How To Clean Soft Shell Crabs?

Last Updated on October 22, 2023 by Marjorie R. Rogers

To clean soft-shell crabs, remove the gills, mouth, and apron before gently rinsing them under cold water. Soft-shell crabs are a delicacy enjoyed by seafood lovers worldwide.

Known for their tender and flavorful meat, soft-shell crabs are unique in that they are consumed whole, including the delicate shell. However, before cooking and indulging in these delectable crustaceans, it is essential to clean them properly. This process involves removing the gills, mouth, and apron – the flap on the underside of the crab – to ensure a pleasant dining experience free from unwanted textures.

By following a few simple steps, you can master the art of cleaning soft-shell crabs and enjoy them at their best.

How To Clean Soft Shell Crabs?


Materials Needed

To clean soft shell crabs, gather materials such as kitchen shears or scissors, paper towels, a bowl of ice water, and a plate lined with a paper towel. Begin by removing the gills and apron from the crab, then rinse it under cold water and pat dry.

Cleaning soft shell crabs can be a daunting task, but with the right materials, it becomes much easier. In this section, we will discuss the essential items you’ll need to clean soft shell crabs effectively. So, let’s dive in!


Kitchen Shears:

  • Kitchen shears are a must-have tool when it comes to cleaning soft shell crabs.
  • These specialized scissors make it easier to cut through the crab’s shell without damaging the meat inside.
  • With sharp blades and a comfortable grip, kitchen shears offer precise control throughout the cleaning process.

Cutting Board:

  • A sturdy cutting board is essential for cleaning soft shell crabs.
  • Opt for a cutting board made of wood or plastic to avoid cross-contamination with other food items.
  • Make sure the cutting board is large enough to accommodate the size of the crabs comfortably.

Paper Towels:

  • Paper towels are a convenient tool for cleaning soft shell crabs.
  • Use them to pat dry the crabs before and after cleaning.
  • The absorbent nature of paper towels helps remove excess moisture, ensuring a better final result.

Bowl Of Ice Water:

  • Keeping a bowl of ice water nearby is crucial during the cleaning process.
  • Placing the cleaned crabs in ice water helps slow down their metabolism and maintains their freshness.
  • Remember to change the water frequently to ensure it stays cold.

Now that you have all the necessary materials, you’re ready to embark on your soft shell crab cleaning journey. With kitchen shears, a cutting board, paper towels, and a bowl of ice water at your disposal, you’ll be well-equipped to handle this seafood delicacy.

Happy cleaning!

Step 1: Preparation

In the first step of cleaning soft shell crabs, preparation is key. Follow these guidelines to ensure a successful cleaning process.

Soft shell crabs are a delightful delicacy that many seafood enthusiasts enjoy. If you want to indulge in these tasty treats, it’s essential to learn how to clean them properly. In this blog post, we will walk you through the step-by-step process of cleaning soft shell crabs.

So grab your apron and let’s get started!

Before you begin cleaning the crabs, it’s crucial to prepare them properly. Follow these steps to ensure your soft shell crabs are ready for cleaning:

  • Chill the crabs in ice water for 15 minutes: Placing the crabs in ice water serves two purposes. It helps to slow down their movements and ensures they are fully relaxed, making the cleaning process easier.
  • Place the crabs on the cutting board: Once you’ve chilled the crabs, gently place them on a clean cutting board. Make sure to handle them with care to avoid any unnecessary damage.

Now that we’ve completed the preparation steps, let’s move on to the next phase of cleaning the soft shell crabs. Stay tuned for step 2: removing the apron!


Step 2: Removing The Top Shell

In step 2 of cleaning soft shell crabs, you will learn how to remove the top shell with ease. With careful handling, this process can be done quickly to prepare the crabs for cooking or freezing.

