Whether you are looking to try something new or wanting to make an impressive spread for the holidays, Grilled Crab Legs should be high on your list. While it isn’t the cheapest recipe I could possibly make (and I hope my wife doesn’t look at the credit card statement too closely!), it was one of the best things I made on the grill and it took less than 15 minutes to make!
I love wandering around Whole Foods, especially the Seafood and Butcher counters. I loaded up on fresh mussels, clams, and of course these insanely delicious King Crab Legs. Hey, I am an Amazon Prime member and saved a couple of bucks per pound – so that kinda counts as frugal, right? We’ll see if that argument works with the wife.
🍽️ Why This Works
Super Easy – These are precooked, so there are no complicated instructions. There are other crab leg recipes, but nothing beats the flavor from the grill on a special occasion!
Delicious – Holy moly, are these delicious! We made three different types of butter-based dips for the crab legs, but I think they taste perfect without anything too!
Celebratory – These are perfect for a special occasion or holiday!
Crab Legs – I chose King Crab for this meal, but Snow Crab legs work just as good. King crabs have larger and thicker legs and claws, which means there is a lot more meat in there. Snow Crabs have thinner legs, but their shells are much easier to break. It’s a tradeoff. Dungeness Crab legs are a bit shorter and are easier to find in some areas of the country.
Bottom line: It doesn’t really matter what type of crab leg you are using as they will all grill in a similar fashion.
Butter Dips – There are three options here: 1) Plain melted butter, 2) Garlic Butter, and 3) Charred Lemon Butter. All of them are delish! If you want to get real swanky, you can Roast Garlic on the Grill before adding it to your butter. Heck, forget the butter and just use plain lemon squeezed over the hot crabs.
⏲️ Equipment and Tools
Crab Leg Cracker Tool – There are several different varieties, but make sure you invest in a good quality tool. You will be making this recipe again! You have two choices here: 1) crack the the shells before placing them on the grill, or 2) cracking them after the grill.
Half the fun of crab legs is the work to get to the delicious meat! I will pre-crack them for younger kids or folks who may struggle a bit too much.
Ramekins – I used small ceramic ramekins for the melted butter. These are inexpensive and versatile. You can dip the grilled crab meat in the butter or use a spoon to drizzle it over top.
Grill – We love using our Big Green Egg but every grill works with this recipe. Dust off your gas grill Char Broil, Weber, Coleman, Kenmore grills and let’s make something memorable on your grill.
🔥 Grilling Instructions
Step One: Heat the grill to 375°F over direct heat.
Step Two: Clean the legs and spray them with a little bit of spray oil. You don’t need much!
Step Three: Place the legs on the grill (shell-side down) and close the lid, and let them cook for 5-7 minutes. If your legs are pre-cracked, place them shell-side down on the grill, so the exposed meat is facing upwards.
Note: If you are making the Charred Lemon Butter Dip, cut the lemons in half and place them face-down on the grill grate now. They will develop nice sear marks and will be perfect for mixing with the butter at the end of the grill.
Step Four: Turn the legs over and grill the other side for another 5-7 minutes.
Step Five: Remove them from the grill and serve immediately. Drizzle with butter, herb butter or dip it in ramekins and serve with fresh lemon juice wedges.
PRO TIP: The legs should already be a white opaque meat.
🧈 Butter Dip Instructions
Plain Butter: Melt a stick of salted butter in a cast iron pan on the grill or simply microwave it. It’s as easy as that!
Note: To make the butter “clarified” skim off the solids that float to the top of the dish as it melts. That leaves a nice ghee that is more attractive for dipping. I’ll be honest, I rarely use clarified butter for this – I just can’t taste the difference on the legs!
Garlic Butter: Chop a garlic clove and add it to the melted butter. Keep the garlic butter on low heat to keep the butter melted and give the garlic time to infuse its fantastic flavor.
Charred Lemon Butter: As noted above, char the lemon halves of the grill. After they have nice sear marks, squeeze to create lemon juice and mix it into the butter for a nice, refreshing flavor.
📝 Expert Tips
Don’t over cook the crab legs. These are precooked, so you don’t need to worry about much other than reheating them. If you do heat them too long, they will dry out. Fortunately, these are pretty forgiving!
