How to Make Perfect Crab Cakes

From buying the right crab meat to forming the cakes, here's your step-by-step guide to preparing the most mouthwatering crab cakes, right in your own kitchen.

Homemade Crab Cakes
Photo: Sara Tane

While it may be tempting to grab some of the pre-made crab cakes at the seafood counter, I am here to urge you to make your own at home. It doesn't require any fancy equipment, and a homemade cake is far more delicious. This way, you get to incorporate your favorite herbs, spices, and fillers. Take your crab cake destiny into your own hands, okay?

If you're new to cooking with crab, don't be intimidated. All you need to do is buy cooked crab meat (sure, it's a little pricey, but it's undeniably tasty), and you're on your merry way to seafood cake bliss. Don't worry, all of the other ingredients are substantially less expensive. Now obviously, you want to get your crab cakes just right, because no one wants to spend the money on crab meat only to have a hot, seafood mess as a result. Here's how to get the job done.

Buy the Crab Meat

Lump Crab Meat
Sara Tane

You don't need to boil or steam whole crabs in order to make homemade crab cakes. I mean, you can, but it's certainly not necessary. Instead, look for lump crab meat in the seafood section of your grocery store. This meat comes from the body of the crab and it is chunky enough that it is ideal for crab cakes. Other types of crab meat, such as backfin or claw meat, have a slightly flakier texture that's less ideal for cakes.

Jumbo crab meat is the sturdiest and largest cut (as the name implies), but it also is the most expensive, so it's better to save this kind of crab for salads or pasta. Ultimately, lump crab meat is the best option for crab cakes; it has great texture and flavor, and while it is still somewhat pricey, it's not nearly as expensive as jumbo crab meat.

One pound of crab meat will yield cakes to serve about 4-6 people. Even though the crab meat has already been picked through for shells and cartilage, it's never a bad idea to gently run your hands through it once to ensure that all the shells have been removed.

Make the Binder

Crab Cake Binder Ingredients
Sara Tane

To start, whisk together all of your wet ingredients. For every pound of crab that you're using, you should use approximately 1 large egg and ¼ cup mayonnaise. In addition to the egg and mayo, you can add some flavor to your cakes with ingredients that you already have on hand.

Whisked Crab Cake Binding Mixture
Sara Tane

A couple teaspoons of Dijon mustard add a kick of savory acidity, and I'd also suggest whisking in the juice of half a lemon for brightness. Liven everything up with some finely chopped fresh herbs like parsley or dill. Add a punch of umami flavors with a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce. And bring a little spice with some Old Bay seasoning or your favorite seafood spice mix. Don't forget to toss in a pinch of salt and pepper while you're there.

Add the Crab and Filler

Crab Meat and Filler Crumbs with Binder
Sara Tane

Once these wet ingredients are whisked with spices and herbs, it's time to add the crab and a "filler." As far as the filler ingredient, this is where things can get a bit divisive. Every crab cake needs some sort of starchy component to soak in some of the liquid binder and keep the cake from falling apart. While you don't want to go overboard with it, your starchy filler element is necessary to holding everything together.

Some folks opt to use panko or classic breadcrumbs as the filler ingredient while others are adamant about using saltine cracker crumbs. Both work fine and it ultimately comes down to personal preference. Personally, I'm on Team Saltine all day everyday. Saltines and seafood go hand in hand, and the coarsely chopped crumbs add a fun textural component. You can make the crumbs by sealing your crackers in a zip-top bag and crushing them or by giving them a whirl in the bowl of a food processor.

Crab Meat Mixture
Sara Tane

Once you have your crumbs of choice at the ready, add the crab meat and the filler crumbs to your whisked ingredients and fold everything together with a rubber spatula until combined. You want to be gentle with this process — the goal here is to keep the crab meat pieces as large and lumpy as possible. Cover the mixture with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes (or up to a full day). Some chill time in the fridge will further help the mixture hold together when the crab cakes cook.

Form the Crab Cakes

Unbaked Crab Cake
Sara Tane

Once the mixture has set, go ahead and scoop ½-cup portions of your crab mixture into large mounds. As with other types of fish cakes, you don't want to handle your crab cakes too much as you mold them. Definitely avoid pressing or outright flattening the portioned mounds onto a hard surface. Instead, gently shape each into a cake with your hands, ensuring that there aren't any rogue pieces of crab hanging out.

Bake the Crab Cakes

Another divisive factor in crab cake cookery is whether to oven-roast or pan-fry. Again, there is no right or wrong answer here. However, pan-frying can be somewhat tricky and if your mixture isn't completely set, you can find yourself with flimsy cakes that break apart in the pan. Thus, I prefer to go the roasting route and would recommend the same to anyone making crab cakes for the first time.

Brushing Crab Cakes with Butter
Sara Tane

The first thing you need to do for baked crab cakes is crank the oven all the way up to 450 degrees F. Next, carefully place the cakes on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, an inch or so apart from one another. Before sliding the cakes into the oven, brush them with melted butter — both for added richness and to help them brown nicely while cooking. Bake the cakes until they're lightly golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Serve the Crab Cakes

Baked Crab Cake
Sara Tane

All your hard work has led up to this very glorious moment. Serve your exceptionally tender and succulent homemade crab cakes with an extra squeeze of lemon, a couple dashes of hot sauce, and some more fresh herbs.

Homemade Crab Cakes
Sara Tane

Congratulations, you can now skip the restaurant and enjoy top-notch crab cakes at home — whenever you're looking to impress or whenever the craving strikes.


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