20 Ways To Use Imitation Crab Beyond Sushi

It's whitish, pinkish, and sticking out of your California roll. It looks like crab and tastes a little like crab (or some generic seafood), but it isn't in the slightest way crab — nor made from any part of our crustaceous friends. So what, exactly, is imitation crab? It's usually an amalgamation of white fish (many times, Alaskan pollock) processed with added sugar, starch, and salt to form a paste that's molded into the pink-tinged sticks we've come to know. The paste — referred to as surimi — has been around in the U.S. for about 20 years and serves as a cheaper stand-in for more expensive crab meat, which can be difficult to find away from the coast.

But aside from your California roll or other imperfectly made-at-home sushi, what in the world can be done with imitation crab? As it turns out, quite a lot. We've rounded up ways to use the crab-esque pretender that are sure to please you and a crowd.

Air fryer crab sticks

Peruse your local Asian restaurant's menu, and you may see "crab sticks" lingering in and around the appetizers list. And they're pretty much just that — imitation crab sticks that are fried and served with dipping sauce. If you're scratching your head and wondering what to make with your imitation crab, these should be first on your to-try list. Assuming you own an air fryer (if not, you should probably get on it), it's time to prepare this tasty and customizable snack.

Shop for imitation crab sticks for this one as opposed to other types of imitation crab, and then coat each one in butter and the seasoning of your choice. You can even get fancier here, with egg wash, breadcrumbs, and Old Bay seasoning, too, but overall this preparation should yield a light, airy bite with just the right amount of spice. It's the perfect snack.

Crab dip

There is, arguably, no better way to disguise cooking on a budget with imitation crab than with a creamy, decadent dip laced with spices, cream cheese, and our old friend, mayonnaise. Is crab dip ever not a hit at parties? We've certainly never been to one where it wasn't on the most-loved list of hors d'oeuvres.

Combine softened cream cheese with mayonnaise and lemon juice, then warm it in the microwave or on the stovetop until everything can be easily mixed. Add spices of choice — we recommend Cajun seasoning, classic Old Bay, Worcestershire sauce, and or your favorite combination — then fold in the chopped imitation crab. We suggest looking for the shredded or small-chunked variety. If the dip is already warm, there's no need to heat further your surimi, which is already pre-cooked. Overheating can actually make it dense and tough. Simply add it in along with any other vegetables or non-cook items.


On a cold, windy day in the middle of winter, is there anything more soul-soothing than a big, steaming bowl of seafood, New England, or crab chowder? For those experiencing the season's chill far from the coast, imitation crab can be an excellent (not-to-mention cheaper) stand-in during the off-season, and it does play well with others regarding big pots of soup and stew. When swapping in imitation crab for the real stuff, be sure to take your time and look in your grocer's freezer aisle for Osaki brand "fish cake." Many Asian grocery stores carry the brand, which is absolutely imitation crab. It's easily shreddable, savory, and closer to crab's taste and texture than many American brands.

In our crab and corn chowder recipe, you could easily swap in your Osaki surimi for the real stuff by adding it toward the end of the cooking process. As previously mentioned, since imitation crab is already cooked and can become rubbery and dense if heated too much, adding and warming it around the same time you'd add the crème fraîche in this recipe should result in a delightful chowder.


Obviously, right? In this day and age, we'd be surprised to see something not make it into a taco, and imitation crab is no exception. Whether it's chorizo, chicken, lamb, shrimp, duck, or mushrooms, it seems like just about anything can be at home in a corn or flour tortilla; imitation crab is no exception.

The first step to creating a good imitation crab taco is choosing the right kind of imitation crab in the first place. The shredded variety — not the chunk or flake variety — will sit better in a taco since it'll be more reminiscent of a barbacoa or shredded and pulled chicken that you would normally see in the handheld.

Once you've got your imitation crab on hand, prep it by shredding it into about 1 to 2-inch pieces, chop, season with a bit of taco seasoning or whatever you're inspired by, and heat in a bit of butter or oil just until warm. Snuggle it in a flour or corn tortilla and top with whatever makes you happiest.


