Baked Crab Imperial

This crab imperial recipe is a delicious, easy seafood dish and one of my all-time favorite recipes worthy of special occasions. Serve it in a large bowl or individual ramekins as a side or main entree. Don’t forget baguette slices to mop up any leftovers on the plate.

crab imperial in a casserole dish with text overlay


Crab Imperial is one of the best easy lump crab meat recipes. Jumbo lump crab in a simple seafood recipe with a crunchy topping finished with a spritz of lemon or rich beurre blanc sauce.

You Will Love This Recipe for Crab Imperial

Obviously, it is delicious, but here are some other reasons why mine is superb.

  • Real Crab Meat– This crab imperial uses real jumbo lump crab meat from blue crabs. This type of meat is buttery, soft and sweet. Many others use imitation crab meat, which is highly processed, uses food dye and also isn’t real crab.
  • Make-Ahead– While I would wait to bake this dish until you are ready to serve, it can be fully assembled before head and stored in the fridge up to a day ahead of time.
  • Crunchy Topping- I love texture variations within a dish and this one is smooth and crunchy.
  • Authentic Maryland– Listen, it takes one to make one, so don’t fall for these “Maryland Style crab imperials made by someone in Oklahoma (no offense to those in OK!).

What is Crab Imperial?

My favorite of easy crab recipes! Made with jumbo lump crabmeat from blue crab, it’s essentially an easier, less technical version of Maryland crab cakes, almost a casserole that uses crab meat.

Crab cakes use the least amount of binder (or at least they should). So much crab meat patted into a baseball size mound that barely sticks together while being broiled or fried.

crab imperial on a white serving plate

But crab imperial is a creamier version. Not so much binder, but a tad more mayonnaise. Ideal to be served as an entree in a little personal casserole dish or even scallop shells, as a side dish or even as a topper for steaks, salmon, shrimp, scallops or even chicken which is called Chicken Chesapeake. It is ideal for special occassions.

Another classic dish is crab fluff, which is more like a fritter in a batter and then fried until golden brown.

And if you want fluff without frying, try crab dip. Another easy crab recipe that uses the least amount of actual crab and more seafood seasoning with a cream cheese and sour cream base.

Just combine the ingredients, add to the casserole dish, top with your favorite crunchies, place in a baking dish and cook! 

close up casserole dish of crab imperial on a wood board

Baked Crab Imperial Ingredients

The ingredients list fairly simple with crab meat being the most important.

  • Crab Meat– This recipe uses a large quantity of fresh crab meat and it can be a little pricey. I like using a blend of lump meat and jumbo lump meat, especially strategically placed on the top. Jumbo lump crab is coveted because there are only two chunks per crab and only on the heavier ones. See our guide to blue crab meat below for more info on how to pick which type to use.
  • Shallots– A milder onion flavor, you can swap in red onion or sweet onion. I cook them raw because I like the fresh crunch, but they can be sauted first for a less onion-forward bite.
  • Dijon mustard- Perhaps my favorite mustard, there are so many varieties that can help you customize this recipe. I find this to be far more sophisticated flavor than using dry mustard, which is the customary ingredient.
  • Flat Parsley (italian parsley)– Earthy and herby, it helps to balance the savory flavors without overpowering.
  • Fresh Lemon Juice & Lemon Zest– Juice and zest provide vastly different flavors. Juice is tart and acidic while zest is bright and offers the purest of lemon flavors. Fresh juice packs the most punch, while bottled juice can be muted.
  • Fresh Garlic– Fresh gives the best garlicky flavor. While I usually measure garlic with my heat, this is one scenario that I actually only use a small amount. You don’t want anything to take centerstage after paying as much as you did for that glorious crab meat.
  • Mayonnaise- The perfect creamy binder, mayo is made with eggs and oil. Rich and tasty!
  • Bread Crumbs– Flavorful, these little flavor bombs are used to bind the crab mixture, but also as a fun topping.
  • Kosher Salt– Helps bring out the natural flavors.

Other customizations include adding a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, minced red bell pepper, ground white pepper, mixing a beurre blanc or imperial sauce into the crab mixture, using more fresh herbs or topping with parmesan cheese.

Seasoning for Crab Imperial

The most common flavor accompaniments to the crab mixture are ground red pepper, Old Bay Seasoning (or another salty seafood seasoning) and dry mustard.