To properly clean soft shell crabs, you need to remove the top shell while ensuring the delicate meat stays intact. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Lift the pointed flap on the crab’s underside: Start by locating the pointed flap or apron on the crab’s underside. Gently lift it and hold it between your fingers. This will give you better control and make it easier to remove the top shell.
  • Gently pry off the top shell and discard it: Using your fingers, carefully pry off the top shell from the crab’s body. Apply gentle pressure and work your way from the back to the front. Once the top shell is loose, simply lift it off and discard it. Be careful not to damage the soft and delicate flesh underneath.
  • Cleaning the gills: After removing the top shell, you’ll notice the crab’s gills, also known as dead man’s fingers. These need to be removed as they can be tough and unpleasant to eat. Simply grab the gills between your fingers and gently pull them away from the body. Discard the gills once removed.
  • Rinse the crab: To ensure any impurities are removed, rinse the cleaned crab under cool running water. This will help get rid of any sand or debris that may be stuck on the body.

Remember, removing the top shell is just one step in the process of cleaning soft shell crabs. Stay tuned for the next steps to ensure you have perfectly cleaned crabs ready for cooking or your desired recipe!

Step 3: Cleaning The Gills

Step 3 in the process of cleaning soft shell crabs is to clean the gills, ensuring a thorough and safe preparation for cooking. Properly removing the gills is essential for a delicious seafood dish.

Cleaning the gills of soft shell crabs is an essential step to ensure their freshness and enhance the overall taste of the dish. Follow these simple instructions to remove and rinse the gills effectively:

  • Remove and discard the gills from both sides of the body:
  • Gently lift one side of the top shell (carapace) and locate the feathery gills.
  • Pull them out carefully, ensuring you remove all the gills.
  • Repeat the process on the other side.
  • Dispose of the gills properly.
  • Rinse the crab under cold running water:
  • Hold the soft shell crab under a gentle stream of cold water.
  • Allow the water to flow through the carapace, eliminating any debris or unwanted particles.
  • Ensure that the water reaches all areas of the crab, including the legs and sides.

Cleaning the gills and rinsing the soft shell crab are crucial steps to maintain its quality and taste. By following these instructions, you’ll have a clean crab ready to be cooked and savored.

Step 4: Removing The Apron

In step 4 of cleaning soft shell crabs, you will learn how to remove the apron, which is an essential part of the process. This step ensures the crabs are properly prepared for cooking or freezing.

When it comes to cleaning soft shell crabs, removing the apron is an essential step. Follow these simple instructions to properly remove the triangular-shaped apron from the crab’s underside:

  • Flip the crab over and locate the triangular-shaped apron.
  • Hold the body of the crab firmly and snap off the apron.
  • Make sure to discard the apron as it is not edible.

By following these steps, you will successfully remove the apron from the soft shell crab, preparing it for the next stages of cleaning and cooking. Now let’s move on to the next step of the cleaning process.

Step 5: Cleaning The Gills And Lungs

Cleaning the gills and lungs is an important part of preparing soft shell crabs. Here’s how to do it:

  • Use kitchen shears or a sharp knife to carefully lift up one side of the top shell.
  • Remove the gills and lungs, which are located on either side of the crab’s body.
  • Discard the removed gills and lungs.

Cleaning the gills and lungs ensures that your soft shell crabs are ready to be cooked and enjoyed. Continue to the next step to learn how to rinse and dry the crabs.

Step 6: Rinsing And Drying The Crabs

Before cooking, it’s essential to rinse and dry your soft shell crabs properly. Follow these steps:

  • Rinse the crabs under cold running water to remove any remaining debris.
  • Pat the crabs dry with paper towels.
  • Leave the crabs on a clean tray or plate to air-dry for a few minutes.

Rinsing and drying the crabs will help to remove any dirt or impurities, ensuring a clean and delicious final dish. In the next step, we will discuss how to season and cook your soft shell crabs.

Step 7: Seasoning And Cooking

Once your soft shell crabs are cleaned, it’s time to season them and get ready to cook. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Season the crabs with your preferred seasoning blend, such as old bay or a combination of herbs and spices.
  • Heat a skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat and add oil or butter.
  • Cook the crabs for a few minutes on each side until they turn golden brown and crispy.

