Crab boil consists of kielbasa, corn, potatoes, and crab. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

How To Prepare a Simple Crab Boil

Originally posted on August 11, 2011

By far the best meal of the summer was our crab boil during our week in Ocracoke. And like many “best” meals, it was unplanned, a surprise, a gift we were smart enough to take advantage of. Donna has pals from her native Port Washington, NY, who have houses here, and one owns a popular restaurant on this lovely barrier island off the coast of North Carolina (a ferry ride away from Cape Hatteras). So she found us a swank house on the water where we and friends and Donna’s sister and nieces could frolic.

In the grass beside the house was an old crab pot. In the house was my sun-averse pal Lester. In the fridge was a beef heart.

As the sun set, Lester lowered the trap, stuffed with beef heart trim, into the water at the end of the dock. Within an hour, astonishingly, we had a half dozen crabs.

Within two hours we had one. The pot was riddled with holes.

It took some doing, but Lester and his wife, Lee, managed to patch the thing just enough and take enough care checking the pot, pulling out crabs as they were caught, over the course of two days to catch twenty crabs (more if you count the little ones and the egg-bearing mommas we threw back).

Plenty for eight people. There wasn’t an easier meal to prepare for eight, nor one more fun. That the centerpiece of the meal was wild made the eating delicious and thrilling.


The result of a successful crab boil; includes crab, kielbasa, corn, and potatoes.

How to Prepare an Easy Crab Boil

The following is more method than recipe, as your crab boil depends on how many you’re serving. The general idea, though, works for any number of people or pot size. Of course the bigger the pot, the longer it’s going to take to cook. We used two big pots. The potatoes are sliced and submerged in water so that they cook in the same time as the rest of the ingredients, which steam. But basically the method is just throw everything in a pot and cook till done, all there is to it.

      • New potatoes (2 or 3 per person depending on their size, cut in half-inch slices)
      • Salt to taste
      • Crab boil seasoning (we found Zatarain’s liquid, but I’d recommend the dry)
      • Live crabs (2 or 3 per person)
      • Corn (an ear per person, halved)
      • Kielbasa or other smoked sausage (¼ to ½ pound per person)
      • Plenty of butter for dipping
      • Newspapers for covering the table
      • Little forks or skewers and claw crackers to get at the crab meat (we used rocks and wood skewers)
      1. Put the potatoes in an appropriately sized pot; they should cover the bottom of the pot. Cover them with water by about an inch. Add crab boil seasonings and a few four-finger pinches of salt. Put your crabs, corn, and kielbasa in the pot and cover. Put the pot over high heat. Pay attention to when the water reaches a boil; when it does, reduce the heat to medium high. Cook for another 12 to 18 minutes, or until the crabs are steamed through.
      2. Hold the lid of the pot ajar and dump the water, keeping the food in the pot. Upend the pot in the center of a table covered with newspaper. Make sure plenty of melted butter is on the table and a couple bottles of cold white wine.
      3. Feast!

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© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.


9 Wonderful responses to “Crab Boil”

  • Heide Braley

    I love cooking crabs like this! It is similar to how we did clams on the beaches of Maine when I was a kid. Now I live on the Chesapeake and have easy access to crabs. Eating outside is the only way to do this cuz it is messy!

  • Allen

    Ghost cocktail post.

    Fernet Branca

    1 oz Fernet Branca in a shot glass, poor and sip.

    This is a drink that’s good both before and after dinner.
    Good for digestion, it was legal during prohibition because it was considered medicinal.
    In Argentina they mix it with Coke and a squeeze of lemon over ice. If you go that route, be sure and use Mexican Coke, it’s the original recipe.
    Fergus Henderson has a drink that mixes it with creme de menthe, for over indulgence.
    I always enjoy listening to to the reaction of the person sipping it for the first time, they always describe a different herb or smell. It’s very fragrant and has a lot of ingredients.

    Let’s hope Michael’s having a great time and all is well. And that we get a real cocktail post soon. I needed a break from cocktail post last week, had way too much the week before. You know that song “I left my liver in San Francisco”…

  • Susan

    12-18 minutes is a long cooking time for sweet corn. Think it would work to toss the corn in halfway through the cooking time?

    • ruhlman

      when i was a kid, the corn was not nearly so sweet and tender as it is to day and mom did boil it for 15-20 minutes. now our summer corn just needs to be heated a few minutes. but this is a one pot boil and my guess is, and I’ve seen this still done to day and many boils, everything gets thrown in at once, and forget about it till everything’s done.

  • Jon

    Part of the allure of cooking is surely the romantic aspects we conjure in our minds. For me one of the clearest and strongest food fantasies is the beach cookout. A beach setting, warm breeze, a waning sun, seafood boil, good friends, wine… picture perfect and a good time.


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