Here's How The Grades Of Crab Meat Are Determined

Any seafood lover could tell you that crab is one of the most versatile foods that come from the ocean. It can be served on newspaper as part of a seafood boil or on your best dishes for special company, drawn butter and lemon on the side. When served boiled and whole, there's no question that getting to the actual, edible crab meat can be a chore that requires wooden mallets, claw crackers, and sharp little picks. 

The phrase "working up an appetite" may very well have stemmed from the process of eating crab. Fortunately, for those wishing to use this type of seafood as an ingredient rather than serving it whole, there are many options of picked crab or crab that has been cooked, cleaned from the shell, and is ready to use. But, take note, not all varieties are created equal. 

According to Cooks Illustrated, there are four types you're likely to find in a well-stocked supermarket and online and each type comes from a different part of the crab's body — jumbo lump, lump, backfin, and claw. The difference in the price of these grades can be substantial, ranging from $25 to $50 per pound, via The Spruce Eats. Like any fish or shellfish, there are prized pieces that tend to have superior flavor and texture, making them more desirable and more expensive.

Making the grade

The highest grade and most expensive picked crab meat is a jumbo lump, which comes from the two large swimming muscles on the back part of the crustacean, per Phillips Seafood. There are only two such muscles on each crab, making the meat rarer than the other types of meat on the body. Because of the size of these pieces and subtly sweet flavor, Cooks Illustrated suggests serving this type of meat in whole pieces as part of a cold seafood platter. 

Also delicious and less expensive is lump crab meat, which consists of broken pieces of jumbo lump and chunks of meat that come from the crustacean's body. According to The Nibble, this grade is perfect to use in dishes where you want the meat to stand out, such as pasta or crab omelets. Backfin grade crab meat is similar in flavor to lump because it is essentially smaller pieces of what is considered lump (via The Spruce Eats). It consists of broken pieces of lump and flaked pieces of body meat. Its smaller size makes it a perfect choice for crab cakes or crab salad

Finally, there is claw meat that comes from all the swimming fins and claws of the crab (via Phillips Seafood). Because these parts of the crab are the most active, the meat is darker and the flavor is stronger, per Cooks Illustrated. The least expensive of all crab grades, this is the best choice for anyone that likes a more robust crab flavor that can be added to delicious dishes like crab dip and soups.