Alaskan King Crab vs Snow Crab: How Are They Different?

There’s nothing quite like a delectable crab leg feast, but knowing which one will hit the spot for you requires a bit of crab knowledge. Crab comes in a variety of sizes, shapes, textures, and flavors. The two most common varieties are snow crab and king crab, yet they have many noteworthy differences.

So what are the differences between snow crab and king crab legs? Do they have different flavors? If both crab species are so popular, which one should you select for your next restaurant or home meal? At Skull Creek Boathouse we have all the answers to all your snow crab and king crab questions, from choosing your crab legs to cooking and cracking.

Crabmeat is an easy favorite, even among those who aren’t huge seafood eaters. It’s generally sweet and the white meat with shades of deep crimson looks appetizing in almost any dish. Let’s claw our way through each difference between king crab and snow crab to help you make the best choice for your next crab order.

King Crab vs. Snow Crab: Are They Different In Size?

When you look at these two crabs, size will be the core element that helps you to distinguish between them. As stated in its name, king crab is obviously a big creature, and it is clearly bigger than the snow crab. So far, the largest king crab that fishermen have ever found reached 20 pounds and was 5 feet long! However, generally a king crab weighs about 6 pounds while a snow crab weighs from 2 to 4 pounds. Since a king crab is bigger in total size, the legs are bigger and thicker than those of the snow crab, whose legs are longer but slimmer.

Here’s another tip that helps you distinguish between the two types of crab: the number of legs a crab has can tell you which kind of crab it is. Specifically, king crab has 3 pairs of legs and 2 big claws, while a snow crab has 4 pairs of legs and 2 claws.

King Crab vs Snow Crab: Where and When to Find Them?

Let’s get to know where each kind of crab comes from. The snow crab prefers deep, cold water conditions so they live in the northern parts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. To be specific, they usually reside around Maine, Alaska, Canada, Norway, Russia, and even Greenland.

Meanwhile, the king crab has less habitat compared to the snow crab. They also love frigid water, but they are typically only found in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia.

Now you know where these two crab types live, the question is: When can we find them? The snow crab’s harvesting season begins in April and lasts until late October or early November. In contrast, the king crab season is much shorter and normally kicks off in late October and ends in early January.

Taste and Texture of King Crab vs Snow Crab

Texture

The name “snow” crab was given due to its meat texture. When being cooked, snow crab turns from red to snowy white. Furthermore, the texture of the snow crab is firm and tends to be more fibrous, which makes it easier to shred into small pieces, like corned beef.

For the king crab, those thicker legs provide seafood lovers with large, firm chunks of white meat.

Crackability

When you’re trying to get delicious meat out of a crab leg, approach king crab with caution. King crab legs are thicker and lined with spikes that require a crab cracker tool for best results.

Snow crabs, on the other hand, have legs that are soft enough to crack open with your bare hands. Remember not to apply too much pressure or you’ll shred the delicate snow crab meat within.

Flavor

When it comes to the flavor “battle” of king crab vs. snow crab, which one wins? That’s a difficult to answer question, since each type has its own advantages. In other words, the answer obviously depends primarily on your tasting preferences.

King crab has an undeniable reputation for its flavor. One bite will usually turn anyone’s taste bud into an undying fan. It has a sweet, mild flavor, and is often compared to lobster.

Snow crab meat is also sweet, but bears a subtle briny flavor not found in king crab.

King Crab vs Snow Crab: Are They Divergent in Price?

As we have explained, king crab has a short harvesting season, which leads to limited availability. They also have a limited cold water habitat. Additionally, they have a lobster-like flavor. This makes king crab the more expensive of the two; snow crab legs are typically more affordable than king crab ones.

Safe Cooking Temperature

The ideal cooking temperature for both king crab and snow crab legs should reach approximately 145 degrees. Keep a close eye as you “cook” your crab legs. Remember, you are essentially reheating pre-cooked meat as both varieties are cooked on the boat or immediately upon landfall, then blasted frozen to preserve freshness.

Choosing a Method for Cooking Your Crab Legs

Selecting a method of cooking doesn’t have to be a taxing one. While there are several ways to fashion the perfect snow crab or king crab spread, it typically comes down to your preference. Here are the main ways to cook your snow crab or king crab legs-boil, steam, oven, grill, or instant pot.

  • Boiling Crab Legs – Most people tend to choose the boiling method for their crab legs. It’s simple, traditional, and relatively foolproof. Boiling your crab legs allows the water to flow in between the crab meat and shell evenly, keeping your crab meat moist and full of juices. Make sure you tuck in the legs and bend them. Cook for about four minutes and enjoy.
  • Steaming Your Crab Legs – Steaming is a popular choice for preparing your crab meat as it allows the flavor of the crab to remain inside the shell rather than leaking into the cooking water that sometimes can occur when boiling. You will also eliminate the chance of watery legs with the steaming preparation options. The downside is that most steaming baskets can only hold about a pound of crab legs, so plan accordingly. If you are using thawed crab legs then steam for four to five minutes. If the legs were frozen when you placed them in the steamer then add a few more minutes.
  • Oven Baking – Baking your snow crab or king crab legs in foil packs per cluster will yield the best results. Choose a heavy duty aluminum foil for each cluster. In twenty five minutes for frozen crab legs or fifteen minutes for thawed legs (425 degrees F) you’ll have perfection.
  • Broiling Your Crab Legs – Opting to broil your crab legs in the oven offers an opportunity to infuse butter flavoring deep into the crab meat while they heat. The broiler temperature will add a slight caramelization to your crab legs enhancing the flavor.
  • Grilling Crab Legs – King crab legs and snow crab legs are delicious off the grill. Grilling will add a tasty smoky flavor to your crab legs and if you choose to grill them in foil packets you’ll have an easy clean up ahead of you. If you decide to grill your crab legs without foil packets, brush your crab with a bit of olive oil or butter to prevent them from sticking to the grill.
  • Crab Legs In the Instant Pot – Preparing your crab legs in an instant pot is a great time saver and keeps your crab meat tender and juicy. The crab legs can be bent at the joints for a better fit into your instant pot, but be  mindful not to overcrowd them. Ideally this works better with thawed legs as they fold easily. Then cook on manual high pressure for 2 minutes. When the time is up, perform a quick pressure release.

Best Tips for Serving Your Crab Legs

No crab leg dinner is complete without a side of warm, flavorful, dipping butter. A great way to serve your snow crab or king crab legs is with a side dish of clarified butter and a few lemon wedges. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice into your clarified butter or over the top of the crab meat (once you remove it from the shell) then dip it into your butter and enjoy.

There you have it: you now know the difference between king crab and snow crab. Just think of the crab feast you can prepare to impress family and friends. But maybe you’re not excited by the DIY nature of cracking crab legs….no worries! At Skull Creek Boathouse we have it all: the view, the food, the drinks, the atmosphere and the best Alaskan King Crab and Snow Crab legs on Hilton Head Island.