How to Cook Imitation Crab Sticks – 4 Great Ways

Imitation crab sticks, also known as krab, mock crab, krab sticks, surimi, or “the hotdog of the sea” are not an exotic export of Japan anymore.

As the California roll (North America’s take on sushi) has spread around the world, so too has one of the main ingredients in it, the humble imitation crab stick.

Nowadays, you can now find it in almost any grocery store and of course in a variety of dishes like seafood salad, crab cakes, crab rangoons, and of course the California roll.

Imitation crab sticks aren’t limited to being just an addition to these foods though. They can also be enjoyed in their own right.

Let’s go through the different ways that you can cook imitation crab sticks. 

What Exactly Is Imitation Crab?

I am guessing that you didn’t make it to this page by complete accident and you probably have a decent idea of what imitation crab is.

You’re likely familiar with what it looks like, its taste, and some of the foods that it’s in or that it’s a tasty snack by itself. However, what exactly is in it may be a mystery to you. I’ll be honest, whilst I’m a big fan of them, there were a few things about imitation crab that I didn’t know. 

Imitation crab is made from fish meat that has been deboned, washed to remove unwanted bits and fats, and then minced into a paste.

The paste is then combined with other ingredients like water, starch, protein (usually egg-white protein), and vegetable oil among other things.

It’s then cooked and pressed into the desired and well-recognized shape that’s supposed to resemble the leg of a crab.

The fish that’s used in imitation crab can be a variety of whitefish that include tilapia, bass, and cod. But the most common type of fish that’s in imitation crab is pollock. 

While you’re able to eat it cold, because as I mentioned it’s already cooked, it’s a good idea to cook imitation crab sticks as the taste and texture are improved when it’s slightly cooked.

Now we will get into a few different ways you can cook imitation crab sticks. I recommend you try them all to find the best one for you!

How to Cook Imitation Crab Sticks With a Steamer

Steaming imitation crab is a great way to do it if you are a healthy eater. It’s a fat-free and delicious method of preparation that’s also super easy!

What you’ll need:

  • The desired amount of imitation crab meat.
  • A steamer (or just a large pot and strainer if you don’t have a steamer)
  • Water (two cups or more, but it depends on how much imitation crab you’re cooking)

How you do it: 

  • Fill the steamer (or pot) with the water.
  • Place the crab sticks in the steamer or strainer and make sure to distribute them evenly. If they aren’t then they will not cook equally.
  • Turn on the steamer or bring the pot of water to a boil.
  • Wait for the crab sticks to be finished cooking. Whether or not they’re frozen will determine how long it will take. If they’re “fresh” or defrosted then it will take about 6 minutes, and if they are frozen then it will take about 10 minutes. 

How to Deep Fry Imitation Crab Sticks

If you’re feeling a bit naughty and seriously craving something deep friend then this is definitely the method for you.

With this method, you can choose from a variety of ways to season and batter the crab sticks depending on what you like.

My personal favorite is tempura batter but you can make it with whatever batter you like. The batter we’ll use here is simple but effective! Feel free to add any extra spices to boost the flavor to fit your palate. 

What you need:

  • Deep fryer or large pot
  • Vegetable oil (enough to submerge the crab sticks)
  • Flour (half a cup per pound of crab meat)
  • A pinch of baking soda
  • Paper towels
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Milk (as needed for the desired consistency)
  • Corn starch (half a cup per pound of meat)
  • Imitation crab meat

How you do it:

  • Heat the vegetable oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure there is enough to submerge the sticks.
  • Make the batter – in a large bowl mix flour, cornstarch, salt, baking soda, pepper, and milk. When adding the milk, do so gradually and mix it in completely before adding any more. Continue to add the milk until it reaches the desired consistency.
  • (optional) Add additional spices to the batter that you want.
  • Coat the imitation crab sticks with the batter.
  • Place them in the deep fryer or pot one by one. Use tongs to avoid accidentally touching the hot oil.
  • Cook them until they’re golden brown – usually this takes just a few minutes.
  • Remove them from the oil and lay them on the paper towels to remove any excess oil.

How to Sauté Imitation Crab Sticks

To keep the crab sticks slightly healthy but also add a bit of extra flavor you should sauté them. This is also a pretty convenient method that doesn’t require waiting for water to boil, preheating an oven, or dealing with lots of oil. 

What you need: 

  • Two tablespoons butter
  • Two cloves of minced or crushed garlic
  • ¾ pound imitation crab sticks

How you do it:

  • Heat the pan over medium heat (hover your hand over the pan to see when it’s warm).
  • When the pan is warm enough, add the butter to the pan and allow for it to melt. Spread the butter around the pan with a spatula to completely coat the pan. 
  • After the butter is completely melted and you have made sure it has completely covered the bottom of the pan, add the garlic. Continuously stir the garlic to prevent it from sticking and burning.
  • Once the garlic is a golden brown color, gently add the imitation crab sticks. Sauté them for about 5 minutes or until they also turn golden brown. 

How to Cook Imitation Crab Sticks in the Oven

Besides the preparation, this is a pretty simple method that is super delicious and you don’t need to be monitoring it during the whole process.

What you need:

  • ¾ pound of imitation crab meat
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Mustard
  • 1 teaspoon fresh dill

How you do it:

  • Preheat oven to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl until the dill and mustard are evenly spread through the crab meat. Feel free to add a bit more mustard and/or dill until you are satisfied.
  • Place the imitation crab sticks on a baking pan and then put them into the oven after it’s preheated.
  • Cook for 10-15 minutes. Since they’re already cooked and safe to eat there is not a  minimum inside temperature that you have to wait for them to reach. 

How to Serve Imitation Crab

There are many ways that you can serve imitation crab. This can be as simple as serving them cold with a dip on the side. You can prepare them in any of the ways I have already mentioned and eat them by themselves, or you can even make an entire meal around them.

Here’s some of the ways that I like to enjoy serving them the most: 

Add Lemon, Lime, or Vinegar

It doesn’t matter if they’re deep-fried or not, you can make them even tastier by adding a spritz of lemon, lime, or vinegar to them to make them extra flavorful. 

Serve them with your Favorite Dip or Seasoning

This is is my personal favorite. Since I see them as more of a snack food or appetizer, I like to season them and then dip them into a sauce like sriracha, soy sauce, or a bit of vinegar and eat them like I would buffalo wings.

Of course, you shouldn’t feel confined to just those sauces. They can be tasty with almost everything so get busy trying different seasonings and sauces!

Make a Meal with Them

This one is the most complex way to serve them, but they can play an essential role in a variety of recipes like the ones I mentioned already (crab cakes, seafood salad, and California rolls). But they also can be added to a variety of other things as well.

You can keep it simple by adding them to a bit of rice and steamed vegetables, or you can make something a bit crazy like an imitation crab enchilada. You can find a lot of recipes to use imitation crab with here

How Long Do Imitation Crab Sticks Last?

If you bought them frozen, which tends to be the most likely way to buy them, then they can last for a long time.

If they’re kept frozen they can last up to ten to twelve months for the best quality. They will still be good after that but the quality can possibly suffer. 

Once they have been defrosted and stored in the fridge then they can last up to two months if they’re unopened. But after being opened, they should be treated like fresh fish and be eaten within three days to prevent spoilage. 

At room temperature, they should be only left out for a maximum of two hours. After which, bacteria can begin to grow. 

Make sure to follows these guidelines to not get sick and to not let the tastiness of the hotdog of the sea go to waste.