With decadent simplicity, this delicious crab cakes recipe puts Pacific NW Dungeness crab on center stage. Perfect as a light main dish or hearty appetizer.
What's the Story Behind this Recipe?
One of the best meals you will ever experience consists simply of a freshly cooked Dungeness crab, a container of equally fresh cocktail sauce, and a box of Ritz crackers – preferably eaten with someone special, while sitting on the sand watching the Pacific tide roll in and out.
The perfect crab cake is not much more than that – a carefully seasoned pile of lump crab meat and a few cracker crumbs, with a kicky little sauce on the side. Our Dungeness crab cakes recipe is simple combination of flavors that puts the Pacific Northwest's favorite crustacean on center stage.
With crab cakes, less is more.
The Best Crab for Crab Cakes
Dungeness crab are found found all along the West Coast from Alaska to California, Dungeness is known in scientific circles as Metacarcinus magister, or the “master crab,” and it is a title well-earned. (Dungeness crab was the favorite of both Julia Child and James Beard.)
Dungeness crab… is sheer, unadulterated crab heaven.The Theory and Practice of Cooking, James Beard
Ironically, this Dungeness crab cake recipe was inspired decades ago by a crab cake dinner in Maryland. Up until then, I’d only eaten “West Coast” crab cakes - which at the time were more cake than crab; so heavy with fillers that the flavor of the crab was nearly lost.
My first Maryland crab cake blew me away: all that clean flavor - and those heavenly chunks of fresh crab! You could still taste the ocean in every bite. Those East Coasters definitely know how to serve up an amazing crab cake.
The only thing that could have possibly made those Maryland crab cakes better was our buttery West Coast native, Dungeness. Once home, I set out to create a simple crab cakes recipe that put our favorite Pacific Northwest crab center stage.
(Fast forward seven or nine test batches later...)
Eureka! I hope you enjoy these delicious little Dungeness crab cakes as much as we do! They are the best little Crabby Patties ever!
What Goes into this Recipe
Ingredient Notes & Substitutions
★ Dungeness crab: Use the freshest crab available. If you live near the Pacific coast, you're in luck! Dungeness crab season generally runs nine month a year; December through August. Fresh crabs are sold cooked and already cleaned at local stores and seafood stands.
If you buy whole crabs and pick them yourself; two 2-pound Dungeness crabs will usually produce just over a pound to a pound and a half of cleaned crab meat.
You can often buy cleaned lump crab meat at your grocery store, as well as in one-pound tubs at Costco.
★ Fresh bread crumbs: Fresh bread crumbs give the crab cake's outer crust a softer, more supple texture that doesn't complete with the lump crab.
Make fresh bread crumbs in your blender or food processor.
Dried bread crumbs may be substituted. In this case, use Panko or plain bread crumbs. Avoid using seasoned bread crumbs.
★ Cracker crumbs: Use butter crackers, like Ritz or Keebler Club Crackers.
★ Lemon juice & zest: Use fresh lemon juice and zest. Fresh lemon juice has a brighter, more delicate flavor, and is ultimately healthier for you, too.
Bottled lemon juice contains preservatives and additives, and has a stronger, more acrid flavor that can negatively affect the outcome of this recipe.
★ Mayonnaise: You can use store-bought or homemade mayo: just make sure it’s full-fat.
Do not use Miracle Whip. We are a Miracle Whip family, so I say this with both understanding and appreciation; MW is not mayonnaise. Do not ever, ever sub it into this or any other non-sandwich-filling recipe calling for mayo.
★ Seafood seasoning: Old Bay is the standard, but if you have a seafood seasoning that you prefer, use it! (Or, you can make your own Old Bay at home.)
★ Mustard: Dijon is usually the mustard of choice for crab cakes; however, we like to experiment sometimes, and have found other mustards that work quit well, including honey mustard and spicy mustards.
★ Hot sauce: We use sriracha or classic Tabasco. Use your favorite hot sauce; just don't go crazy and lose the crab flavor.
★ Egg: Along with the mayonnaise, the egg acts as a binder. You can use egg substitute. You can substitute two egg whites for the whole egg.
How to Make the Best Crab Cakes Ever!
This recipe makes eight 3-inch, main dish size crab cakes, or 14-16 2-inch, appetizer size cakes.
