What are Stone Crabs?

Written by Tristen Guevara June 03, 2022

Fisherman holding a stone crab

In the heart of the Lone Star State is Abbia, an innovative producer of some of the most sought-after seafood the Gulf Coast offers. Abbia’s specialty is stone crab, caught in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico that surround the Yucatan Peninsula. This deliciously tender crab is a relatively new favorite crustacean in the culinary world. But what makes this species so different from its relatives?

The first difference is where these crabs are found. Stone crabs are native to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast and are caught across these regions. As more stone crabs found their way to the plates of restaurant patrons around the Gulf Coast in the early 20th century, their popularity began to rise. It wasn't until the 1970s, however, that regulations on stone crab harvesting were put into place. These regulations ensure that the stone crab population stays strong by only taking one claw at a time.

During the harvest, the crabs are not killed for their claws. Instead, a claw that is at least 3" is taken and then the crab is returned to the ocean. Any crab that is too small, or females with eggs (also known as “sponge” crabs) are thrown back.

Crabs are one of few animals that can regenerate limbs, but for this to happen, the claw must be removed properly, or it may never grow back. Abbia has strictly followed this protocol since their inception. These careful fishing and handling methods result in a sustainable population of premium crabs that will thrive in the Gulf of Mexico for generations to come.

Large stone crab with claws open

Stone crabs have an extremely hard shell, which gives them protection against predators. This is also where the name “stone crab” comes from. They have a light brown body and huge, vivid orange claws with black tips. When most people think of crab, they think of clusters of long, spiny legs like King or Alaskan crab. But stone crabs have shorter, dense claws that can grow up to 70% of the crab's entire body size.

Most stone crabs are right-handed (clawed), which causes their non-dominant claw to be smaller in size. The compact shape of their claws helps them defend themselves with a serious pinch, exerting up to 1900 pounds of pressure per square inch.

Upon harvest, stone crab claws are typically boiled and chilled immediately, retracting the fresh meat from the shell to keep it from sticking. They are sorted by size to sell, with the largest claws fetching the highest price per pound, as they can take 3 or more years to grow back:

  • Medium: 1.4 oz to 3.0 oz
  • Large: 3 oz to 4.58 oz
  • Jumbo: 4.58 oz to 7 oz
  • Colossal: 7 oz and up

Cracking into a claw, while worth the reward, is no easy feat. The stone crab’s tough shell requires more force than a typical crab cracker can provide. The shell can be opened a few different ways, but the key is to crack all 3 joints on the claw. You can carefully do this using the back of a heavy chef’s knife or a hammer, tapping firmly on the edges of each joint. It may take a couple taps to fully break through the shell. You want to make sure to crack the shell, not shatter it, which could leave shards in the meat.

As for how to enjoy stone crab once you break it open? Since they’re boiled upon harvest, they’re technically ready to enjoy right out of the shell. Classically, the tender meat has been enjoyed cold with a mustard sauce, but it can also be eaten warm, dipped in rich melted butter. While the meat is delicious on its own, it can also be removed from the claws to add to crab cakes, soups, or other seafood dishes.

The taste of Stone crab is often compared to a mix of lobster and shrimp or crab. They are a true luxury, with a delicate, sweet taste without a hint of fishiness, and a soft, flaky texture. Their dramatic, bright orange and black shells make them as attractive on a plate as they are delicious. Stone crab is a true chef’s dream: striking, succulent, and sustainable, all in one claw.

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