Cracking a conundrum: How to eat a Maryland crab

Cracking into crabs: Tips from an expert (WTOP's Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON Throughout Maryland’s Chesapeake region, eating crabs is like a religion — an event reserved for slow summer afternoons with family and friends.

And each person at every paper-covered table has a different way to worship, be it with butter or vinegar, Old Bay or J.O. Spice, or corn-on-the-cob over coleslaw.

There isn’t a right or wrong way eat the hard-shell beauties, but some methods for cracking into them work better than others.

WTOP Program Director (and self-proclaimed crab-eating expert) Mike McMearty recently took a trip out to The Point Crab House & Grill, in Arnold, Maryland, to share some of his best tips for eating crabs — a skill he’s been perfecting for more than 30 years.

Watch the video for his step-by-step instructions:

At The Point, chef and owner Bobby Jones steams and serves about eight bushels of Maryland crabs a day during the height of the season. So it’s safe to say the Baltimore native does his share of crab cracking both on the job and off the clock. And in his opinion, nothing beats a fresh Maryland crab.

“They might not be the biggest, but they’re by far the most delicious,” he said.

An opposing view to picking crabs: Just order the burger (WTOP's Chris Core, Commentary and Analysis )
Cooked-live-to-order Maryland crabs at The Point in Arnold, Maryland. (WTOP/Ginger Whitaker)

Jones and his wife opened their waterfront dining spot five years ago with a few goals in mind. One was to recreate memories from Jones’ childhood of feasting on crabs with his cousins around an outdoor table at his grandparents’ bungalow on the Eastern Shore.

Another was to showcase the bounty of the bay.

“When we go travel, we want to eat the food from that region, so we really try to show off Maryland and what we have here,” said Jones, whose menu lists everything from soft shell clams to a local tomato salad.

The soft shell crab sandwich at The Point in Arnold, Maryland. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)

From spring through early fall, the main attraction, and often the cause of a long wait, is Jones’ cooked-live-to-order Chesapeake Bay crabs, which he prepares with his own seasoning blend.

“We are strictly Maryland,” Jones said about his crabs.

“This has been our second full season where I haven’t had to get any from Virginia or any from Carolina. If you just break one in half, you can see … ours are yellow and fatty and delicious.”

Knowing how to properly pick a crab isn’t the only thing that will guarantee a smooth crab-eating experience. Along with the tutorial above, these expert tips from McMearty and Jones will ensure you make the most of your next meal.

Crab tips from the pros: 
The Point
Avoid the heavy beers If you’re a beer drinker, save your hoppy IPAs and heavy porters for later. When it comes to crabs, McMearty says to stick with a “TV beer.” “Something light like a Natty Boh, or, I cringe to say it, but a Bud or a Miller Lite is not a bad call for this occasion — you know, nice and icy cold on a hot day,” he said. (WTOP/Ginger Whitaker)
The Point
Don’t fill up on sides Hush puppies, coleslaw and fries are common sides at crab houses throughout the region, but McMearty says the only side you need while eating crabs is a bowl of melted butter. “I don’t believe in sides, but I’ve been with people who do, and I don’t discourage them because that means they’ll get fuller, faster,” he joked. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
Choose your outfit wisely With flying shells, smudges of seasoning and drips of melted butter, it’s important to dress appropriately when eating crabs. McMearty says you don’t need a bib, but don’t wear your whites. “I have a couple of shirts that are picked out especially for this. If they get damaged, I don’t worry about it,” he said. And if you’re going somewhere after the meal, have a backup shirt on hand.   (WTOP/Ginger Whitaker)
Practice your knife skills  McMearty’s method for picking crabs involves very little knife action, but Jones takes a sharper approach. To make sure he gets the most amount of meat especially from the center cavity Jones uses a knife to scrape the meat out of the small, harder-to-reach-areas. (WTOP/Ginger Whitaker)
With crabs, it’s all about community It doesn’t matter if you dine on crabs at one of the many beloved crab houses in the region, or pick up a dozen at a fish market and steam them yourself: with crabs, it’s all about community. Make sure you’re with a group of people you enjoy, and don’t be afraid to get a little messy. (WTOP/Ginger Whitaker)
The Point
The Point
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