If you want to get crazy, add an imperial sauce, my simple beurre blanc. A simple lemon, white wine and butter topping that pairs well with most foods. Or just use fresh lemon wedges. There are very few seafood items that aren’t well suited to a spritz of citrus. Any way you put it, it is a delicious dish.

overhead crab imperial on a wood cutting board

Bread Crumb Options

As the same for crab cakes, you can use a variety of bread crumbs from saltines, traditional Italian or in this batch, I used crumbled leftover Hot Dog Bun Croutons.

Sourdough, whole wheat and even panko breadcrumbs work perfectly. 

jumbo lump crab pieces on crab imperial

How to Make Crab Imperial

This entire seafood dish takes just under 30 minutes to make and can be assembled ahead of time.

  1. Make the Base. Combine the shallots, Dijon mustard, parsley, lemon juice, lemon zest grated garlic, mayonnaise, bread crumbs and salt in a medium mixing bowl until it forms a paste. Grating the garlic helps it break into a pulp and evenly seasoning the mixture.
  2. Fold in Crab. Add the crab meat, setting side about half of the largest jumbo lump crab bits. Toss the crab mixture to combine and do not over mix. You don’t want those glorious bits of crab meat to break apart.
  3. Transfer & Top. Transfer the imperial mixture to casserole dish. Top with bread crumbs.
  4. Bake. Bake until hot and browned. This will depend on how shallow your dish is, the top should be lightly golden brown.
  5. Serve. Serve with additional lemon wedges or desired sauce and enjoy.
close up bread crumb topping and crab pieces on crab imperial

Crab Cakes vs. Crab Imperial

What is the difference between Crab Imperial and crab cakes? As I mentioned above, the two are very similar.

Crab Imperial is typically a little wetter and has more filler. Crab cakes (at least good ones) have less filler and are more dry, in order to hold them together.

They are both good and they both have their place on the menu. Here is a crab cake for reference (and my award winning crab cake recipe).

Imperial is better for serving large groups because your crab will go further and it isn’t as delicate as crab cakes.

You can also serve smaller portions alongside another protein or fish. Check out my Filet Mignon featuring a crab imperial topping! 

casserole dish of blue crab mixture

Crab Imperial Recipe substitutions and variations

Good Crab Meat

Not everyone can grab fresh crab from the Eastern shore of Maryland like I can, but you can find good crab at your store. I prefer to use unpasteurized crab, but if that is all you can get your hands on, go for it.

Crab meat is expensive and this because of two reasons. The first is that they aren’t farmed, they are caught be farmers and recently aren’t as plentiful. The second is that no machine can pick crabs. They are all hand picked and this is time consuming.

Do I have to use lump crab meat? You don’t, you can use a variety of crab meat that meets your budget. Feel free to use a mixture as well. Here is a guide to buying blue crab meat.

  • Claw– dark meat that comes from the claw, a little more stringy than other varieties.
  • Special– smaller pieces, comes from small little crevices or the “special” sections of the crab, good for flavoring and dips. Also a blend of other pieces that may have been broken up accidentally while picking.
  • Backfin– some larger lumps coming from, you guessed it, the back of the shell, whiter meat, does well in crab cakes, feathery texture.
  • Lump Crab– The most common because they are still large, but not as large as the jumbo lump.
  • Jumbo lump– large, lumps of meat, the beauty is the large pieces used for crab meat cocktails or delicious to pop in your mouth plain, very tasty and moist, but also the most expensive because there are only two pieces per crab.
close up of large chunks of crab meat

Can I use imitation crab meat? I would advise against using imitation crab meat for this recipe. Crab is the main ingredient and will flavor the whole dish. Imitation crab meat is just a white fish compressed into crab-like shapes and then tinted a weird orange color. 

Can I use king crab or snow crab? What makes a good imperial is the blue crab. I supposed you can use one of the other two, but I would advise against it. Snow crab legs will have a different texture and taste.

What to Serve with Crab Imperial

Crab Imperial Sauces

I like my imperial best with just a spritz of fresh lemon juice, but others like tartar sauce or even a zesty cocktail sauce. Plain melted butter or clarified butter also work.

Clarified butter is nothing but butter with the milk solids removed. Make sure to choose a high quality butter when making this liquid gold sauce. You can also buy a jar of ghee at the grocery store and melt that.

creamy crab imperial

How to store Imperial Crab

Crab imperial is best eaten fresh out of the oven. You can make it all ahead of time and then add bread crumbs right before baking to save time.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat in the microwave and low heat oven for 10 minutes.