Continuing on in the Mexican vein, enchiladas, too, are a wonderful vehicle for imitation crab, since they're covered, smothered, and deliciously messy with layers of flavors that complement one another. Traditionally made in a makeshift assembly line, enchiladas usually start with a filling like chicken, rice, beef, and or beans wrapped in a corn tortilla that's been wetted with red or green sauce. The filling is rolled in the tortilla, and then the whole thing is placed seam side down in a baking dish, where it's further smothered with cheese, sauce, and accouterments before (and after) being baked.

Imitation crab can successfully be added to your enchiladas by leaning into the seafood vibe. When creating your filling, add imitation crab to the mix — the Osaki would probably be wonderful here, but a cheaper lump or flake could do the trick, too. Then wrap up your tortillas and bake, covered in a sauce of your choice.


What's more impressive than homemade pasta? Perhaps homemade ravioli? Making pasta at home may feel daunting, but it's surprisingly simple. Eggs, flour, water, patience, and a good pair of hands are all you'll need to create a delicious dinner that'd probably earn a small nod of approval from your Italian grandmother — maybe.

Our crab ravioli recipe is an easily customized (not to mention executable) example of homemade pasta. Even better, it can be made on a budget by swapping in imitation crab for the lump crab called for in the recipe.

The filling utilizes a bundle of fresh herbs, which naturally elevate the taste of lump crab, so will do the same for a good quality imitation crab. Once the filling is snuggled inside each ravioli, the short cooking time — about three minutes — will ensure the imitation crab is warmed, but not overcooked. No dense or chewy ravioli here.

Stir fry

Everyone's favorite "what am I making for dinner" dish, stir fry, is easily executed with a wide variety of ingredients. Whether you have chicken, beef, vegetables, or, yes, imitation crab, you can create a delightful dish quickly and serve it on its own or over rice.

A typical stir fry usually starts with very high heat and oil in a wok or wide pan. Aromatics like ginger, garlic, and scallions are sauteed until fragrant. Other ingredients, by order of cooking time, are layered in, with proteins joining the party first so they can take on a beautiful sear and soak in the aromatics for a longer time. Carrots are a popular addition, as are peppers, onions, green beans, and eggplant.

Adding imitation crab works well in stir fry since the cooking is fast and hot — not unlike air frying methods. Imitation crab can be added toward the end of the cooking process, where it will quickly warm while absorbing the flavors of your stir fry.


Late night, early morning, lunch, dinner, possibly breakfast if you're a college student — there really never seems to be a time inappropriate for pizza. And, as time and trial as taught us, nearly anything can top a pizza and still be, well, pretty good.

In an article describing must-eat unique pizzas around the country, we discovered the Crab Pizza at Matthews Pizza in Baltimore, Maryland that is delicious and comes topped with crab meat. The good news is, you can replicate — or come close to replicating — this beloved pie on a budget with imitation crab. We'd recommend a white pie base, topped with mozzarella, Parmesan, and caramelized onions just like Matthews'. Then, saute up a bit of imitation crab in butter with Old Bay and throw it on your fresh-out-of-the-oven (or grill) pizza, and you have a pie your guests will be raving about for ages.

Macaroni and cheese

A creamy pot of macaroni and cheese is just at home on the dinner table for a weeknight as it is the star of the show (after the turkey, of course) during Thanksgiving. Simple stovetop mac or the kind baked with all the trimmings, from breadcrumbs to fresh heirloom tomatoes to more cheese, are both delicious. Creating a luscious macaroni and cheese and then adding something like imitation crab can be just as impressive as adding lobster to it. It's all about your execution of this classic.

After your basic mac and cheese recipe steps, once your pasta is coated in your cheese sauce, you can add chopped Osaki imitation crab, which will totally warm in the sauce. And remember, since it's already cooked, you don't need to worry about it cooking through, just warming up. You don't want cold pieces of imitation crab floating around in there. And lobster? We don't know her.

Stuffed mushrooms

A heavenly hors d'oeuvres, stuffed mushrooms are an easy yet impressive appetizer for parties, tailgating, or as a starter to a romantic at-home dinner. Traditionally made with a creamy filling piped into a baby Portobello mushroom, adding crab (or in our case, imitation crab) to handheld bites can elevate this snack above the basic.

The crab-stuffed mushroom filling should be a creamy mixture of horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, green onions or scallions, bread crumbs, parsley, and your imitation crab (swapping in for the recipe's lump crabmeat). Since the filling is thick, flavorful, and mixed really thoroughly, if you can't find Osaki here, the lump or flake imitation crab will suffice. Imitation crab works here so long as it's finely diced and good quality.

