Steamed Crabs

“So again it is another food with ties to the Chesapeake Bay. It is called the Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab. And growing up, we would either go sometimes, if we would do a weekend on the boat, we would have picnic tables in the carport of my dads house, and instead of a table cloth, we would put down newspaper, because when you open the crabs up, you would just put the piles of shells in the middle, and clean up would be easy. We would just roll up the newspaper and throw it out. That is like a Maryland tradition.”


How you would get the crabs?

“There were two ways. We would either go if there were a lot of people, we would buy them pre-steamed at the seafood place buy a bustle. It was in downtown Annapolis. Steamed crabs have old bay seasoning which makes them red and really spicy. It’s really popular. Or we would catch them ourselves. So this is what I remember, I would go down to the pier and I would have my crab net, I would have my bucket, and I would have my chicken necks, raw chicken necks, and my string. You’re going to be really grossed out when you hear this hahaha. So then you take the chick neck or the chick wing, and you would tie it up with the string and you would have to be pretty long, I don’t know seven or eight feet long, you would want it to touch the bottom of the river. Because the crabs are crawling across. So then you throw it in the water, and you tie the other end on the pier. Ok and you sit and you wait. And when you see the line being pulled out, you know the crab is on it and eating it. And you would be really careful, and you pull it in really slowly, and you pull it so that the crab is lust a foot under the surface so you can see the crab eating. And you hold the string in one hand and you hold the net with the right hand, and you have to be really careful or the crab will swim away. And then you have it in the water and you scoop up the crab. And then you put the crab in the bucket. And you put like a couple of inches of water in the bucket so the crab won’t die.

“So then if you’re lucky you have a good day and you catch a lot of crabs. Then you bring them home ad you steam them in the kitchen. So we had a special pot, you put water in the bottom and have it boiling. And you put the life crabs in and sometimes oh my god my poor mother was terrified, when you put them in and they’re dying they try to get out of the pot. And sometimes one would get out and it would crawl around the kitchen and my mother would freak out. The crabs crawl sideways and they try to pinch you. And my dad would catch them. You would put a wooden spoon in their pinchers to throw them back it. You steam them until you don’t hear any more noise. You just put a lot of seasoning or a bit of vinegar in the bottom of the pan. Old bay seasoning.


When usually do you usually have the steamed crabs?

“Only in the summer. You had to wait until the water was warm enough so that the crabs would be out there. You wanted the crabs to be five inches; those were the keepers. The little ones didn’t have a lot of meat in them.”


When did you first hear of this tradition?

When I was growing up in Annapolis. I was probably five or six. People would crab on the docks.


Which docks do you mean?

We lived on a creek called Spa Creek, and we crabbed a little there, but it was more where we moved to the neighborhood with the house, the neighborhood pier.


Who joined in this tradition?

Sometimes my friends, neighborhood kids. Eat them with the family, sometimes the neighborhood kids.


What is the significance of this tradition to you?

It was just a pastime, a recreational past time, something to do. Some people go fishing, people who live on the bay or the tributaries go crabbing.

This tradition speaks more closely to the informant’s immediate family. It represents her connection, and her parent’s connection to their local environment, and the importance of using the area for food. The steamed crabs also show the ways in which the informant and her community would be brought together during the summer crabbing season over this traditional dish. This meal really shows the ways in which the local environment is celebrated throughout the United States and how it can unite a community.


For more information and traditions on steamed crabs in Annapolis, MD, visit: (also note the common use of newspapers!)

“Crab Season Is Just Around the Corner.” N.p., 13 Jan. 2011. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.