Five Rules for Eating Crabs

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This week's column on crabbing around South Florida gave me a lot of ideas on what it takes to eat crab the right way. There's proper technique, of course. You've got to know how to dismantle a whole steamer, what's edible, and what's not. But then there's also a list of dos and don'ts that I think everyone sitting down to a bowl full of blues should follow. So I came up with these rules for eating crabs. Follow them and you'll have a safer, cleaner, happier crab experience.

Rule No. 1: Pack Band-Aids. Crabs are dangerous and spiky and fight back even when steamed. I mention in my column that my hands had all sorts of tiny nicks and cuts on them by the time I had finished eating at Riggins Crabhouse. During another crab-out, I cut my thumb on a golden crab shell, enough to have me bleeding pretty badly. Unfortunately, it's all part of the experience. Fenton Stanley Ridgeway III, my crab partner in crime, told me this: "If your hands aren't stinging when you're done, you didn't do something right."

Rule No. 2: Use tools; it's what separates us from the animals. I have a tendency to try to use my hands to crack open shells. But God gave us mallets and knives for a reason. Sure, if you're good at it, you can use your fingers to extract meat and clear away shell. But paring knives (or a butter knife, failing that) work better at getting meat out of small crevices than your hands. You'll also look less like a primate if you use a knife (or so my fiancée tells me).

Rule No. 3: Go easy with the mallet. There's this commonly held notion that eating crabs is a good way to vent aggression due to all the smashing. But that's a bad way to go about eating, because all you'll do is fill that tender meat up with bits of shell. Shell doesn't taste good (at least not to me). Unless you want to paint your companions' faces with crab shrapnel, use the mallet sparingly. In fact, I find the best way to use a mallet is in conjunction with a knife, like a hammer and chisel. Gently tap the knife with your mallet against tough claws and legs and the combo will yield bigger, fuller pieces of meat.

Rule No. 4: Wear the bib, turkey. Yes, a bib is terribly unmanly and makes you look like a baby about to eat a big spoonful of Gerbers. But no matter how careful or good at eating crab you think you are, you will ruin your clothes without one. Especially at Rustic Inn, where each crab claw is like a tiny bomb filled with garlic oil and crab juice. One thwack of the mallet on that puppy and you'll look like a porn starlet after wrap. So unless you really want to help your dry cleaner out, suck it up and wear the bib.

Rule No. 5: Clean up afterward. After eating crab, even the stateliest among us will reek like a fishing barge. A single wet nap isn't strong enough to change that. You need serious scrubbing. There's no going out to a dance club or a church function after eating crab. Just go home and wash up.

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