Cleaning Up Those Dungies! – A Step by Step Guide to Cleaning Dungeness Crab

WholeCrab“I would be the simple fisherman in Perseus village. He lives a quiet life, brings in crab pots and is extremely happy.” ~Sam Worthington

One of the more difficult parts to learn when taking up hunting and fishing is how to clean the animals. For many families, hunting and fishing are family traditions, and parents and grandparents teach the skills and techniques for hunting to the younger generations. Being a novice hunter and not having a background full of hunting and fishing trips to pull experience from can make tasks such as cleaning a deer seem very daunting.

The nice thing about cleaning and prepping your game though, is it is something that can be learned and with practice become second nature. I have assisted with cleaning an elk, and to be honest, it was hard! The animal is so heavy and cumbersome, and the hide dulls your knife quite quickly, so you are constantly sharpening the blade. And it makes a GIANT mess and takes hours to do! That was just to field dress the animal. Once we arrived home and let the animal hang for a couple weeks, we had even more work to do! Like I said, it is hard work!

Cleaning crab is easy! I actually think it was a very good experience for me in learning to clean an animal properly. After assisting with two or three crabs, I was able to complete the rest as though it were “second nature.”. It does make quite a mess, but the clean up isn’t too bad. The only down side, I would say, is it kind of smells like crab in your kitchen for a good couple hours, which coming from the desert was an odd smell to have stick around, but it wasn’t too bad.

There are actually two ways you can clean the crab: 1)cook the crab whole and then clean, or 2) clean the crab first and then cook. I prefer the first method because it is much less messy. You can do either way you prefer though. So, first you need a large stock pot full of water, and bring it to a boil. Once the water is rolling good, drop the entire crab in and cover with a lid. Depending on the size of your pot, you can boil more than one crab at a time. I was able to do four in my pot. Set the timer for 15 minutes if the crabs are between a pound and half to two and half pounds and for 20 minutes if they are more around the three pound mark, and you can tell they are finished because their shells will be a vibrant red color. Run cool water over the cooked crabs and allow them to sit in the sink a bit, they are VERY hot to handle when they come out of the water.

So, once you can handle those babies, it is time to start cleaning dungies! To start, flip the crab over on the back and look for the abdominal flap. It is located on the center of the crab’s bottom side and starts near the rear of the crab and runs towards the eyes. It is the same flap used to identify the gender of the crab. Grab the tip of the abdominal flap and pull it towards you. Remove the entire flap.


Once you have removed the abdominal flap, flip the crab over and grab at the back end of the crab along the top shell where you just removed the abdominal flap. Pull the entire top of the crab shell off. It should come off in one large piece, leaving behind the legs and internal parts of the crab.


With some crabs, such as the Blue Crab that is served in Maryland and along the Chesapeak Bay, the crab is served whole and people break open the shell of the crab tableside and enjoy the internal parts of the crab. Don’t knock it until you try it! It is definitely dinner and a show at Maryland crab house restaurants. The tables are usually covered with white paper, which after you see the mess you will make you understand the need for disposable tablecloths, and the waiter brings you a large cafeteria tray piled high with boiled crabs dressed in Old Bay Seasoning. You are given a miniature wooden mallet, crab crackers, and plenty of napkins. At this point, you just go at it busting crabs and hunting for meat. It is crazy fun and delicious. Unfortunately, Dungeness crab are not quite as much fun to eat.

I don’t know of anyone that eats the internal parts of the Dungeness, but I guess it might happen. For our purposes though, I am going to clean the internal parts of the crab out before storing or eating my crab. So, with your thumbs and under running water, push out anything that is green, black, slimy, gooey, yucky, or gill looking. The idea is to end up with the crab looking clean. Now, there is meat in the “knuckles” of the crab, which are located where the legs attach to the body of the crab. That meat is good, so don’t throw it out.


Okay, so once everything looks pretty and nice, break the legs into two pieces right down the center. Viola! You now have two beautiful crab legs ready for eating or storing. These legs would look delicious served next to a juicy ribeye steak or New York strip. Or if you are looking to store them, two crabs, or four legs, fit into a gallon-size freezer bag and they will hold in the freezer for about a month. I have read you can keep them for up to six months, but I personally think the flavor and texture of the crab really starts to change after about a month. The legs tend to get kind of mushy and the smell of crab becomes a bit overwhelming.


That is all I have! So, start boiling up your Dungeness crab and get to eatin!

If anyone wants know more or needs advice on their first Washington crabbing experience feel free to email me at

Happy Hunting!

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