Seasoning and cooking your soft shell crabs to perfection will result in a flavorful and satisfying meal. In the following step, we will discuss how to serve and enjoy your deliciously cooked crabs.

Step 8: Serving And Enjoying

Now that your soft shell crabs are cooked to perfection, it’s time to serve and enjoy them. Here’s how to do it:

  • Plate the cooked crabs and garnish with lemon wedges for an extra zest.
  • Serve the crabs alongside your favorite side dishes, such as coleslaw or french fries.
  • Squeeze the lemon wedges over the crabs before taking a bite to enhance the flavors.

Serving and enjoying your freshly cooked soft shell crabs will surely delight your taste buds. In the next step, we will provide some additional tips and variations for preparing this delicious seafood delicacy.

Step 9: Tips And Variations

To elevate your soft shell crab dish, here are some additional tips and variations you can try:

  • Experiment with different seasoning blends to create unique flavor profiles.
  • Serve the crabs on a bed of mixed greens for a refreshing and light meal.
  • Incorporate the cooked crabs into sandwiches or tacos for a fun twist.

These tips and variations will allow you to explore and personalize your soft shell crab preparations, offering a delightful dining experience. Lastly, let’s jump into the final step where we will highlight the storage and safety guidelines for soft shell crabs.

Step 10: Storage And Safety Guidelines

To ensure the freshness and safety of your soft shell crabs, follow these storage guidelines:

  • Store the crabs in the refrigerator, ideally in a sealed container or plastic bag.
  • Consume the crabs within 24 hours of purchase for the best quality and taste.
  • If freezing the crabs, clean and cook them before freezing to maintain flavor and texture.

By adhering to these storage and safety guidelines, you can enjoy soft shell crabs at their peak freshness and avoid any potential foodborne illnesses.

Step 5: Cleaning The Body

In step 5, learn how to clean soft shell crabs by carefully following these easy guidelines. Clean the body thoroughly to ensure a delicious and enjoyable dining experience.

To fully clean the soft shell crab, it’s important to properly clean the body. Follow these steps to ensure a thorough cleaning process:

  • Use kitchen shears to cut the crab into quarters: Start by cutting the soft shell crab into four equal sections for easier cleaning. This will allow you to remove any remaining innards and yellow substance effectively.
  • Remove any innards or yellow substance from the body: After cutting the crab into quarters, gently remove the innards located in the center of the body. These innards may include the stomach, lungs, and other digestive organs. Take care not to puncture the body or break the shell while doing this.
  • Rinse the body under cold water: Once the innards have been removed, rinse the crab body thoroughly under cold running water. This will help remove any remaining impurities and ensure a clean and fresh taste.
  • Pat dry with a paper towel: After rinsing, gently pat the crab body dry with a paper towel. This will remove excess water and prepare the soft shell crab for the next step in the cleaning process.

Cleaning the body of a soft shell crab is an essential step in preparing it for cooking. By following these instructions, you can enjoy a delicious and well-cleaned crab for your meal.

Step 6: Final Rinse

For the final step in cleaning soft shell crabs, it is important to thoroughly rinse them. This ensures that any remaining impurities are removed before cooking or storing the crabs. Make sure to follow the previous 5 steps carefully for best results.

After thoroughly cleaning the soft shell crab, it is important to give it one final rinse to ensure any remaining dirt or residue is washed away. Follow these steps for the final rinse:

  • Rinse the crab one more time under cold running water.
  • Gently hold the crab by the sides and allow the water to flow over it, ensuring all the nooks and crannies are cleaned.
  • Use your fingers to help remove any stubborn particles that may be stuck to the shell.
  • Continue rinsing until the water runs clear and there are no signs of dirt or debris.

Pat dry with paper towels before cooking as desired. When it comes to cooking soft shell crabs, ensuring they are dry before cooking is essential. This will help achieve a crispy texture when frying or grilling. Simply place the rinsed crab on a paper towel-lined plate and pat it dry with additional paper towels.

