Dungeness Crab Cakes

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.

Best crab cake recipe
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 cake recipe
Elise Bauer

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
Elise Bauer

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.

Love Fresh Crab? Here Are 5 More Recipes to Try

Dungeness Crab Cakes

Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Chill 60 mins
Total Time 100 mins
Servings 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
    Elise Bauer
  3. 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.

    Best crab cake recipe form the cakes
    Elise Bauer
  4. 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
    Elise Bauer
  5. Chill:

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

  6. 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
    Elise Bauer
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
130 Calories
6g Fat
10g Carbs
9g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12
Amount per serving
Calories 130
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 6g 8%
Saturated Fat 3g 15%
Cholesterol 78mg 26%
Sodium 371mg 16%
Total Carbohydrate 10g 3%
Dietary Fiber 1g 3%
Total Sugars 2g
Protein 9g
Vitamin C 3mg 15%
Calcium 67mg 5%
Iron 1mg 6%
Potassium 170mg 4%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.