Heck yeah, we got crabs!
One of our favorite food events of the year is when Maryland blue crabs are back in season (who doesn’t love a summer seafood cookout with friends?). So we headed down to Crisfield, Maryland to visit our friend Matt Riggin, founder of the Independent Crab Company, to learn more about crabbing. And also to eat loads of crabs.
Crisfield is a sleepy fishing town that’s literally built on seafood—its foundation is comprised largely of oyster shells—and is known colloquially as “The Crab Capital of the World.” The town sits on a peninsula in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, which makes it the ideal location for crabbing. The Tangier Sound, the nutrient-dense, briny, shallow waters that surround Crisfield, provide the perfect habitat for blue crabs to thrive.
Matt’s fleet of 27 boats head out every morning at the break of dawn to haul in their traps, which were laid the previous day. The traps are a little bigger than a large FreshDirect delivery box, and have a funnel in the middle where a piece of bunker fish is laid as bait. Each side of the trap has an upward-sloped entrance so that the crabs can get in, but not out. On a good day, a single ship can haul in up to 500 traps, each one containing anywhere from zero to twenty crabs.
We joined Matt and two of his watermen on a boat and “helped” haul in traps. Many of the crabs had to be thrown back because they’re smaller than the regulation minimum of five inches wide at the shell. This ensures that the crabs have the opportunity to mature and breed, which prevents overfishing and ensures sustainable practices.
Around noon, we watched the ships come in one by one to offload their catches. As soon as they’re offloaded, the crabs are graded from 1–3 according to size, one being the largest, which is for crabs at least 5.5 inches’ wide. The crabs are then loaded into bushels before they’re sent down the road to be steamed, seasoned, and shipped.
Our final stop of the day was a local waterside crab shack where we whacked open and chowed down on a huge pile of freshly steamed crabs seasoned with plenty of Old Bay spice. Delicious!
Get everything you need for a Maryland crab cookout here.