Crab cakes are what Maryland is known for; picking Maryland blue crab, crab cakes and Old Bay seasoning.
I’ve had the pleasure of eating some delicious, all-meat, no filler crab cakes in my time, but I’ve never been quite able to master them at home.
Authentic Maryland Crab Cakes are made with jumbo lump crab meat with little filler, Dijon mustard and Old Bay Seasoning plus locals secrets for the perfect cake.
It has been a labor of love. An expensive labor of love ranging over the past decade.
With jumbo lump crab meat costing $31+, this isn’t something you can just make over and over again until you get it right. You can’t just willy nilly make recipes that use jumbo lump crab meat.
In my taste adventures I’ve found that there are many ways to achieve a Maryland Crab Cake, but there are a few rules to NOT be broken.
I find it interesting that when looking at what other people (people not from Maryland) post as the Ultimate Maryland Style Crab Cake. They are all wrong.
Painfully wrong. So wrong that any Marylander would look at you and laugh.
Thomas says: “Thank you for posting this recipe. It is wonderful since I have been a Marylander native for most of my life.
G &M has about the #1 crabcake In Linthicum Maryland and this almost matches it. “
So what must you know about Maryland Crab Cakes? First is that they have no vegetables.
None. Don’t try and sneak some celery or red pepper in there. Purists would even advise against grated onion and garlic. Even parsley, unless it is used as a garnish on top.
And when someone says “no filler” they just mean that there is the least amount of binder possible to hold the crab meat together.
Even the smallest amount adds to the amount of “filler”, or anything that is not crab meat. Any filler is the enemy for any the crab mixture.
You need just enough to glue your glorious pieces of jumbo lump crab meat together, but no more.
In fact, some of the best crab cakes will start to fall apart from the lightest touch of a fork.
It is even challenging to get them to the perfect golden brown because they are so fragile.
You also don’t want to mask the flavor of crab. Good blue crab is light, buttery and sweet. It doesn’t need much more than a spritz of lemon to compliment its flavor.
Fillers and flavors are only needed when you are trying to hide that fact that there isn’t nearly enough actual crab in the cake. Old Bay also serves this purpose.
Betty says: “The best I’ve ever made at home. I’ve always been intimidated to make them, but these were easy and delicious!”
While you want a little seafood seasoning, you don’t want too much.
There are some “crab dips” (I use this term loosely) because they flavor some cream cheese with Old Bay and put two runty pieces of back fin in the dip and label it “crab”.
Next is knowing your crab. Here is a brief crab meat tutorial.
- 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.
- Backfin– some larger lumps coming from, you guessed it, the back of the shell, whiter meat, does well in crab cakes, feathery texture.
- 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.
Maryland Crab Cakes pride themselves on being jumbo lump, but since it is so expensive, most of them are a mix of jumbo lump and other type of meat.
For this crab cake recipe, I used all jumbo lump and it was expensive, not gonna lie. Feel free to use a less expensive option or a blend.
Sharon says: “My family loved these. Thank you! I just used fresh lemon, but next time I’m trying the chipotle or lemon herb aioli.”
The last variation on the actual crab cake is the binder. This can be any type of dry bread crumb and is where the most variation lies.
Some commonly seen binders are saltine crackers, panko, Italian bread crumbs and brioche.
I use panko, but you can play around with any type you like.
Lastly, and not actually part of the crab cake, is the crab cake sauce. Crab cake enthusiasts will tell you they should not be served with sauce at all.
Let the crab shine! Maybe a spritz of fresh lemon, juice but no more.
Others do allow small amounts of worcestershire sauce, hot sauce or a light salt and pepper seasoning, but these are all debatable.
And tonight, I served these with copycat Peter Lugar’s Steak Sauce!
The history of crab cakes is also widely debated. What isn’t debatable is that decades ago, blue crabs were abundant on the Chesapeake Bay.
Box Hill Crabs has the best explanation of the history of crabcakes, so here it is in the entirety:
While many folk had been using crab in their recipes, combining the meat with spices and breadcrumbs or crackers, the term “crab cake” was first coined by Crosby Gaige in the 1930s.
