes on each side, or until crabs are a coral color & breading is golden brown.
  5. Place crabs on a plate lined with paper towels to drain.


  1. Liz says

    OK,OK! You made my mouth water for crab at 8am! I also LOVE seafood but have a special “soft spot” in my heart for soft shell crab. I have never fixed them at home. That could be because I live in OKLAHOMA. Ha. Your tutorial made me appreciate the rare opportunity to order them when I do go out to eat. I’m with ya though, not sure I could kill and clean either!

    • The Blond Cook says

      You made me laugh out loud Liz! It was hard for me to take the final picture–my mouth was watering too! I also now appreciate the hard work that goes into cleaning each one…but don’t think I could do it (unless I absolutely HAD to)! :-) Have you received your book yet? If not you should get it any day now.

  2. Liz says

    Oh YES! The cookbook came earlier this week. What a hoot! I’ve enjoyed reading thru it. So many choices!
    I make my own pizza so last night I spoiled the dogs with their own!! I think they thought they died and went to heaven !! My husband is not too sure it was a good idea….
    We moved frow Kansas City 2 years ago, so I am familiar with Three Dog Bakery! I am thrilled to have their book! Thanks.
    Keep up the great blog!

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