What Makes A Chesapeake Bay-Style Crab Feast Unique?

Summer on the shore, splashing in the waves, and hunting for clams, oysters, and crabs, is an all-American east coast pastime. Up and down the Atlantic coast, people indulge in fresh-from-the-ocean seafood boils and bakes. Along Maryland's Chesapeake Bay and Virginia's Eastern Shore, it's all about Chesapeake blue crabs. Visit Maryland boasts that the Chesapeake Bay region hosts no less than sixteen seafood festivals, most of which are based on the classic Chesapeake blue crab and seafood feast. One of the best places to immerse yourself in the flavors of the coast is in along the Chesapeake Bay's Maryland Crab & Oyster Trail.

Chesapeake Bay crab feasts are somewhere between the New England Clambake and the Southern seafood boil. Baltimore magazine lays out the perfect plan for a traditional  crab feast, detailing the things that make the Chesapeake Bay-style crab feast unique: "[The] Maryland crab feast is a distinct thing," says Spike Gjerde, James Beard Award-winning chef, and co-owner of Woodberry Kitchen. "There's an adherence to tradition and more or less a pure way of doing it. It's crabs with paper on the table — steamed, not boiled — with ice-cold beer, and maybe some corn."

Boil, bake, or steam

For perfect results, always find the freshest seafood you can. Chesapeake blue crabs are in season in late summer and early autumn. Crab Dynasty will overnight the daily catch directly to your door, packed in ice, and ready to steam. After going to the trouble of finding the perfect crabs, you'll want to cook them with the expertise of a chef. Baltimore magazine indicates that Southern-style crab boils can result in waterlogged and mushy crab, but steaming gently cooks the delicate meat but keeps it dry and firm, making it more delicious. 

Live crabs are steamed solo in baskets over a blend of water, beer, and apple cider or malt vinegar, in crab pots, rather than boiling them together with shrimp, potatoes, and mollusks. steam is what makes Chesapeake crab feasts so unique, according to Lobstergram. Simple is best says Baltimore magazine, because blue crabs are succulent and sweet with no need to obscure the briny flavors of the sea. A dash of Old Bay seasoning in the steaming water and 30 minutes are all you need.

Steamed blue crabs are succulent

Baltimore Magazine suggests that dining on a Chesapeake Bay crab feast is a messy yet rewarding affair meant to be shared with others. Invite friends and family and ask them to bring the side dishes. Cover your table with a thick layer of deconstructed brown paper bags or newspapers and stacks of napkins. Crab crackers, picks, and wooden mallets should be within easy grasp because it takes the right tools to extract every last bite of crab from its shell. Be prepared for jabs and laughs because crab cracking is a competitive sport in the Chesapeake Bay and don't be afraid to eat with your hands.

Distribute the steamed crabs in the center of the table, along with seasonal vegetables, flavorful ears of sweet corn, coleslaw, plump tomatoes, garden-fresh sliced cucumbers and zucchini, and just-caught oysters. Tartar and cocktail sauce, malt vinegar, mimolette sauce, and piles of lemon wedges should be readily available along with buckets filled with icy cold beer bottles and crisp white wine. Don't forget a summer triple berry pie, cheesecake, or rhubarb and strawberry crumble with vanilla ice cream for dessert.