In his cookbook titled, New York World’s Fair Cook Book, he finally gave the popular recipe a name: “Baltimore Crab Cakes”.
Unfortunately, the volume goes up and down based on season, but even most of the blue crabs served in Maryland are coming from the coasts of Carolina or Louisiana.
Here are a few of my favorite beef recipes that pair well with Maryland Crab cakes!
- Balsamic Whiskey Sirloin
- Garlic Brandy Grilled Filet
- Coffee Crusted Beef Tenderloin
- Crab Imperial Filet Mignon
Tools for making homemade crab cakes:
Rimmed Baking Sheet– another kitchen staple! You’ll use this for prep work, roasting and much more. I have 7 at my house.
In review, a few tips for making crabcakes:
- Use the right type of crab meat for the cake you making.
- Don’t overdo the filler.
- Don’t overseason, allow your crab meat to shine!
- Don’t over sauce, let those flavors loose.
- Don’t over mix the crab mixture, loosely toss it.
- Don’t overcook your cakes.
Questions you might have about how to make crab cakes:
Can I freeze crab cakes? Crab cakes are one of the few recipes that contain mayonnaise that you can freeze. I prefer to freeze mine cooked instead of raw (even though the crab meat isn’t actually raw).
Can I use imitation crab meat? I would advise against using imitation crab meat for crab cakes.
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? Again, what makes a Maryland crab cake is the blue crab. I supposed you can use one of the other two, but I would advise against it.
Can I make crab cakes in advance? You sure can! Make them, form them and refrigerate covered for up to 24 hours. In fact, this step can help the fragile lump crab meat hold together while cooking.
Can I fry these crab cakes? You sure can make these into fried crab cakes. Add oil to a shallow frying pan and cook for 2-3 minutes on both sides until lightly browned.
Are crab cakes keto? This is not a keto friendly crab cake recipe because it contains bread crumbs.
Are crab cakes gluten free? If you use a gluten free alternative to bread crumbs, then yes, they are gluten free.
Are crab cakes dairy free? This recipe is dairy free.
Can crab cakes be grilled? You surely can grill them, but you need to use some sort of flat surface. The delicate meat will fall right through the grates of a traditional grill.
Can crab cakes be microwaved? I do not suggest microwaving any seafood. It gets tough and rubbery.
Do I have to use old bay? You don’t! Old Bay is the most popular in my area because it originated in Maryland. It was bought by McCormick and is now supplied throughout the US.
You can use any seafood seasoning you like or even a nice Cajun blend. It adds a little bit of salt, to any salt blend will also work.
You can also make these into Crab Cakes Hollandaise!
Also check out these fabulous crab recipes:
- Crab Imperial
- Crab Melt
- Crab Smashed Potatoes
- Crabby Totchos
- Hot Crab Dip
- Spicy Crab and Sausage Soup
- Baked Stuffed Lobster
- Crab Cake Egg Rolls
- Salmon Cakes- while they aren’t crab, they are still delicious!
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So there you go, everything you need to know about how to make crab cakes. And if you are going for a fully Maryland theme, serve them with an Orange Crush, our favorite summer time beverage!
Maryland Style Crab Cakes
- Dab crab meat with paper towels to get out excess moisture. Try not to break apart any of the large crab meat lumps.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, Old Bay and lemon juice.
- Add crab meat, panko and lightly beaten egg. Toss lightly using your fingers until just moist, again, trying to not break apart any crab meat lumps. If it isn’t sticking, add more panko slowly until it binds. Carefully form 8 jumbo crab cakes or 16 crab balls.
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly grease. Place crab cakes on baking sheet.
- Preheat broiler to high heat. Place 4-5 inches from heating element. Broil until lightly brown on top, approximately 7-8 minutes.
- Remove, transfer to serving plates using a spatula and then garnish with minced parsley (optional) and a sprinkle of Old Bay seasoning. Serve with your choice of dipping sauces.
- Have you tried our Maryland Crab Cakes? Make sure to come back and tell us how you liked them!