Can Crab Imperial be frozen?

Crab imperial can be frozen if the crab meat was not previously frozen. Place into an airtight container and freeze for up to 6 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge and then reheat in the oven.

collage of crab imperial with text overlay

Best Crab Imperial Recipe FAQs

What is the history of Crab Imperial?

The original crab imperial was developed to make sure that every last bit of crab meat was used. It’s rumored to have been developed at the Thompson’s Sea Girt House in Baltimore, Unfortunately, this establishment closed a long time ago. The crab meat was blended with celery, pimento, onion, garlic and bell pepper and then bonded with mayo and a cream sauce.

Is imitation crab meat real meat?

No, imitation crab meat is made out of white fish and them highly processed into sticks that resemble king crab meat (not blue crab) and dyed orange. I do not recommend using this in any recipe and especially not crab imperial.

Is lump crab meat better than claw?

Lump crab meat is more buttery and sweet than claw, which is a different texture and doesn’t come out in as large of pieces.

More Easy Crab Meat Recipes

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Hot Crab Dip with cream cheese is a is a Maryland classic! Blended with cheese, lump crab meat and old bay, this crab dip served hot is the best party appetizer recipe!
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Crab Dip Stuffed Artichoke Hearts

Crab Dip Stuffed Artichoke Hearts takes traditional hot crab dip and bakes in an artichoke heart, topping it with crunchy panko and Sriracha Aioli. 
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close up overhead of crab imperial

close up bread crumb topping and crab pieces on crab imperial

Crab Imperial

4.47 from 139 votes
Baked Crab Imperial is a creamy and buttery masterpiece made with lump crab meat, fresh lemon and topped with bread crumbs.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 6




  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a small casserole dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
  • Combine the shallots, Dijon mustard, parsley, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, mayonnaise and salt in a medium mixing bowl, mix well. Stir in the bread crumbs until mixed. Add the crab meat, toss with your hands to prevent prevent breaking up the pieces of meat. Toss to combine and do not over mix.
  • Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish. Top with the remaining 2 tablespoons of the bread crumbs.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown on top. This will depend on the size of the baking dish.
  • Serve with additional lemon wedges or sauce of choice.
  • If you liked this dish, please come back and let us know how it was in the ratings and comments!



Calories: 443 kcal, Carbohydrates: 11 g, Protein: 43 g, Fat: 23 g, Saturated Fat: 3 g, Cholesterol: 107 mg, Sodium: 2507 mg, Potassium: 505 mg, Sugar: 1 g, Vitamin A: 155 IU, Vitamin C: 20.7 mg, Calcium: 129 mg, Iron: 2.2 mg
Author: Jessica Formicola
Calories: 443
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: crab imperial, crab imperial recipe
Did you make this recipe?I’d love to see your recipes – snap a picture and mention @savoryexperiments or tag #savoryexperiments!


Jessica Formicola in her ktichen

About the Author

Jessica Formicola

Jessica the mom, wife and chef behind Savory Experiments. You might see her on the Emmy- nominated TV show Plate It! or on bookshelves as a cookbook author. Jessica is a Le Cordon Bleu certified recipe developer and regularly contributed to Parade, Better Homes & Gardens, The Daily Meal and more!

Read More About Jessica

4.47 from 139 votes (125 ratings without comment)

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Recipe Rating

Questions and Reviews

  1. 5 stars
    Love this recipe. Have made it many times. It’s a regular meal in our house and leftovers make great lunches!

  2. 5 stars
    It was so easy and delicious! I too added Old Bay seasoning because crabmeat! It was easy to slightly modify to taste. Thanks for a great recipe for a picky eater and cooking-impaired!

  3. 5 stars
    This was quick, easy and very good. A couple of things: I added old bay seasoning for some added flavor. I didn’t have shallots so I added chopped green onions. I also buttered the bread crumbs before topping the casserole. A nice, light dinner.

  4. 5 stars
    Ok, so I just had steamed crabs yesterday and just picked them all this morning. Threw it all in a bowl and. Its a combination of all the crab meats together. Can I make this recipe with my crab meat mixture? If not, I Need recipes for picked crab meat. I probably have over a pound of crab meat left over.

    Thanks a million

  5. 5 stars
    I have been craving crab and this recipe did the trick! It’s so good. I never thought of it as a main course, but it was perfect! Thanks!