While we love crab formed into perfectly crisp crab cakes or swirled into a spicy smoked cheese dip, there’s an undeniable pleasure derived from cracking into butter-doused snow crab or king crab legs. And while both snow crab and king crab make for an excellent pairing for clarified butter and lemon wedges, there are important distinctions between the two crustaceans. Here we’ll explain the differences in size, habitat, season, taste, and price—and share our tried-and-true recipes for all of your carbSize and Legs
Size is the most obvious difference between the two crab types, with king crabs being the larger specimen. The biggest among them can reach 20 pounds and measure five feet across, with store-bought legs weighing an average of 6 pounds. King crab legs are actually shorter than the snow crab’s and are thicker with a spiky, tough-to-crack shell. Snow crabs boast extraordinarily long legs with thinner shells and reach an average of 2 to 4 pounds.
Habitat and Season
Snow crabs reside in the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans, preferring the deep, cold water conditions of these northern seas. Their harvesting season starts in late fall and extends as long as early summer. The Alaskan king crab, on the other hand, has a limited habitat and harvesting season. The large crustaceans reside in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia. King crab fishermen harvest them for just a few weeks in the winter.
Taste and Texture
Snow crab is named for its meat, which turns from red to snowy white when cooked and boasts a sweet, subtly briny flavor. The texture is firm and tends to be more fibrous (easily shredding into pieces) than king crab. Snow crab leg shells are breakable enough for simply cracking open with your hands.
How to Cook Crab Legs:
We’ve covered all of the best ways to cook crabs, from instant pot to steaming, grilling and even baking in the oven. If I had to pick a favorite, I would go with Instant Pot crab legs when cooking for 2 because it is so fast, and steamed crab when feeding a larger crowd.
Instant Pot Crab Legs:
Place a trivet into a 6 qt Instant Pot and add 1 cup water. Add 3-4 clusters of fresh or frozen crab legs per batch folding the legs to fit more in (thawed fit easier than frozen since they are more flexible).
Close the lid and cook on manual high pressure for 4 minutes with quick release. You can repeat with another batch right away using the same water.
Pro Tip: Set up your instant pot outside or let it vent under the stove hood or your kitchen will be quite fragrant!
Steamed Crab Legs:
Place a steam basket at the bottom of a large stockpot with 1 cup of water. Add as many crab legs as your pot will accommodate and still close the lid tightly. Bring the water to a boil then cover and steam cook until fragrant and steaming hot (about 5 minutes for thawing or 10 minutes for frozen crab legs).
Snow Crab Legs
($10-$15 /lb) is what we used to make this recipe. Tip: Buy legs attached together as a cluster. The cluster is filled with meat.
($8-$12 /lb) will work just as well. Tip: Ask the fish department in your grocery store to help with cleaning/removing the shell to make your life easier).
King Crab legs
($25+ per pound) are significantly more expensive but very meaty and a real treat.