A Guide to Eating Soft-Shell Crabs

Everything you want to know but are too afraid to ask

If you've ever wondered if it's OK to eat an entire soft-shell crab (including the shell), you're not alone. Unless you're a seasoned soft-sheller, it can be a little intimidating when a whole deep-fried crab is placed in front of you. That's why we're reaching out to Sandy Ingber, executive chef at Grand Central Oyster Bar, to get the scoop on all things crustacean. 

When is soft-shell crab season?

Soft-shell crab season is typically from early March to late September, depending on the weather. "The season always starts in Florida, works its way up the Atlantic Coast to Maryland and then back down again, finishing the season back in Florida," Ingber says. A good rule of thumb is to get your seafood fix before Labor Day. 

What's the difference between a hard-shell and a soft-shell crab?

Despite the difference in name, hard-shell and soft-shell crabs are actually the same species. Soft-shell crabs shed their shells through a process called molting. "Shortly after this stage, the shell begins to harden and is not a soft shell anymore," Ingber explains. While this is not always the case, crabs that have just shed their shells tend to have a paler abdomen, in addition to a slightly wrinkled appearance.

So, can you really eat the whole shell?

According to Ingber, "the whole soft shell is edible—and delicious." When it comes to cooking methods, he prepares the crabs a variety of ways: sautéed, fried or even grilled. "Personally, I love them marinated with extra-virgin olive oil, lots of assorted fresh herbs and garlic. Then, I light a fire on my grill and grill them about two to three minutes on each side. No sauce necessary." 

When in season, you can find panfried Maryland jumbo soft-shell crabs with garlic herb butter on the menu at Grand Central Oyster Bar, along with other crowd favorites like the lobster roll and fresh oysters.