16 Best Sauces For Crab Cakes

There's no one way to make a crab cake. America's first crab cakes were made by Indigenous peoples, who formed them with fresh crab and cornmeal and fried them in hot bear fat. Today, you'll find different types of crab cakes all over the country, from the blue crab cakes of the Chesapeake Bay to the Dungeness crab cakes of the Pacific Northwest. In other parts of the world, you'll find even more ways to make crab cakes; subtle recipe variations can be found in places like Thailand or Italy.

Just as there are many ways to make a crab cake, there are possibly even more ways to top them. Nothing helps a crab cake sing like a fresh, homemade sauce. But which sauce to choose? Something rich and creamy, or something bright and spicy? The sauce you choose for topping your crab cake can completely change the flavor profile, so be sure and suit the sauce to your meal, the atmosphere, and your taste buds. Here are plenty of suggestions to help plan your menu. 


In Louisiana, the crab cake topper of choice is remoulade, a creamy, tangy blend of mayonnaise and seasonings that originated in France. Remoulade may seem daunting to put together, as it has a whole laundry list of ingredients, but you won't want to skip any. It's the harmonious blend of flavors that makes remoulade what it is. It's no wonder the complex sauce is such a popular partner to crab cakes, elevating the simple dish to something that tastes like fine cuisine. 

You can easily make your own remoulade sauce recipe, and the majority of its many ingredients are items you're likely to have in your pantry already. You can adjust the hot sauce to your own taste, making it milder or hotter, but make sure you use at least a few drops. Pro tip: make extra because remoulade sauce tastes just as great on shrimp and other seafood (folks in Louisiana even use it for French fries and hot dogs).

Tartar sauce

Tartar sauce may have been named for nomadic Central Asian warriors, but it's become a staple of classic American cooking. No fish fry or weeknight meal of fish sticks would be complete without the creamy combination of mayo and pickles. Of course, it's not just for fried fish. Tartar sauce is a worthy partner for a batch of perfectly seasoned crab cakes. Along with remoulade, it's one of the sauces you're most likely to see served with crab cakes in American restaurants. 

Tartar sauce is somewhat similar to remoulade, but it's stripped down to basic components. You can quickly assemble tartar sauce at home with just a few ingredients (mayonnaise, onions, pickles, and a splash of lemon juice) or follow a tartar sauce recipe until you get the hang of it. Adjust the ingredients to suit your own taste or to bring a different vibe to the table. Try making tartar sauce with Japanese Kewpie mayo for a bit more umami. 


Crab cakes aren't just for dinner. Inventive brunch menus sometimes feature a crab cake version of the classic eggs Benedict, with a crispy crab cake serving as the base for a just-poached egg, all topped with a buttery, lemony hollandaise. The richness of the egg yolk and the sauce bring decadence to the light sweetness of the crab. You can serve hollandaise over crab cakes without the eggs, of course, for a dinnertime dish.

Making hollandaise sauce doesn't have to be as hard as it looks on cooking competition shows, where everyone's sauce seems to break or curdle at the last minute. It does bear some watching, and you'll want to take things slow and steady, but the results will be worthwhile when you spoon the hollandaise over your crab cakes. Be sure and serve it right away, as the butter can separate if it sits for too long.

Cocktail sauce

Cocktail sauce, also known as seafood sauce, is much more commonly seen as an accompaniment to shrimp cocktails or big fried shrimp platters, but the tangy sauce is also a fine accompaniment for crab cakes. If you're serving a variety of seafood, cocktail sauce can do double duty, as it works for both crab cakes and shrimp, and for many diners, it's a favorite topping for raw oysters. 

The bright, tangy taste is a welcome flavor for those who don't want their crab cakes smothered in a rich, fatty sauce. The taste is akin to lemony ketchup, so it's a good sauce to offer children, who may be averse to some of the more complex flavors in other toppings. Cocktail sauce is also a good secondary sauce to have on hand if you're serving a more unfamiliar sauce. Non-adventurous eaters deserve toppings, too, and cocktail sauce has just the right amount of zest without going overboard. 

Fra diavolo sauce

Fiery fra diavolo sauce gets its name from the Italian for "brother devil," but pairing it with crab cakes may lead to results that put you more in mind of heavenly things. The tomato-based pasta sauce is packed with red pepper flakes and herbs, resulting in a flavor that is bold, spicy, and complex. When you want to serve crab cakes that really pack a punch, this is the sauce you want.

