Seafood lovers everywhere will agree, you can’t beat fresh crab. Soft, juicy and delicious, it’s a real treat.
But what happens if your plans for dinner suddenly change? What happens if you can only get to the fish market once in a while and want to stock up? Can you freeze crab meat?
Read on to learn everything you need to know!
Can You Freeze Crab Meat?
Let’s start with the quick answer, and the good news. Yes, you can freeze crab meat!
In fact, not only can you freeze crab meat but if you want it to keep for more than a couple of days you absolutely should freeze it.
Raw crab doesn’t keep for long at all when kept at room temperature, and it doesn’t fare much better in the fridge, only lasting for a few days at most.
Like many things in life though, it isn’t completely simple.
As I’ll explain, there are certain steps that you must follow when freezing crab.
Can You Freeze Live Crabs?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is a resounding no.
The subzero temperature and low oxygen environment in the freezer will quickly kill any crabs stored in there.
You might ask why this is a problem, seeing how the crab will die when you cook it anyway. Well, the problem is that when they perish, the bacteria already present inside the crab system will cause it to start rotting.
That’s right, even inside your freezer the crab will start to decompose and turn bad. To make matters worse, any undigested food in the crab’s system will also begin to decay.
It doesn’t matter how you cook it, it’ll smell and taste ‘off’ and put you at major risk of food poisoning.
Can You Freeze Fresh Crab Meat?
So you know that you absolutely shouldn’t freeze live crabs. What about fresh crab, that’s just been killed?
Again, the answer is no.
It’s a well-established fact that you should never eat crab more than 10-15 minutes after it’s been killed. This is because they quickly start to decay after death and the texture and flavor will be negatively impacted.
Putting the crab into the freezer doesn’t prevent this decay from happening. In the same way that a live crab will start to rot after death in the freezer, a crab killed before being stored in the freezer will continue to decompose.
Just as with live crab, never store raw crab meat in the freezer!
Can You Freeze Cooked Crab Meat?
Now we’re talking. Yes – you can freeze cooked crab meat. As I’m sure is clear by now, it’s the only way you should be freezing it!
Once it’s cooked, freezing crab is really the only way you can make it last beyond a couple of days.
How Long Does Cooked Crab Meat Last in the Freezer?
When properly frozen, crab meat can last for between 3 and 6 months.
This can be affected by factors such as the condition of the meat before freezing and changes in the temperature of your freezer.
With that said, if you’re able to keep crab meat in the freezer for longer than 6 months without eating it you’re doing something wrong!
Does Freezing Crab Meat Affect Its Quality?
There’s no way to sugarcoat this – yes, freezing crab meat will impact its quality. When it comes to taste and texture, there’s just no substitute for freshly cooked fresh crab.
Once frozen, crab meat will lose at least some, potentially a lot, of its flavor. The texture of the meat may also become more stringy.
Does all of this mean that you shouldn’t freeze crab? Not at all! Though it’s always better fresh, the steps I’m about to outline for properly freezing and defrosting crab meat will help to ensure you retain as much of the original flavor and texture as possible.
How to Freeze Cooked Crab Meat
There’s a couple of ways to freeze cooked crab – with or without the shell. Which one you choose really depends on whether you’re freezing straight after cooking or if you want to store leftover crab after preparing a meal.
Freezing Whole Crab
Keeping the shell of the crab intact when you freeze it is appealing for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, it saves you the effort of extracting the meat from the shell until you need it. Secondly, keeping the crab in its shell helps to retain the flavor and texture of the meat during its time in the freezer.
Here are the steps you should follow when freezing whole crabs:
Cook the Crab
I’ve hammered this point home a few times now but just in case you’ve skipped ahead to here I’ll say it again… make sure you cook the crab before freezing! Boiling crab for around 20 minutes should ensure it’s properly cooked and kill off any lingering bacteria. Great British Chefs have a useful guide on how to properly cook crab.
Submerge in Cold Water
Once it’s cooked, take the crab out and pop it straight into a pot of cold water. Make sure the whole crab is fully submerged as the point of this step is to ensure that the inside of the crab stops cooking immediately.
Wrap the Crab
Using paper towels, wrap the crab. Take a moment to ensure that the points of the claws, legs and the rough parts of the shell are properly covered. This wrap will prevent the sharp parts of the crab from piercing the plastic bag you’ll use in the next step.
