How to cook crab legs on the BBQ

How to Cook Crab Legs on the BBQ

There’s something magical about cooking crab legs on the BBQ. The smoky flavor, the slight char, and the juicy, tender meat make for a seafood experience like no other. Whether you’re a BBQ veteran or a newbie, grilling crab legs is simpler than you might think and elevates your outdoor cooking game to a whole new level.

Grilling crab legs on the BBQ infuses them with a deliciously unique taste that you just can’t get from boiling or steaming. The process is quick and easy, perfect for a summer evening or a backyard gathering. Plus, there’s something undeniably satisfying about cracking open a perfectly grilled crab leg and savoring the rich, smoky flavor inside.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know on how to cook crab legs on the BBQ, from selecting the best crab legs to mastering the grilling technique. So, fire up that grill and let’s get cooking!

Choosing the Best Crab Legs for BBQ

When it comes to grilling crab legs, starting with the best quality seafood is key. Here’s how to select the finest crab legs for your BBQ feast, ensuring you get the most delicious and satisfying results.

Types of Crab Legs Suitable for BBQ

  1. King Crab Legs
    • Size and Meat Quality: King crab legs are renowned for their large size and impressive meat quality. They have thick, succulent meat that’s perfect for grilling. Their size makes them easy to handle on the BBQ, and they offer a substantial amount of meat per leg.
    • Flavor Profile: King crab has a slightly sweet, rich flavor that pairs wonderfully with the smoky notes from the grill.
  2. Snow Crab Legs
    • Size and Meat Quality: Snow crab legs are smaller than king crab legs but are still an excellent choice for BBQing. They have a delicate, sweet flavor and a firm texture that holds up well on the grill.
    • Flavor Profile: The meat is sweet and tender, making it a favorite among seafood lovers. They cook quickly, making them ideal for a fast and tasty BBQ treat.
  3. Dungeness Crab Legs
    • Size and Meat Quality: Dungeness crab legs are another great option. While not as large as king crab legs, they are still substantial and packed with flavorful meat.
    • Flavor Profile: They offer a slightly nutty flavor, which complements the smokiness of the BBQ perfectly.
Steps to BBQ crab legs: Choosing the Best Crab Legs for BBQ
Credits to Amazon.com
Steps to BBQ crab legs: Choosing the Best Crab Legs for BBQ
Credits to Lobster Maine-ia
Steps to BBQ crab legs: Choosing the Best Crab Legs for BBQ
Credits to Recipes.net

What to Look for in Fresh Crab Legs

BBQ crab legs recipe
Credits to Holy Crab Delivery
  1. Color and Appearance:
    • Fresh crab legs should have a bright, vibrant color. For pre-cooked crab legs (which is often the case), look for bright red shells.
    • Avoid crab legs with a dull, greyish color as this may indicate they are not fresh.
  2. Smell:
    • Fresh crab legs should have a clean, briny smell, reminiscent of the ocean.
    • If they have a strong, fishy odor, it’s a sign they may not be fresh.
  3. Texture:
    • The shells should be firm and unblemished. Soft or slimy shells can indicate poor quality or old crab.
  4. Frozen Crab Legs:
    • If buying frozen, ensure they are fully frozen with no signs of thawing, which can compromise quality.
    • Check for ice crystals inside the packaging, which might indicate freezer burn.

Necessary Tools and Preparation

Before you start grilling your crab legs, it’s essential to gather the right tools and prepare your crab legs properly. Here’s what you’ll need and how to get your crab legs ready for the BBQ.

Crab legs on the barbecue instructions
Credits to Alaskan King Crab

Tools You’ll Need

  1. Grill: A gas or charcoal grill will work fine. Make sure it’s clean and ready to go.
  2. Grill Tongs: For handling the crab legs on the hot grill.
  3. Basting Brush: To apply butter or marinade to the crab legs.
  4. Kitchen Shears: Useful for cutting through the tough shells.
  5. Crab Cracker or Nutcracker: For cracking open the shells once they’re cooked.
  6. Small Knife or Seafood Pick: To help extract the meat from the shells.
  7. Aluminum Foil: For wrapping the crab legs if you choose to steam them on the grill.
  8. Bowl for Discarded Shells: To keep your workspace clean.