You may have noticed that the sauce sounds similar to arrabbiata, and they do share many of the same components. Fra diavolo differs in the common addition of white wine to fra diavolo sauce and the fact that it includes seafood. Fra diavolo dishes are often studded with shrimp or other shellfish, and it's a common base for a savory seafood stew. It's just as delicious as a topping, though, and it will ensure that your crab cake won't be lacking flavor.


Creamy aioli is often confused for mayonnaise, and while the two are both emulsions, aioli is created using garlic and olive oil. A well-made aioli has a velvety texture that brings added richness to any dish. Its origins may be Mediterranean and French, but there's really no food style that can't incorporate a bit of aioli. Part of the beauty of the sauce is how easily it can transformed with the addition of other ingredients. 

When using aioli for crab cakes, you could stick with the traditional garlic aioli (which is plenty delicious) or dress it up with lemon and fresh herbs (like basil or chives). A bit of roasted red pepper adds both color and flavor to aioli and would enhance crab cakes even further. If you'd like to spice up your crab cakes with some heat, try a sriracha aioli (or a gochujang aioli, or whatever your favorite spicy sauce might be). 

Avocado sauce

If you want to present your homemade crab cakes in a way that visibly reflects the freshness of the spring and summer seasons, consider whipping up a bright, verdant avocado sauce. The beautiful green color will lift the appearance of the entire plate, but don't worry: the taste is great, too, and it's perfect for crab cakes. If you like guacamole, you'll like avocado sauce, which gets its taste from avocados and its creaminess from yogurt or sour cream.

The addition of lime is a boon to seafood, brightening the flavor in the same manner as lemon. Another benefit of serving crab cakes with an avocado sauce is that you can steer the whole meal in a Southwestern direction if you like. Suitable side dishes might include cilantro rice, charred ears of fresh corn, and a cool gazpacho. Mix up a pitcher of margaritas and invite over the whole gang. 

Lemon dill sauce

If there are two ingredients that nearly everyone agrees taste great with fish, they'd have to be lemon and dill. Even the simplest grilled seafood dishes are usually seasoned with lemon and dill (and butter, for those who aren't worried about keeping things light). It stands to reason that lemon and dill would also form the base of a sauce that tastes just right when drizzled over a plate of fresh, hot crab cakes. 

Recipes vary from person to person, so choose one that sounds good to you, whether sour cream-based, yogurt-based, or tinged with Dijon mustard or Old Bay seasoning. Lemon dill sauce elevates crab cakes a bit more than the standard tartar sauce, imparting a grassy herbaceousness. It's a good choice when your side dishes are a tad fancier than French fries. Some good pairings for crab cakes with lemon dill sauce include grilled asparagus and herb-infused French potato salad.

Sweet chili sauce

You don't have to be from Baltimore to love crab cakes. Nearly every culture that eats a lot of seafood has a version of them, so naturally, there are varieties of crab cake sauces that offer less Western flavors. One of these is sweet chili sauce, enjoyed in countries like China, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. There are a multitude of bottled varieties, but for the best flavor, you can try making an easy sweet chili sauce recipe. 

You've probably tasted sweet chili sauce before, as it frequently accompanies dippable Asian dishes like spring rolls or dumplings. If not, know that the taste is in the name. It's a slightly spicy yet sticky sweet dressing that can range in bite. Sweet chili is dreamy on crab cakes, especially if you opt for a Thai-style crab cake, a salty and umami-full version made with lump crab, cilantro, ginger, scallions, and fish sauce. You can serve chili sauce with American-style crab cakes, too.


Want something a little different from tartar sauce but with a similar creamy texture and tangy taste? Tzatziki is the solution. The yogurt-based Greek sauce (which also makes a mighty good dip for vegetable crudités) is a super topper for a batch of crab cakes, with just the right balance of cool creaminess, citrine tang, and a delicate crunch from the fresh cucumbers. If you're making it yourself, use full-fat Greek-style strained yogurt for the best taste and texture. 

If you'd like your crab cake meal to have a Mediterranean vibe, tzatziki is a simple way to move it in that direction. Consider serving your crab cakes with warm loaves of fresh pita bread, lemony roasted broccoli, and a veggie-studded couscous for a complete meal. Stash away any leftover tzatziki for topping any type of seafood or for use as a dip or even a zesty salad dressing.