Pop in a Plastic Bag or Vacuum Seal
Place the wrapped crab into a freezer-safe sealable bag. If you have access to a vacuum sealer, vacuum sealing the crab before freezing is the best option to ensure freshness. Don’t worry if you can’t do that though – just ensure that you squeeze all air out of the freezer bag before sealing.
Label the Bag
Easy to miss out but vitally important – label the bag with the date you’re freezing the crab. This will help to ensure that you always know how long it’s been frozen.
Freezing Crab Meat Without the Shell
Whether you want to save yourself the trouble later or if you’re freezing leftovers, the other way to freeze crab meat is without the shell.
As I mentioned earlier, the cardinal rule when it comes to freezing crab meat is that freshness is king. The longer you leave it before freezing, the worse it will ultimately taste and the quicker it will go bad.
Whilst it’s absolutely fine to freeze crab meat that’s left over from a meal, you should try to freeze it as soon as possible. In fact, if your leftover crab is more than a day old, I’d avoid freezing entirely and (reluctantly, for sure) throw it out.
With that said, here’s how to freeze crab meat once you’ve taken it out of the shell:
Wrap the Crab Pieces
Although you don’t have to worry about sharp edges now that the shell has gone, it’s still important to wrap crab meat before freezing. Why? Well, doing this helps to protect the meat against freezer burn which in turn helps to prolong its shelf life.
Instead of paper towels, you should wrap the meat using aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Ensure that the wrap is as tight as possible. You want to make sure there is almost no air wrapped up with the meat.
Place in a Freezer Bag
Take the bundle and drop it into a sealable freezer bag. As before, a vacuum sealable bag is ideal but not essential. Whatever you use, make sure to squeeze all the air out before sealing the bag.
Label the Bag
Again, label the bag with the date you’re freezing the crab meat. While it seems like a basic step this can be a godsend when you’re not sure whether that meat you froze a few months ago is still good to eat.
Defrosting Frozen Crab Meat
It’s all well and good having crab meat in the freezer, but what use is it if you don’t defrost it? None!
Whilst properly freezing will ensure it retains as much flavor as possible, you want to defrost in the right way to ensure your hard work isn’t wasted.
To do this, you should exercise patience. Whilst there are potentially quicker ways to thaw frozen crab, following the correct method will safely defrost the meat whilst ensuring it retains its flavorful punch.
This means a bit of pre-planning is in order. Take your crab out of the freezer the day before you’re planning to cook it. Place the bag in the fridge and leave it there overnight.
Doing this gradually brings the temperature from the crab up from freezing and ensure it’s properly thawed.
If you’re in a real hurry and just need that frozen crab today, there is a quicker way to defrost it. Fill a pot or adequately-sized bowl with cold water. Place the bag of frozen crab into the water. Leave it for 2 hours and the crab should be fully thawed.
Should You Cook with Frozen Crab?
Absolutely. Once it’s properly defrosted it can be used just as if it was completely fresh!
Can You Refreeze Defrosted Crab Meat?
In a word – no.
Whilst the temptation might be there to refreeze crab meat after it’s defrosted, especially if you thawed too much in one go, you really shouldn’t refreeze it.
Not only will doing so further degrade the flavor of the meat but you also increase the risk of foodborne illnesses.
Be sure to only defrost what you need and don’t refreeze it.
Can You Freeze Canned Crab Meat?
Technically, you can freeze canned crab. However, it’s difficult to imagine a situation when that would be necessary.
Canned crab can be kept in the pantry or kitchen cupboard for up to 5 years.
Because of this, the main reason you’d have for freezing crab – prolonging its shelf life, becomes redundant.
In theory you could take the meat out of the can and freeze it. However I wouldn’t recommend it because you’d be needlessly impacting the quality of meat that would otherwise keep for a very long time anyway.
Can You Freeze Crab Cakes?
Absolutely! Not only are crab cakes often sold frozen, but freezing them after making them yourself is a great way to keep your freezer stocked with tasty meals when you’re not in the mood to cook something from scratch.
Learn all about how to cook frozen crab cakes here.
Can You Freeze Imitation Crab Meat?
Whilst it isn’t real crab, it felt wrong putting this list together without including imitation crab meat, often known as crab sticks.
Imitation crab meat contains fish and therefore doesn’t keep for long in normal conditions. It should be frozen to extend its usable life. Once in the freezer, it will keep for up to 12 months.
Discover how to cook imitation crab here!