Los Angeles Times

Throw a crab feast

Tender and succulent crabs are a fleeting pleasure. Take advantage of this delicacy by hosting a crab feast in your own backyard. Since there is no way to eat crab quickly – or without making a mess – these gatherings are casual and lighthearted by design. Conversation and laughter come easily as guests use mallets or crackers and picks to remove the meat. Best of all, with its simple menu and relaxed style, a crab feast is easy to host without a lot of preparation.

Setting Up

A group of six to 12 is ideal for a crab feast. Use a casual invitation, like our downloadable version, to set a relaxed tone for the event. Or use a website like Evite, evite.com, to invite guests and track responses via email. Encourage guests to dress casually, as picking crab can get messy.

Once you know how many people will attend, decide whether you will steam the crabs yourself or purchase them pre-steamed from a local seafood market. Although the prospect of handling live crabs can be intimidating, steaming them is actually quite simple. All you need is a large, tall pot with a lid, a steamer rack, and a pair of tongs. For recipes and cooking tips, watch our video with crab expert Paul Johnson, and check out his definitive guide to cooking sustainable seafood, Fish Forever.

If your guest list is large or you don’t want to invest in a crab pot, you may want to buy pre-steamed crabs from a local seafood market. Timing is key in this scenario, as crab tastes best when served hot from the steamer. Designate a friend to pick up the crab just before you plan to serve while you keep your guests entertained and do any final preparations.

Make sure to have a range of condiments for the crab available in small pitchers and bowls placed around the table. Classic choices include drawn butter, vinegar, cocktail sauce, sliced lemons and a seafood seasoning such as Old Bay. Round out your menu with side dishes that showcase locally available produce, such as corn on the cob, boiled new potatoes, and platters of sliced beefsteak tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Encourage guests to help themselves to drinks by placing coolers filled with water, beer and white wine all around the backyard. Fill self-serve drink dispensers or glass pitchers with homemade lemonade and iced tea, and stack break-proof glassware nearby.

Create a music playlist ahead of time that will help set the mood during the party, or use our downloadable version.

Watch our video on setting a fun and casual table for your crab feast with celebrity designer and Pottery Barn Style Expert Nathan Turner.

Learn more about working with shellfish and oysters by watching our interview with one of our favorite local purveyors – the great Hog Island Oyster Company located in Point Reyes, CA. You’ll learn how to shuck, barbeque and serve oysters, including tips on making their famous sauce – Hog Wash.


A sturdy picnic table in the backyard is the perfect location for your crab feast. To protect the table from mallets and picks, cover it with several layers of newspaper or butcher paper. This also simplifies clean up at the end of the party. Simply roll up crab shells in the paper – being careful to first remove any flatware and crab crackers – and discard the entire roll. For a splash of color, layer a runner like our Found Seed Sack Runner on top of the paper.

Since crab picking is a lively affair, choose dish sets that are durable and shatterproof. The generously sized plates in our Outdoor Caterer’s Box are crafted from break-proof melamine. Layer on our melamine Crab Plates and Crab Platter for a splash of color. Their images of crabs and newspaper bring to mind classic seafood shacks.

The weathered charm and rugged durability of our Galvanized Metal Serveware makes it the perfect choice for an outdoor party. The Ice Bucket has wooden handles for easy carrying, and the Drink Caddy is a unique and convenient way to serve wine or other bottled drinks.

Fill the Flatware Caddy with our Outdoor Jubilee Flatware to make it easy for guests to help themselves.

The right tools are essential for crab picking. Each guest will need a wooden crab mallet or a crab cracker and a pick. One clever solution is to place a Mini Galvanized Tray at each place setting with crab tools on top, along with a Mini Galvanized Bucket full of sliced lemon and a Mini Pitcher full of drawn butter. Once the utensils are removed, the tray doubles as a container for shells.

To keep the mood of your gathering light, look for tabletop accents that blend whimsy with functionality. Our weathered-wood Rowboat Cooler is a fun choice, because it doubles as a centerpiece and has a removable insert that protects the table from moisture. Filled with ice, it’s a great place to store drinks and condiments. Modeled on vintage canning jars, our Mason Jar Drink Dispenser and Mugs encourage guests to help themselves, so you have plenty of time to enjoy the party. And with their bright red embroidery, our Crab Napkins put a festive finishing touch on the table.



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