These jumbo lump crab cakes are my grandma’s recipe, and they’ve been in our family for generations. I’ve never had a better crab cake in my life, and I’ve tried countless versions!
I’ve lived in Maryland for my entire life and I can tell you one thing for sure: we love our crabs. Steamed, boiled, fried, soups, dips, pretzels, crab cakes… it’s what’s for dinner. When I have friends visit from out of town they always want to go out for crabs and beer. It’s a tradition!
My family has been having steamed crab get togethers forever. It’s what we do. And my grandma, Zelda, has been making these jumbo lump crab cakes for as long as I can remember. I can tell you with complete certainty: these are the BEST crab cakes you’ll ever have. All jumbo lump meat, very little filler, no unnecessary ingredients. This recipe is legit.
If you think you’ve had better, all I can say is this: don’t knock ’em till you’ve tried ’em.
Notes Regarding Jumbo Lump Crab Meat
First things first: you need fresh, good quality jumbo lump crab meat for this recipe. Preferably from Maryland, but North Carolina and Louisiana have good quality meat as well. I know that jumbo lump meat cab be ridiculously expensive, but there’s a reason for that. I’m not saying the flavors won’t still be good here with less expensive crab, but if you want the best, authentic Maryland crab cake experience, you need to go for the best ingredients.
My parents buy their lump crab meat from Sea King, a shop attached to a seafood restaurant that sells nothing but fresh seafood prepared in house and the standard fixings: coleslaw and potato salad. It’s a bit too far from me now, but I have them pick me up some when we’re all getting together. There’s a good seafood market near me as well (gotta love Maryland), but they don’t always have Maryland crab meat. I realize that many areas will not have shops like this but do what you can. Ask around. Ask your local seafood restaurant for recommendations.
Some people like to mix in backfin crab meat because it has a bit more flavor than the lump meat. You can do this if you like! It’s just not how we do things. Give me all lump meat, all day long. At the end of the day, if you can help it, I strongly recommend avoiding national chain brand crab meat. More likely than not, it’s not even blue crab meat. It’s probably crab meat from Asia. No flavor at all.
Other Ingredients & FAQ
My family always uses the exact same brands for certain ingredients, though I’m a bit more flexible (with the exception of Old Bay). Old Bay, Spice Island’s Fines Herbs (yes, that’s how it’s spelled), Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard and Progresso Italian Bread Crumbs are my grandma’s top picks. If you follow my blog you know that I don’t typically make a bazillion brand recommendations for a specific recipe. I’m not saying any old breadcrumb or dijon mustard will cause the recipe to fail but these ingredients are tried and true. I definitely use various dijon mustards and store brand Italian bread crumbs (they must be Italian style!). However, if you use my grandmother’s brands, I guarantee this recipe will live up to its full potential of awesomeness. This is how I’ve been eating them for over 30 years. This is how my mom makes them. This is how my aunt makes them.
We always broil our crab cakes. Fried crab cakes are tasty, but broiling them truly allows the flavors and textures to shine through. Broil on the lower setting and do not give in to any temptation to flip the crab cakes. The meat is already cooked; you are simply cooking the egg and solidifying the filling. These crab cakes are delicate because of that beautiful lump meat. Flipping them might cause them to fall apart. Don’t do it! The low setting on broil will give them a nice golden color, but you can flip the setting to high for the final 30-60 seconds for an even deeper caramelization if you’re willing to watch them like a hawk.
Also worth noting: these crab cakes freeze very well. Like everyone else in the family, I tend to make a double recipe and then freeze the leftovers (wrapping them individually). They reheat in a couple of minutes and are a perfect meal. They make a great sandwich, but I recommend serving them with Saltines and dijon mustard. That’s what we do.
What are Fines Herbs?
Fines Herbs refers to a dried spice blend used commonly in French cuisine. It’s sold by many brands, but I’ve always used the one from Spice Island since it’s available at my grocery store. If you can’t find it at the store or online, you can make it at home. It’s made from a mix of commonly used herbs: parsley, chives, tarragon, and chervil. Google around and you’ll find plenty of recipes.
What is Old Bay?
Old Bay is a seasoning that’s considered a staple in many Maryland homes, including mine. It’s amazing on many seafood dishes, especially steamed crabs! I also use in things like dips and potato latkes. To me, a good crab cake MUST have some Old Bay.
Here are a few variations on the recipe:
These crab cakes are my Grandma Zelda's recipe, and they have been in our family for generations. I've never had a better crab cake in my life, and I've tried dozens!
- 16 ounce fresh jumbo lump crab meat
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup regular mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
- 1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
- 1/8 teaspoon fines herbs (I like the one sold by Spice Island, see notes)
- 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Set the oven to low broil and place the oven rack near the top.
In a medium-sized bowl, carefully pick through the crab meat to remove any shells. Try not to break up the lumps. Be as thorough as possible.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg and then add in the mayonnaise until combined.
Add the breadcrumbs and stir to combine. Add the Old Bay, fines herbs and garlic powder. Add the mustard and Worcestershire sauce, stir until well combined.
Gently stir the wet mixture into the crab meat, one spoonful at a time. This part takes some patience because you really want to avoid breaking up the lump meat as much as possible.
Carefully form 5-6 crab cakes.
Lightly grease the bottom of a baking sheet (cooking spray works well for this) and place the crab cakes on the sheet. Place a small piece of butter on top of each crab cake.
Broil on low for 12-15 minutes, keeping a close eye to make sure they don't burn. Don't flip them, just allow them to cook on one side the entire time (the lack of filler makes them very delicate). If the tops seem like they're going to burn, lower the oven rack. You're not cooking the meat but you want the filling to solidify and the egg to cook through.
If you want the tops a bit more golden, switch the broiler to the high setting for the last minute or so.
When the tops are golden brown, remove the pan from the oven and allow the crab cakes to cool slightly before serving.
I recommend serving them with Saltine crackers and dijon mustard. They also make a great sandwich.
I personally like to serve these with saltine crackers and some dijon mustard. That's it.
There are recipes online for making Fines Herbs from scratch, but my grocery store sells the blend from Spice Island, which is what I've always used.