Food

It’s (Finally!) Time to Start Cracking Local Chesapeake Crabs

Warm weather means Maryland crabs are finally on the table in some places.
You don't have to leave DC for a great crab feast at Ivy City Smokehouse & Tavern. Photograph via Facebook

Maryland crab season officially started April 1, but Maryland crab weather just showed up. Colder-than-average temperatures have kept the crustaceans dormant in the muddy bottoms of the Chesapeake Bay. (Fun fact: like bears, blue crabs hibernate in winter.) Now, that reliably warm weather has finally arrived, the local blues—and watermen who catch them—are up and about. 

Chesapeake crab houses have already opened for the season, but many get their blue crabs—especially any sizable ones—from warmer waters around the Gulf. (Any real crab lover will tell you the Chesapeake ones are the sweetest, tastiest around.) Cantler’s Riverside Inn, a popular destination near Annapolis, is still waiting on a steady supply of Maryland blues, though customers can crack into crustaceans from further afield in the meantime (larges are going for $75, while extra-large are $95). It’s a similar story at another Annapolis-area favorite, The Point Crab House & Grill, which expects its first local crabs by next week. On the Eastern Shore, popular spots like St. Michaels Crab and Steak are carrying medium-sized crustaceans from their local watermen for $50 a dozen—more work, but we’ve found the meat is just as sweet. 

In DC, The Tavern at Ivy City Smokehouse is getting its first big local crabs this weekend thanks to its affiliation with DC-based seafood distributor, ProFish. 

“We really only do steamed crabs when Maryland is open,” says John Rorapaugh, sustainability director at ProFish. “With this weather coming in, they’ll have a ton this weekend,” says Rorapaugh.

The crabs will be available at both the seafood market and for feasting in the tavern restaurant. Prices generally range between $45 and $60 per dozen, depending on the size (small to large). Maryland jumbos are also available by advance request, but prices are likely the highest you’ll find all season—about $125 per dozen—due to limited supply and demand. 

That being said, it’s a good time to splurge on large local crabs. The overall cost of crustaceans can increase during primetime crab feast season in the summer—especially over holiday weekends, where we’ve paid $90 and up for larges. And then there’s the matter of superior flavor and fullness.

“Even with the cold water the big crabs seem to get active quicker, and you can get some really big ones—they’re some of the best,” says Rorapaugh. “They’ve ‘fattened’ up trying to protect themselves in the cold water.”

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Anna Spiegel
Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.