Make sure to absorb any excess moisture to prevent steaming during the cooking process.

Now that you have successfully completed the final rinse, your soft shell crab is ready to be cooked to perfection. Whether you choose to sauté, deep fry, or grill, the clean and dry crab will make for a delicious meal.

Enjoy the delicate flavors and crispy texture that soft shell crabs have to offer.

Tips And Tricks

Learn the best tips and tricks for cleaning soft shell crabs efficiently. Discover step-by-step instructions to ensure a thorough cleaning process for these delicious delicacies.

Soft shell crabs are a delicacy enjoyed by seafood lovers around the world. They are known for their delicate texture and sweet flavor. However, cleaning soft shell crabs can be quite a task if you are not familiar with the process.

Here are some tips and tricks to help you clean soft shell crabs like a pro:

Use caution when handling live crabs:

  • Soft shell crabs are delicate creatures, so it is important to handle them with care.
  • Wear protective gloves to avoid any injuries from their sharp claws.
  • Hold the crab gently but firmly, making sure it doesn’t escape or pinch you.

Fresh soft shell crabs should be used within 24 hours:

  • Soft shell crabs are at their best when they are fresh, so it is recommended to use them within 24 hours of purchasing.
  • Keeping them refrigerated at around 40°f (4°c) helps to maintain their freshness.

Cleaning process:

  • Start by removing the crab’s face by cutting off the pointed section. This ensures that the crab does not bite you during the cleaning process.
  • Next, lift the top shell (known as the carapace) and remove the gills attached to it. The gills are feathery, and their removal is crucial for cleaning.
  • Flip the crab over and lift the apron, which is the triangular flap on the underside. This step allows access to remove the crab’s abdomen and the lungs.
  • Gently pull off the abdomen and lungs, discarding them.
  • Rinse the cleaned crab under cold water to remove any remaining debris.

The cleaned soft shell crabs are now ready to be cooked:

  • Once you have cleaned the soft shell crabs, you can cook them using your favorite recipe.
  • Popular cooking methods for soft shell crabs include frying, grilling, or sautéing.
  • Enjoy the delicious taste and unique texture of these cleaned soft shell crabs.

Cleaning soft shell crabs may seem intimidating at first, but with these tips and tricks, you will have no trouble preparing them for a delectable seafood feast. Remember to handle the crabs with care, use them while fresh, and follow the cleaning process diligently.

Happy cooking!

Frequently Asked Questions For How To Clean Soft Shell Crabs?

Faq 1: How Do You Clean Soft Shell Crabs?

To clean soft shell crabs, first, remove the apron and face, then rinse and pat them dry.

Faq 2: Should I Remove The Gills From Soft Shell Crabs?

Yes, it’s recommended to remove the gills from soft shell crabs as they can affect the taste and texture.

Faq 3: Can I Eat The Whole Soft Shell Crab?

Yes, you can eat the entire soft shell crab, including the shell. It becomes tender when cooked.

Faq 4: What Is The Best Way To Cook Soft Shell Crabs?

The best way to cook soft shell crabs is to either sauté or deep-fry them for a crispy texture.

Faq 5: Can I Freeze Soft Shell Crabs?

Yes, you can freeze soft shell crabs, but it’s best to clean and blanch them before freezing for better preservation.



Mastering the art of cleaning soft shell crabs is a valuable skill that every seafood lover should possess. With these simple steps, you can ensure that your soft shell crabs are clean and ready to be cooked to perfection. Remember to handle the crabs gently, remove their gills and apron, and rinse them thoroughly before cooking.

The freshness and tenderness of the soft shell crab will greatly enhance the flavor of your dish. Whether you prefer to sauté, fry, or grill them, clean soft shell crabs will always deliver a delightful and satisfying seafood experience. So don’t be intimidated by their name – with a little practice and patience, you too can enjoy the unique taste and texture of these delicious crustaceans.

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