King Crab

Paralithodes camtschatica (Red), P. platypus (Blue), Lithodes aequispina (Brown)

Market Name(s): Alaska king crab

Contact Purchasing
King Crab
  • Primary Source: Russia, Alaska, small amounts from Chile.
  • Season: Alaska: Red king crab: Sept - Oct; Brown: Year-round; Southeast Alaska: Feb - March; Russia: Jan - April; Sept - Dec
  • Primary Fishing Method: Pot

Size Range:

Max size: 20 lbs

Avg. Size: 6-8 lbs Avg. Size

Product forms:

FRESH: Legs and claws.

FROZEN: Legs and claws, packed in 20-lb. boxes; split legs; claws.


Live to cooked sections: 60%; Live to cooked meat: 25%; cooked sections to cooked meat: 42%.

Storage & Handling

Properly glazed, frozen sections will store for up to a year. Fresh king crab has a shelf life of up to 7 days; thawed 3 days. Hold frozen king crab at 0°F or below; fresh at 32°-34°F.

Cooking Suggestions

This seafood delicacy is most often enjoyed very simply — straight from the shell. King crab is normally sold as frozen cooked legs and claws, and can be thawed and steamed or thawed and eaten cold. Cracking the huge legs can be challenging, but then the rich meat is often dipped in warm butter or cocktail sauce. King crab meat can also be removed from the shell and used in salads or omelettes, though its amazing taste is usually enjoyed with minimal preparation.

Selling Points

  • Impressive plate coverage.
  • Reputation as a "high-ticket" menu item has an appeal.
  • Precooked, so very simple to prepare.


  • Bluish meat color—a sign of undercooking and/or poor cleaning.
  • Crystallization in meat—a sign of thawing and refreezing and/or slow freezing.
  • Excessive saltiness—indicates crab was not cooled properly prior to freezing.
  • Low meat yield. Fill on red and blue king crab should be 80% or higher; on brown crab it should be 70% or higher.
  • Incorrect net weight (a 20-lb. box with a 10% glaze should weigh 22 lbs.).
  • Incorrect number of legs and claws. For example, a 9/12 count 20-lb. box of king crab should have 18-24 walking legs plus the corresponding number of claw arms.
  • Excessive broken. A 20-lb. box should contain no more than 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of broken pieces.

The Pacific Advantage

  • Five jointly owned and operated Catcher Processor Vessels
  • Marketing Rights to 40% of established Barents Sea Quota
  • Product caught, cooked and frozen at sea to ensure highest quality crab available in the Market
  • Year round availability
  • Product produced and cut under Pacific Seafood's strict HACCP & QC guidelines ensuring the safest crab for the Market


If bigger is better, than king crab is the best crab you can buy. The largest members of the spider crab family (legs on spider crabs are jointed backwards), king crab are found across a broad swath of the North Pacific, from Southeast Alaska to Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula. In the U.S., king crab is synonymous with Alaska, where the fishery was developed in the Gulf of Alaska in the early 1950s, after Japanese boats which fished with tangle nets were kicked off the grounds.

Three species of king crab are fished commercially. Red king crab, which can weigh as much as 20 pounds apiece, is the largest crab and the largest resource accounting for more than 80% of the world king crab catch.

Blue king crab, which can be distinguished from red king crab by the more pronounced dark coloring on the tip of their legs, are almost as large as red king crab. Blue king crab typically sells for the same price as red king crab.

Brown, or "golden," king crab is noticeably smaller and can easily be distinguished by its uniform red/orange color on their legs (the underside of red and blue king crab legs are a creamy white). Brown king crab typically sells at a discount because its typically has a lower meat content.

As is the case with many crab resources, catches of king crab fluctuate widely. Landings from the Gulf of Alaska, for example, reached 45,000 tons in 1965, only to fall to 4,500 tons by 1971. When Gulf landings plummeted, Alaska crabbers raced up to the Bering Sea, where landings hit a record 60,000 tons in 1980, only to plummet to 6,000 tons two years later.

These days the Alaska king crab fishery is a shadow of its former self, producing landings of just 7,000 to 12,000 tons a year, almost half of which gets exported to Japan.

Most of the king crab now sold in the U.S. comes from Russia, where landings exceed 40,000 tons a year. As much of the Russian crab sold here is produced by U.S.-managed joint ventures, its quality is generally similar to Alaska-origin king crab.

Only male king crab, which are much larger than females, are fished. Crab are caught and processed on board catcher-processor boats or delivered live to shore-based or floating processors. King crab are butchered into sections, which are cooked and frozen in liquid brine (a small percentage is blast frozen). Secondary processors near Seattle use bandsaws to cut sections into single legs. A small, but growing volume of king crab is shipped live or fresh from Alaska to markets in the Lower 48 that are willing to pay a premium price.

Each king crab has six walking legs, one large crusher claw arm and a smaller feeder claw arm. King crab legs are graded by the number of legs per 10 pounds, plus the claw legs. Typically, red and blue king crab legs run 9/12 , 12/14 and 14/17, while brown crab will run 16/20 or smaller. The number of legs and claws in a box of king crab should be in proportion to the actual animal.

King crab quality can vary widely, depending upon the time of the year it is caught. Alaska red king crab, which is mostly fished in the fall, generally has excellent "meat fill" (the amount of meat in the shell), often 90% or higher. Meat fill from brown king crab, on the other hand, which is fished in deeper waters year-round, can be less than 80%.

In Russia, where there are two seasons, the meat fill can vary widely. Russian crab from the winter fishery (January-April) is normally quite good. The meat fill of Russian king crab caught in the late summer and early fall fishery, though, can be inconsistent.