How to Clean and Prepare Crab Legs

How to prepare crab legs on a BBQ
Credits to RecipeTin Eats
  1. Thawing (if frozen):
    • If you’re starting with frozen crab legs, thaw them in the refrigerator overnight. For a quicker method, you can place them in a sealed plastic bag and submerge them in cold water for a few hours.
  2. Rinsing:
    • Rinse the crab legs under cold running water to remove any sand or debris. This is especially important for fresh crab legs.
  3. Inspecting:
    • Check the crab legs for any remaining pieces of shell or debris and remove them. Look for any damaged parts that may need to be trimmed.
  4. Cracking the Shells:
    • Using kitchen shears, carefully cut along the length of the shell on each leg. This helps to open up the shell and makes it easier to remove the meat after grilling. Be careful not to cut through the meat.
    • If you prefer, you can partially crack the shells using a crab cracker or nutcracker. This will make it easier to eat the crab legs once they’re cooked, but still keep the shell mostly intact for grilling.
  5. Marinating (Optional):
    • If you want to infuse extra flavor, marinate the crab legs before grilling. A simple marinade of melted butter, minced garlic, lemon juice, and your favorite herbs works beautifully. Brush the marinade over the crab legs and let them sit for about 15-20 minutes.
  6. Wrapping (if steaming on the grill):
    • For a steaming effect, you can wrap the crab legs in aluminum foil. Add a little butter and seasoning inside the foil packet before sealing it. This method helps to keep the crab legs moist and flavorful.

BBQ Techniques for Crab Legs

Cooking crab legs on the BBQ can be done in several delicious ways, each bringing out unique flavors and textures. Let’s dive into the techniques of grilling and smoking crab legs, so you can choose the best method for your seafood feast.

How to Grill Crab Legs

Grilling crab legs is a straightforward method that adds a delightful smoky flavor and a bit of char. Here’s how to do it:

How to cook crab legs on the BBQ
Credits to Jess Pryles
  1. Preheat the Grill:
    • Set your grill to medium-high heat, aiming for a temperature around 350-375°F (175-190°C).
  2. Prep the Grill Grates:
    • Clean the grill grates thoroughly and oil them lightly to prevent the crab legs from sticking.
  3. Place the Crab Legs on the Grill:
    • Arrange the crab legs directly on the grill grates, ensuring they’re spread out evenly. If you’ve wrapped them in foil for steaming, place the foil packets on the grates.
  4. Grill the Crab Legs:
    • Cook the crab legs for about 5-7 minutes per side. Since they’re usually pre-cooked, you’re essentially reheating them and adding a smoky flavor. If using foil packets, grill for about 10-12 minutes total, turning once halfway through.
  5. Basting:
    • While grilling, baste the crab legs with melted butter or your chosen marinade. This helps to keep them moist and enhances the flavor.
  6. Check for Doneness:
    • The crab legs are ready when the shell is bright red/orange, and the meat is steaming hot and opaque. Avoid overcooking as this can make the meat tough.
  7. Serve:
    • Remove the crab legs from the grill, crack open the shells using a crab cracker, and enjoy with melted butter, lemon wedges, and your favorite dipping sauce.

Smoking Crab Legs on the BBQ

Smoking crab legs adds an extra layer of flavor, making them even more delectable. Here’s how to smoke crab legs on the BBQ:

Smoking Crab Legs on the BBQ
Credits to Mad Backyard
  1. Soak Wood Chips:
    • Choose a mild wood like apple, cherry, or alder for a subtle, sweet smokiness. Soak the wood chips in water for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat the Grill for Smoking:
    • Set up your grill for indirect heat. If using a gas grill, turn on one side to medium heat and leave the other side off. For a charcoal grill, push the coals to one side. Aim for a temperature around 225-250°F (110-120°C).
  3. Prepare the Smoke Box:
    • Place the soaked wood chips in a smoker box or wrap them in aluminum foil with holes poked in the top. Place the smoker box or foil packet over the heat source.
  4. Smoke the Crab Legs:
    • Place the crab legs on the cooler side of the grill, away from direct heat. Close the lid to trap the smoke inside.
  5. Smoking Time:
    • Smoke the crab legs for about 25-30 minutes. Keep an eye on the temperature and adjust as necessary to maintain a steady heat.
  6. Basting:
    • Occasionally baste the crab legs with melted butter or your preferred marinade to keep them moist and add flavor.
  7. Check for Doneness:
    • The crab legs are done when the shell is bright red/orange, and the meat is hot and opaque.
  8. Serve:
    • Remove the crab legs from the grill, crack them open, and savor the smoky, succulent meat with your favorite accompaniments.

Flavor Enhancements and Recipes

Cooking crab legs on the BBQ is a fantastic way to infuse them with rich, smoky flavors. But why stop there? Let’s explore different recipes, seasonings, and techniques to take your BBQ crab legs to the next level.

