Dungeness Crab Cakes

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Crab cakes with Dungeness crab are a treat! They can be a little delicate, so a chill in the fridge before frying helps them from falling apart while frying.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Crab cakes, anyone?

Here in the Pacific Northwest we have Dungeness crabs. They’re ginormous compared to their East Coast Maryland crab brethren, typically weighing in between 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 pounds apiece. In California, they’re in season in the winter, though further North you can easily get them any time of year.

With all that heft, Dungeness crab have plenty of meat for making the most delectable, delightful crab cakes.

These homemade crab cakes are a step-up riff off a recipe I found years ago in Ruth Reichl’s Comfort Me with Apples. We are using Dungeness crab because that’s what we have here. On the East Coast? Feel free to use Maryland crab for this recipe.

Crab cakes

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How to Prepare Crabmeat for Crab Cakes

You can buy lump crab meat already cleaned and prepped. But if you have access to fresh crab and Dungeness crabs in particular, I recommend it. The crabs are sold cooked and already cleaned.

  • Tip: Whether buying already prepped crab meat, or whole cooked crab, look for the freshest crab or crab meat you can find; it should smell sweet, not fishy. 

We like to use a nutcracker to crack the crabs beyond what the fishmonger has done, and then use cocktail forks to gently pull out the crab meat. You can also use cooking shears to cut through the crab shells to get to the meat. Remove any bits of shell, trying not to break up the lumps of crabmeat as you pick through it.

We started with two 2-pound Dungeness crabs, which were then cleaned and cracked, resulting in about 1 1/4 pounds of lump crab meat. This yielded a dozen homemade crab cakes.

How to make crab cakes crab cakes on pan ready to chill

Chill the crab cakes before cooking them

The difficult thing with crab cakes is that they don’t hold together that well when forming them, and they can easily fall apart when frying them.

The trick is to handle them delicately to begin with, and then chill them on a breadcrumb-lined pan for at least an hour before cooking them.

That time in the fridge will go a long way in helping them stay together as they cook. There isn’t a lot of binder in this crab cake recipe, so it needs the chilling time.

What Kind of Sauce Do You Serve with Crab Cakes?

You can eat these crab cakes plain, as they are, with just a simple squirt of lemon juice or lime juice to brighten them, or you could serve them with a sauce such as a homemade tartar sauce or remoulade.

Make ahead or freeze

Need to make ahead? Form the uncooked crab cakes, wrap the individual crab cakes in plastic, put them in a freezer bag, and freeze them. They’ll keep for up to 1 month in the freezer. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator before cooking them.

How long will they last? Crab meat, like all seafood, degrades quickly over time. So it’s best to make them as soon as you get your crab meat (wait no more than a day), and once you cook them, eat them up. They’ll last a day or two in the fridge.


Dungeness Crab Cakes Recipe

  • Prep time: 30 minutes
  • Cook time: 10 minutes
  • Chill time: 1 hour
  • Yield: Makes 12 crab cakes

We started with two 2-pound Dungeness crabs, which we then cleaned and cracked, resulting in about 1 1/4 pounds of lump crab meat for our homemade crab cakes.


  • 1 pound lump crabmeat, picked through and any bits of shell removed (try not to break up the lumps of crabmeat as you pick through it)
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup chopped shallots
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons prepared tartar sauce
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • About 4 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into small pieces, yielding 2 cups
  • 2/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs


1 Cook the shallots: Heat one tablespoon of butter in a small skillet over medium high heat. Add the shallots and a half teaspoon of salt.

Cook until the shallots are translucent, a couple minutes. Do not brown. Let the shallots cool.

2 Make the crab cake mixture: Whisk together the eggs, Worcestershire sauce, remaining half teaspoon of salt, paprika, freshly ground black pepper, tartar sauce, lemon zest, Tabasco, parsley, and the cooked shallots.

Gently fold in the crabmeat and torn bread, taking care again to not break up the lumps of crab meat. The mixture will be very wet.

How to make crab cakes - making crab cake mixture

4 Form the crab cakes: Using your clean hands, take a scoop of the crab mixture and gently form it into a patty form about 2 1/4 inches across and 3/4 inches thick. Continue until you've made 12 crab cakes.

5 Coat with breadcrumbs: Line a rimmed tray with a piece of wax paper just large enough to hold the cakes, and sprinkle the bottom of the tray with half of the bread crumbs.

Set the crab cakes in one layer on the top of the layer of breadcrumbs and sprinkle them with the remaining breadcrumbs.

How to make crab cakes - crab cakes on pan ready to chill

6 Chill: Cover the crab cakes loosely with another sheet of wax paper and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

7 Cook crab cakes: Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter in a large nonstick skillet on medium-high heat until the butter melts and foams up.

When the foam subsides, working in batches, place the crab cakes in the pan (do not crowd the pan), and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side.

crab cakes frying in pan

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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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42 Comments / Reviews

No ImageDungeness Crab Cakes

Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Pam

    Made these gluten free and they were delicious. Used blue claw lump crab.


  2. Steve

    These are fantastic! High-end restaurant quality.


  3. John

    Great recipe!!! First time making crab cakes and it was delicious!!! 2 thumbs up….


  4. lakeshia

    first time making crab cakes ever and I must say they were delicious! i used brioche bread and panko bread crumb. I refrigerated the cakes for about 2 hrs while I prepared the remoulade and did a few chores and the cakes did not fall apart at all! The only thing I would do different would maybe add just a tad bit of ole bay seasoning . Thanks for the recipe.


  5. Christina Utter

    WOW!! These look really good. Wonderful ingredients. Mine are currently ‘chilling’ under waxed paper in the fridge and I’m enjoying a glass of vino. Can’t wait to see how these flavors meld with the Dungeness crab I picked earlier today. Christina in Manzanita, Oregon.

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