After you've wiped down your 'shrooms and removed the stems, carefully dollop or pipe in your mixed filling. Bake your mushrooms for about 25 minutes until the mushrooms are soft but not too soft and the top breadcrumbs are golden brown.


Slide some meat, peppers, onions, and mushrooms on a stick, place it over a fire, and you've got kebabs. Literally translating to "roasted meat," kebabs can be as simple or as complicated as the cook or grill master decides. Normally, trying to get crab meat on a kebab is nearly impossible. The tiny bits of crab compounded by the flakiness of the protein make this roasted shellfish seem like a fairly difficult ask.

Of course, the task becomes more doable if you're subbing in imitation crab. Since imitation crab comes in sticks, you can chop a 1 to 2-inch piece off and easily place it onto a skewer. One idea is to layer 2-inch imitation crab pieces with lemon, red bell pepper, and onion on a soaked wooden skewer or metal skewer. Baste with melted butter and sprinkle on a good deal of Old Bay. Grill over an open flame until the vegetables are charred and done. For a makeshift crab bake, serve with roasted red-skinned potatoes and corn on the cob.

Crab fried rice

If you've got eggs and leftover white rice from your late-night Asian food ordering session, you're halfway to fried rice. A staple for the budget-conscious (and everyone who loves an easily put-together meal), fried rice is an endlessly riffable dish that can go from side to main depending on additions.

Adding crab to fried rice is a Thai street food standby, and swapping out the fresh crab for the best quality imitation crab you can find will make it even more budget-friendly than regular crab would. Go for something that mimics the texture of real crab — pulling into strings, sweet but not too sweet, and without the odd rubbery texture plaguing some brands. It'll take your basic fried rice to a whole other level, which you can pair with everything from dumplings to shrimp (or even coconut shrimp) for a whole seafood affair on your plate.

Lobster rolls

A split hot dog bun laden with meaty bites of lobster, lemon, maybe mayonnaise (we know the addition of aioli is controversial in some areas, and punishable by heavy fines), and not a whole lot else encompasses New England's pride: the lobster roll. But if lobster is hard to come by in your area due to either budget or being too far from the coast, swapping in imitation crab is not completely unheard of. Just don't you dare call it a lobster roll.

In this recipe for a Connecticut-style lobster roll, the cooked lobster meat is quickly warmed in clarified butter with tarragon and chives. Swap in the absolute best quality imitation crab you can find, and execute the rest of the recipe as is. You won't fool anyone that the surimi is actually lobster, but this swap may be good enough to temporarily relieve a lobster roll craving.


If you're unfamiliar, ceviche is a dish consisting of fresh seafood — shrimp, tuna, white fish, scallops, or even crab — marinated in herbs, spices, and citrus. The citrus denatures the protein present in the fish and shellfish, turning it opaque and giving it the appearance (and texture) of being cooked.

A ceviche made with lump crabmeat, while delicious, could still pose danger if not correctly prepared. Since the citrus used simply denatures the protein, it isn't actually cooking and killing present bacteria, parasites, and other nasties possibly present in your shellfish.

The good news: Swapping in imitation crab, which is already cooked, can give you all of the ceviche joy with none of the ceviche danger. Our fresh crab ceviche recipe provides an easy blueprint to swap in your imitation crab. Make sure you're using the closest-to-the-original imitation crab; again, we'd recommend Osaki. Dice it and add at the same step you'd add the crab, marinating it in olive oil before adding in the vegetables and cilantro. You can lessen the fridge time here to under an hour, too since there's nothing to really "cook."

Mashed potatoes

Let's be perfectly clear: There's nothing wrong with a bowl of pillowy mashed potatoes, especially when there is a dripping pat of butter plopped on top. But, if you want to take this humble Thanksgiving staple to a new level, you might want to reach for a seafood addition. Although lobster mashed potatoes are certainly luxurious, we're ballin' on a budget, so we're going to go with the next best thing: imitation crab.

