The Proper Way To Humanely Prepare Crab For A Meal

With most meat and seafood items, a delicious meal is just a trip to the grocery store away. Yet, when it comes to crustaceans, making a seafood boil is a little more complicated. Crustaceans are usually cooked alive, meaning that it's in your hands to dispatch them and prepare them for dinner. How does one do that ethically? From putting live crabs in the air fryer to opening them up while they're still kicking, there are a number of questionable ways that people put crabs to sleep. But studies — like one published in the Journal of Experimental Biology in 2013 — have shown that crabs feel pain, which means a quick death is the most ethical choice. 

To do this, first set your crabs in the freezer for 15 minutes. Then, flip each one over, lift its tail flap, and swiftly stick a knife or pointed implement into its thorax, which is in the center of its body, stopping and twisting it when you reach the top shell. Repeat the process in the depression just behind the crab's eyes. For effective and humane killing, make the first insertion at an 85-degree angle and the second at a 60-degree angle, tilting the implement away from the head. Be sure to complete the procedure as fast as possible — hesitating will only cause the crab pain. 

This technique, called spiking, quickly disables both centers of a crab's nervous system. Freezing the crabs first essentially numbs them, reducing the amount of stress they feel. After a quick freeze, they won't fight back while being handled, allowing you to hastily and ethically incapacitate them. After just 10 seconds, the crabs should be ready to cook.

Are there other ways to humanely prepare crabs?

If you don't have the tools available to spike a crab, you can also dispatch these crustaceans by slamming them against a sharp corner. To do this, freeze the crab for 15 minutes to subdue it. Then, secure its back legs with your hands and place your thumbs firmly on its shell. Line the tip of the tail flap up with the pointed edge of a counter or table, then quickly and forcibly hit the crab's underside against the corner. Like spiking, this effectively damages and incapacitates the crab's nervous system.

A fast, sudden death is the most peaceful way for your crab to go. Although it's a common method, placing crabs directly into boiling hot water is a distressing experience for them that should be avoided. If you, understandably, can't bear to be the one to end the life of a crab, you can always skip the complicated process of buying, storing, and cooking fresh crabs and purchase pre-cooked frozen crab meat from the seafood market or grocery store.