These Maryland Crab Cakes have been in my 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 Crab Cakes
First things first: for BEST results, 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). 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 my family does 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 from Asia. No flavor at all.
Other Crab Cake Ingredients
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. 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.
Fried, Broiled or Baked Crab Cakes?
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. The low 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. Baking will technically work, but you won’t get that crisp, caramelized top. Broiling is truly the way to go when it comes to crab cakes.
How to Store Crab Cakes
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.
What is a Good Crab Cake Sauce?
Personally, I like crab cakes with dijon mustard (and Saltines). But many prefer tarter sauce. You can purchase jarred varieties at the store, but it’s easy to prepare at home. Here’s a basic recipe:
Barely adapted from Ina Garten
Yield: 3/4 cup
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise (preferably full fat)
2 tablespoons cornichons (small-diced pickles may be substituted)
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon coarse-grained mustard
Pinch kosher salt
Pinch ground black pepper
Add the ingredients to a food processor and pulse several times until the pickles are finely chopped and all the ingredients are well combined (but not pureed). Store in the refrigerator.
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 include 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.