Crabs, kielbasa, corn, potatoes/Photos by Donna Turner Ruhlman

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, one of whom 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 than 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 made the eating delicious and thrilling.

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 throw everything in a pot and cook till done, all there is too 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)
  • Keilbasa or other smoked sausage (1/4 to 1/2 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. Add the potatoes; 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 keilbasa into the pot with a 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 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!


Female and male crab; how does such a design feature happen?


I haven't sat at a happier table than this one in a long time.

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© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.