Best Marinades and Rubs for BBQ Crab Legs

Garlic Butter Marinade

Flavor Enhancements and Recipes for BBQ-style crab legs cooking
Credits to Marcellina In Cucina
  • Ingredients:
    • 1/2 cup melted butter
    • 4 cloves garlic, minced
    • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
    • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
    • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Instructions:
    • Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Brush the marinade generously over the crab legs before grilling and baste occasionally while they cook.

Cajun Spice Rub

Flavor Enhancements and Recipes for BBQ-style crab legs cooking
Credits to Food.com
  • Ingredients:
    • 2 tablespoons paprika
    • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
    • 1 tablespoon onion powder
    • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
    • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
    • 1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper
    • 1 teaspoon black pepper
    • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Instructions:
    • Combine all spices in a bowl. Sprinkle the rub evenly over the crab legs, pressing gently to adhere. This rub adds a zesty kick and enhances the natural sweetness of the crab meat.

Asian-Inspired Soy-Ginger Marinade

Flavor Enhancements and Recipes for BBQ-style crab legs cooking
Credits to Inspired Taste
  • Ingredients:
    • 1/4 cup soy sauce
    • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
    • 1 tablespoon honey
    • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • Instructions:
    • Whisk together all ingredients in a bowl. Marinate the crab legs for 15-20 minutes before grilling. This marinade imparts a savory, umami flavor that pairs wonderfully with the smoky notes from the grill.

Serving Suggestions for BBQ Crab Legs

Serving Cooking crab legs on the grill
Credits to Food.com
  1. Side Dishes:
    • Grilled Corn on the Cob:
      • The sweet and smoky flavors of grilled corn complement the rich taste of the crab legs.
    • Garlic Bread:
      • Crispy, buttery garlic bread is perfect for soaking up any extra marinade or juices from the crab legs.
    • Coleslaw:
      • A refreshing coleslaw provides a nice contrast to the rich crab meat, adding a crunchy texture and a tangy flavor.
    • Roasted Potatoes:
      • Seasoned with herbs and garlic, roasted potatoes are a hearty side that pairs well with seafood.
  2. Presentation Ideas:
    • Platter Presentation:
      • Arrange the grilled crab legs on a large platter, garnished with lemon wedges, fresh herbs (like parsley or dill), and a small bowl of melted butter for dipping.
    • Individual Servings:
      • For a more refined presentation, serve individual portions on plates with a side of grilled vegetables and a slice of lemon.
    • Seafood Boil Style:
      • For a casual and fun presentation, spread out the crab legs on a newspaper-lined table along with other seafood boil favorites like shrimp, sausage, and corn. Provide plenty of napkins and seafood crackers.

With these flavor enhancements and serving suggestions, your BBQ crab legs are sure to be a hit. The right marinade or rub can elevate the natural sweetness of the crab, and thoughtful side dishes and presentation will make your meal memorable.

Common Mistakes When Cooking Crab Legs on the BBQ

Cooking crab legs on the BBQ can be a breeze if you avoid these common mistakes:

  1. Overcooking:
    • Mistake: Cooking crab legs too long, making them tough and dry.
    • Fix: Remember, most crab legs are pre-cooked. You just need to heat them through. Grill for about 5-7 minutes per side on medium-high heat.
  2. Not Using Enough Heat:
    • Mistake: Using too low heat, leading to unevenly cooked crab legs.
    • Fix: Preheat your grill to medium-high (350-375°F). This ensures a quick, even cook and adds that desired smoky flavor.
  3. Skipping the Basting:
    • Mistake: Not basting the crab legs, causing them to dry out.
    • Fix: Regularly baste with melted butter or marinade to keep the meat moist and flavorful.
  4. Not Prepping the Shells:
    • Mistake: Leaving the shells completely intact, making it hard to get to the meat.
    • Fix: Use kitchen shears to cut along the length of the shell, making it easier to open after grilling.

Safety and Storage Tips

Safety and Storage Tips  Crab Legs on the BBQ
Credits to Recipes.net

Handling seafood requires care to avoid contamination. Always keep raw crab legs refrigerated until ready to cook. Use separate cutting boards and utensils for seafood and other foods to prevent cross-contamination. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw crab.

For storing leftovers, refrigerate cooked crab legs within two hours of cooking. Place them in an airtight container or wrap them tightly in aluminum foil. Properly stored, they can last in the fridge for up to three days. If you need to store them longer, freeze them for up to three months. Reheat gently to avoid drying out the meat.

Disclosure: Our blog contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

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