Sour cream sauce

If you want to keep the flavor of your crab cake topping pretty simple, sour cream sauce is a good way to go. You get the benefit of sour cream tanginess without a lot of ingredients that might compete with the flavors of your crab cake. Sour cream sauce is also the perfect choice if you've upped the spicy components of your crab cake; the relatively neutral sauce will let the flavors come through while also providing cooling elements to contrast with the heat.

While there are cooked versions of sour cream sauce (which are really just a butter sauce with added sour cream), for crab cakes, all you need to do is thin some sour cream with a bit of heavy or light cream and mix until it is a good consistency for pouring. Sour cream sauce can also be artistically drizzled from a squeeze bottle. The beauty of it lies in its simplicity, but feel free to dress it up with garlic, chives, cilantro, or whatever suits your crab cake style. 

Mango salsa

If you really want to get outside of the usual crab cake box, choose a topping that will add something unexpected, like a tropical mango salsa. People seem to forget that "salsa" literally means "sauce," so it makes sense that it's good for more things than just dipping your tortilla chips. While any kind of salsa could elevate your crab cakes, mango salsa is particularly tasty with the delicate flavors of crab meat. 

Choose a mango that's not overly ripe, so your salsa won't be too mushy, and add chopped red onion, fresh cilantro, lime juice, and slivers of jalapeno (or a hotter pepper, if you can stand it). The tropical taste really adds an impact to fried crab cakes (or any fried seafood), lifting them up so they don't seem so heavy and greasy. Serve plenty of it on the side — it practically counts as a salad!


The vibrant color of fresh pesto makes it a welcome addition to any dish that could use a burst of color. Crab cakes look gorgeous with pesto on top, but the bright flavor also adds a delicious Italian twist to the seafood dish. The use of pesto dates back to ancient Rome, but its use on crab cakes feels decidedly modern. The savory combination of olive oil, fresh basil, parmesan, garlic, and olive oil enhances the delicate taste of the crab meat and gives it a rich, herby flavor. 

The best part of using pesto as a crab cake topping is that it works with the entirety of the meal, too. You wouldn't normally spoon tartar sauce on top of your vegetables, but pesto is perfectly mixed in with any grilled garden goods, or just slathered on bread. Serve plenty of pesto with your crab cakes and encourage your guests to make generous use of it on the entire plate. 

Horseradish sauce

Horseradish may be an acquired taste, but those who love a nasal pungency (or the little packets of Arby's Horsey Sauce) will love adding horseradish sauce to their crab cakes. Many remoulade recipes use a dash of horseradish for flavor, so it's not an uncommon pairing for crab cakes. Horseradish sauce simply takes the concept and runs with it. Because the appearance might trick guests into thinking it's a sour cream sauce, be sure and warn them ahead of time. 

For gatherings of larger numbers of people with differing tastes, you might serve horseradish sauce as one of two or more sauces. Those who love it can apply generously, and others may opt for a less zesty crab cake topping. Horseradish sauce comes in bottles if you want to keep things simple, and it can be placed on the table as an option for those who choose it.

Romesco sauce

Romesco sauce was created by Spanish fishermen in the Catalan region as an accompaniment to their daily hauls of fresh seafood. That means it tastes fabulous on just about any kind of fresh seafood because that's exactly what the sauce was designed to do. The bold taste adds a delightfully smoky flavor to fish and shellfish, and it's a particularly clever topping for dishes like crab cakes, making them have the smoky depth of a grilled seafood item without the use of fire.

The sauce gets its main flavor from roasted red peppers and tomatoes combined with ingredients like garlic, almonds, hazelnuts, and paprika. The result is as beautiful as it is flavorful, with plenty of savory umami. If you serve romesco with your crab cakes, be sure and make plenty, as folks will want to dip everything in it, from the vegetables to the bread — and maybe even a spoon. 

Tomato jam

You can have the taste of summer, even if you're enjoying your crab cakes in the colder months, by topping them with a jam that's bursting with the sunny flavor of the warmer months. Tomato jam is a wonderful way to preserve the bounty of summer's ripe tomatoes, and the concentrated flavor is a dazzling companion for fresh-cooked crab cakes. If you were prescient enough to make your own tomato jam, pop open a jar and spoon it on with (careful) abandon.

Of course, you can also purchase tomato jam, and there are plenty of trusted brands from which to choose. Tomato jam gives a southern down-home vibe to crab cakes (but it's also reminiscent of Italy). You can enhance that vibe by going all-out with the southern accompaniments, from pickled okra to collard greens, but be forewarned that some Southerners will be looking for the tartar sauce.