Pre-Crack or Post-Crack. That is the question. If you are concerned that your guests will have a tough time cracking the shell, you should crack or cut it before placing it on the grill. The benefit of this is that you can take your time and you don’t have to worry about everyone sharing a crab cracker. For me, I figured my family could do it themselves after they were off the grill! 😀
If you grilled too many (which RARELY happens!) pick out the meat and store it in a Ziploc bag. I try to eat it all the next day as a salad topping, but you can freeze it for a short amount of time.
Type of crab options that you can grill successfully:
King Crab: The photos here are for Alaskan King Crab legs. These are the most expensive variety I have found and they are harvested primarily off of Alaska in a highly regulated fishing industry. These have thick shells and can grow extremely large. The meat is sweet and delicate.
Snow Crab: This is the most common crab leg and is long and thin. The shells are easier to crack which is why you’ll see it served more often in restaurants. You may see it also called “Rock Crab”
Dungeness Crab: This crab is harvested from the west coast of the United States and is typically 12-20″ across. You will most likely see this offered whole at seafood counters, but most of the meat is found in the legs. You would steam or grill this whole.
Blue Crab: This variety is found primarily on the east coast in Chesapeake Bay and has a distinctive light and flaky taste and texture. I have had more luck steaming these and letting my guests pick them at a BBQ.
Stone and Jonah Crab Claws: These are true delicacies and you should grab them when you can find them in season. Both are found on the east coast of the United States and are usually only available during the in-season. They are a delicate flavor and work perfectly when paired with a light melted butter.
🥦 Serving Suggestions
This is a light dinner with subtle seafood flavors. Pair it with a light vegetable side dish as well.
When serving these for the holidays, serve this with a holiday punch or a bottle of Prosecco. Light beers work great with these as Pale Lager or Pale Ale.
Grilled Carrots are a quick recipe at the flavor’s won’t overpower the crab legs.
Beer Corn is a perennial favorite! There is just something about eating grilled corn with crab legs, right?
Bacon-Wrapped Green Bean Bundles are perfect for a party. They are easy to portion control, and fun to pick up to eat. Who doesn’t just love bacon, anyways?
Grilled Artichokes are fun treat, and picking off the leaves and dipping in mayo or melted butter work perfectly with grilled crab legs.
Holiday Favorites from the Grill
If you are spending time on the grill for the holidays making these crab legs, you are going to want to go all out and make a couple of other holiday favorites. Grilled Ribeye Caps or Smoked Tenderloin are the choosiest cuts of beef for your closest friends and family. They are succulent cuts of meat that simply melt in your mouth.
How to Cook Frozen Crab Legs?
Let the crab legs thaw and then place them on a medium-high heat grill for 5-7 minutes per side. Remove and serve with melted butter and fresh lemons.
How Much Crab Legs Per Person?
Plan on one pound of crab legs per person if you are serving other sides with it, or if this is an appetizer before serving the main course.
If you are planning on the grilled crab legs to be the main course, plan on 1 ½ pounds per person.
Yes, you do. You want to make sure they cook evenly. Place the in the refrigerator overnight in a deep dish. As these thaw, they will release water and you don’t want them to leak all over the fridge.
Put them in the sink full of water for about a half hour and then proceed with the recipe. Ideally, you can take them out of the freezer the night before.
If you don’t have access to crab shell shears or crab cracker, pull out your kitchen shears and start working them open with those. The shell isn’t that hard and it won’t break your kitchen shears.
Instead of placing the crab legs straight on the grill grate, wrap them in a foil pack and cook for 15-20 minutes and they will come out fabulous! Remember, you are trying to heat them up as they are already cooked.
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Grilled Crab Legs
- Crab Cracker
- 2 lbs King Crab Legs
- Spray Olive Oil
- 1 clove Garlic finely chopped
- ⅓ cup Butter melted
Charred Lemon Butter
- 1 Lemon cut in half
- ⅓ cup Butter melted
Grilling the Crab Legs
- If your crab legs are frozen, let them thaw before grilling.
- Heat your grill to 375°F over direct heat. You definitely want the temperature to be on the hot side.
- Spray the crab legs with olive oil. You don't need much!
- Place the legs on the grill for 5-7 minutes and turn them over.
- These are precooked from the store, so you just need to reheat them without over cooking.
- Serve immediately!
Charred Lemon Butter
- Slice lemons in half and place them cut-side down on the grill.
- Remove them when you remove the crab legs. They should have nice sear marks on them.
- Squeeze some of the juice into the melted butter and dip your crab legs in it! Yum!!!