hard shell and soft shell crabs from Harbour House Crabs

What’s the Difference Between Hard Shell and Soft Shell Crabs?

06/09/22 12:59PM

It’s blue crab season! Do you like your crabs served up as savory crab cakes or in a fresh seafood salad? Perhaps you enjoy them battered and fried or steamed with a side of butter sauce. However you like to dine on this oceanic delicacy, we know it’s a special treat worth savoring. 

If you’ve ever enjoyed Maryland crab meat (made from blue crabs), you might have noticed that some seafood restaurants have both “hard shell crabs” and “soft shell crabs” listed on the menu. So what’s the difference between them? It’s a question we’ve been asked many times. Keep reading to find out what you need to know about crustacean classification!

Crabby Confusion

Upon hearing the names soft and hard shell crabs, some people assume that these crabs are different species. In fact, they’re actually the same type of crab: the Maryland blue crab. The misunderstanding surrounding the classification of soft and hard-shelled crabs likely comes from turtles. No, the turtles themselves didn’t spread the misinformation — the confusion comes from hard and soft-shelled turtles, which are completely different species. And because there are a large number of crab species in the world, it’s even easier to assume that this is just another case of two different crab types being sold as separate entrees.

Hard Shell Crabs

As crabs mature, they go through a molting process, shedding their old “armor” and regrowing a stronger outer shell each time. A hard shell crab is simply a crab whose shell has hardened after a molt. Learn more about the molting process below:

Here are some delicious ways to enjoy hard shell crabs:

  • Steamed in the shell (a Maryland tradition!)
  • Deep-fried Cajun-style
  • Served in crab cakes or seafood salad
  • Stewed with Old Bay, salt and pepper, tomatoes, white wine, garlic, chicken stock, onion, and thyme
  • And dozens more available online!

Soft Shell Crabs

For a short period of time after a crab molts, it has a “soft” outer body. It won’t be long before it regrows a new shell, so there is a limited window of time to enjoy this more delicate, tender crab meat. Soft shell crabs can be battered and fried, which creates a soft and savory dish comparable to the world-famous crab cakes only available in high-end seafood restaurants.

Try these cooking methods for your soft shell crabs:

  • Battered and fried (of course)
  • Tossed in lemon butter pan sauce with capers and parsley
  • Wok-fried with ginger scallion sauce
  • As part of a crispy sandwich topped with fresh greens and remoulade dip
  • And dozens more available online!

Taste the Best: Harbour House Crabs!

When you want to taste the best in crab meat, think Harbour House Crabs! Our award-winning Maryland blue crabs are a delicious treat worth enjoying again and again, whether you like your crabs soft-shelled or hard-shelled. And in many cases, you can get live or steamed crabs delivered anywhere across the USA in just 24 hours! You can’t get better than that. Place an order today or reach out to our customer service team to learn more. Happy crab season!