What is King Crab?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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King crabs are crustaceans which are highly valued for their rich, flavorful meat. Biologists may use the term “king crab” to refer to a family of creatures, while diners usually mean Paralithodes camtschatica, a specific crab in this family, when they talk about king crab. Many restaurants offer king crab on their menus since these large crabs are abundant and they have a high yield of flesh, making them commercially valuable.

In the sense of a biological family, king crabs are classified among the decapods, meaning that they have 10 legs, including two claws which are used to grasp and manipulate prey. King crabs are generally fairly large, a trait reflected in their common name, which implies superior size. They also prefer cold waters such as those found in the North Pacific, and some have unusual features like slightly asymmetrical bodies or shells covered in horny projections.


The most widely used food species in the king crab family is the aforementioned P. camtschatica, also called red king crab, which is prized as one of the largest crab species. Since crab tends to have a disappointing ratio of meat to total weight, red king crab is a popular food, as it has a high yield of usable meat. In addition to red king crab, commercial fishermen also harvest brown or golden king crab and blue king crab, two smaller species with meat which has a comparable flavor. The massive claws of blue king crab can make it an interesting conversation piece when they are served whole.

Another species, scarlet king crab, has immensely flavorful and sweet meat, but it is not commercially viable species due to its limited population distribution. Therefore, most people never taste it unless they have friends who fish or harvest crabs who might collect scarlet king crab by accident. Other king crab species are regionally harvested and sometimes enjoyed by local populations, although they may not be widely exported.

An adult king crab can reach 10 pounds (approximately five kilograms) when fully grown. Crab meat is high in protein and some trace elements, making it a great addition to the human diet. Contrary to popular belief, crab meat is also comparably low in fat; most dinners with crab are fatty because of supplemental ingredients used, like buttery dips. Numerous recipes for king crab in fresh, frozen, and canned form can be found using your favorite search engine.


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