If you close your eyes, you might find that the texture of the lobster matches that of the mashed potatoes. While the flavor and succulence are not an exact match with surimi, this creative swap will work in a (penny) pinch. Using imitation crab is also a great substitute if you can't get your hands on Dungeness crab, which is a common crabby addition to mashed potatoes. Since the imitation crab is already cooked, you can add it to the mashed potatoes after they're all mashed up, along with seasonings like butter, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.

Crab cakes

Whipping up a batch of homemade crab cakes is a way to bring the flavors of the sea into your kitchen. The classic ingredients for this recipe include sauces like Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce, and crackers, while the crab element is introduced via lump crabmeat. But that's not to say that you can't make crab cakes by swapping out the crab for another cheaper, more easily accessible option. Turning to imitation crab is a great way to get the textural sensation of classic lump crabmeat when you can't get your hands on the "real thing." 

You'll want to integrate the imitation crab in the same way that you'd add the regular crab. Mix all of the ingredients together, shape the patties, and cook them in a hot, oiled skillet until golden brown on both sides. Crab cakes are always tastiest when they're served hot, so it's best to cook these patties right before you plan on eating them.

Egg rolls

The best part of a Chinese takeout order is arguably the egg rolls. There's nothing better than crunching into the crispy shells or satisfyingly plunking them into a dipping sauce. And although it seems like this is one food that tastes better at a restaurant than when it's made at home, it's one that you can easily make in your kitchen — as long as you have some store-bought secret ingredients to lend a helping hand.

Not only will you want to reach for the surimi instead of the more premium crab or shrimp, but you can also grab a bag of pre-cut coleslaw mix to circumvent the arduous process of slicing up your veggies. You won't even have to make your own wrappers; you can find egg roll wraps in the refrigerated or produce section of most grocery stores or ethnic markets.

To make a batch at home, simply place your filling in the center of each roll, tuck it all in, and place it seam-side down in a baking pan, complete with a good spritz of cooking spray. After a short spin in the oven, your rolls will come out golden brown — without a fryer or any sizzling pot of oil needed.

Poke bowls

If you consider yourself a sushi lover and a fan of the build-a-bowl model of brands like Chipotle, you'll love the poke bowl. It's essentially a bowl of deconstructed sushi; you'll get all of the ingredients that you love, with the ease of eating everything with a fork.

Since imitation crab is a common addition to sushi, it's easy to see how it can fit seamlessly into a California roll bowl with ingredients like cucumber, avocado, and nori on a bed of sushi rice. Our recipe amps up the flavor with sriracha mayo and toppings like pickled ginger and a sprinkle of furikake seasoning. Plus, since the crab is already cooked, you'll just need to add it to the top of your bowl with your other ingredients. It's a simple recipe that you can adapt to whatever toppings you have in your fridge or whatever you can find at your local grocery store.


Crab rangoon is a Chinese takeout appetizer that we can single-handedly demolish in a single sitting. Although the name of this popular starter gives off a stuffy and high-class vibe, it's made with the economical imitation crab and a combination of other ingredients including cream cheese, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce. In fact, you can even whip up your own batch of homemade crab rangoons to serve as finger food at your next party — and they're easier to make than you might think. 

You'll want to start by combining your imitation crab with the seasoning and the softened cream cheese. Your crab needs to be roughly chopped in order to mix well with the cream cheese and to ensure each bite is the perfect balance of crispy wonton wrapper and crab meat. Once your rangoons are assembled and fried in hot oil, they're best served alongside a sweet and sour dipping sauce to help complement the fillings. You can also freeze the assembled puffs ahead of time and fry them when you're in need of a quick starter.  

Crab salad

You have your tuna salad, chicken salad, pasta salad, whitefish salad ... what's next? Crab salad is the new salad on the block — and one that you'll need to pay attention to if you always keep a pack of imitation crab in your fridge. You can whip up a spicy crab salad, perfect for eating inside of sushi, on top of a poke bowl, or even straight from the bowl, within a matter of minutes. All you need is to do is to thinly slice your crab pieces up so that each bite is filled with a balance of crab and the other ingredients — which include mayonnaise, sriracha, and scallions. 

We think that Kewpie mayo would be an excellent swap for regular mayonnaise here because it's made with egg yolks, rather than eggs, as well as rice vinegar for the acidic kick. The umami profile is rounded out with a hint of MSG, which can also enhance the flavor of the imitation crab.