Updated: May 16
The Maryland crab season opened April 1st. Maryland is the only state in the Union that has a closed season. As the water in the bay warms, the crabs that didn’t migrate out of the bay before the water temp turned really cold for them begin to come out of the mud. With the continued warm up over the spring months, they move further north into the estuaries looking for more sources of food.
Once they find those sources they hang out moving back and forth from deep to shallow water depending on the water temperatures. The prices remain high all through the summer as crabs to most people are thought of as a summer time right of passage. Real blue crab eaters know that the best crab picking begins in August though, and runs until late November, with the fall crabs being much better in flavor and value.
The reason for this is crabs take all summer to fatten up. Crabs are actually thought of as a summer time food. More people eat them at that time of year because it is a great time to sit outside, drink cold beer, and chat all afternoon with your family and friends. This keeps the demand for what is named a “basket crab” high.
After Labor Day, the prices start to drop, because kids are back in school and people get back to their fall routines. The crabs are still plentiful and fat! This is a great time to go eat crabs and get the local mediums/smalls, they are half the price of large or jumbos and have more meat in them than the large or jumbos you eat in the summer.
In the fall if you flip the crabs over on their back you will likely see a brownish/blackish belly where it is normally white in the summer. This is because the crabs have become so heavy with meat that they drag in the mud as they try to swim sideways.
As the basket crab demand drops, the crab processors start to pick and pasteurize the meat to sell in the winter. This is what helps pay the bills through the winter time. The process of pasteurization is to pick and put the meat into can where the water temp is brought to certain temp for a given amount of time then hermetically sealed. Any bacteria is killed before the lid is sealed in what has now become an anaerobic environment. No bacteria can grow now.
Well done pasteurization combined with the proper steaming of the meat can allow some of this crab meat to last up to 1 1/2 to 2 years in this state under refrigeration at 33 to 38 degrees F. This crab meat tends to have more flavor because these crabs were caught, steamed, and picked , when the fat in the crabs is at its highest level. Like all animals, fat gives the meat of an animal flavor.