In a medium bowl, beat egg with a fork, and whisk in mayonnaise, lemon juice, lemon zest, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and seafood seasoning. Fold in cracker crumbs and mix thoroughly.
Very gently fold the crab meat into the wet ingredient mixture, taking care to not break up the crab meat too much.
Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
Shape the Patties
Crab cake mix is fragile. The easiest, most reliable way to form the patties without compacting them into crab-pucks is to build them inside a biscuit or cookie cutter.
Use a 3-inch cutter for main dish size crab cakes, or a 2-inch cutter for appetizer size cakes. Amounts are given for 3-inch cutter, with 2-inch in parenthesis.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.
- Place cutter on the parchment where you want the crab cake to be.
- Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of fresh bread crumbs evenly in the bottom of the cutter. (½ tablespoon)
- Add about ⅓-cup of the crab mixture on top of the fresh crumbs, pressing very gently to flatten. (~3 tablespoons)
- Sprinkle another tablespoon of fresh bread crumbs on top and press again gently. (½ tablespoon)
- Carefully lift the cutter up and off, leaving the formed crab cake on the tray.
Once the patties are formed, leave them on the baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
Cook the Patties
We suggest a 2-step approach to cooking crab cakes. First, pan-fry them to get a golden crust on the outside, and then finish them in the oven.
Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
Heat an electric skillet or griddle to 375°F (190°C), or a heavy skillet over medium heat.
Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in 3 tablespoons of neutral oil (i.e., canola, light olive oil) in the skillet.
Using a flat metal spatula, gently transfer the crab cakes into the heated skillet and pan-fry until golden brown; about 2 minutes per side.
Do not crowd the pan! It works best to fry crab cakes in batches.
Carefully transfer the pan-fried crab cakes to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
When all the crab cakes have been fried, place them into the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes.
Sauce plates and arrange crab cakes on top, or serve cakes on a bed of greens with the sauce on the side.
What to Serve with Crab Cakes
We love a kicky little sauce on the side with our crab cakes. A creamy Louie dressing (the kind that comes on a classic crab or shrimp louie salad) is perfect. The spicy, tangy Louie sauce enhances the fresh crab flavor without masking it.
Thousand Island, Classic Russian dressing, or remoulade are variations on the same theme, and all work well on crab cakes, too. Cocktail sauce is another good option.
Serve crab cakes as a light main dish or a hearty appetizer. Sides that pair well with crab cakes include:
- Caribbean Mango Avocado Salad
- Armenian-style Eggplant & Carrot Salad
- Gochujang Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- Cheesy Vegetable Orzo
- Classic Wedge Salad
- California Quinoa Salad
FAQs & Expert Tips
Did you know? The name Dungeness comes from the Dungeness Spit , the longest natural sand spit in the United States. Located on the Strait of Juan de Fuca in northern Washington State, it encloses Dungeness Bay, one of the most fertile habitats of this delicious little crustacean.
Dungeness crab season in Oregon runs December through August. During that time, you can find fresh, whole crabs cooked and ready to go at just about any supermarket seafood counter or specialty seafood market throughout the Pacific Northwest.
PRO TIP: Our family has bought crab at Barnacle Bill's Seafood Market in Lincoln City for generations. Bill's has delicious in-house cocktail sauce, too. For additional information on Oregon crabbing, including more tasty recipes, visit the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.
Formed, uncooked crab cakes can be frozen for up to 1 month.
To freeze, leave the formed crab cakes on the baking tray and put in the freezer until firm; about an hour. Wrap each one individually in plastic wrap, put them all in an air-tight freezer bag or container, and put them back into the freezer. (Prefreezing helps them keep their shape while you wrap them.)
Defrost in the refrigerator before cooking.
More Fresh Seafood Recipes
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Pacific NW Dungeness Crab Cakes
- 1 electric skillet or griddle, or heavy skillet
- 1 Parchment Paper or silicone mat
- 1 3-inch biscuit cutter or 2-inch cutter
- 1 metal spatula
- 1 pound Dungeness crab meat cleaned
- 1 large egg beaten
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- ¼ teaspoon hot sauce
- ¾ teaspoon seafood seasoning [i.e. Old Bay®
- ⅔ cup finely crushed butter crackers e.g., Ritz, Keebler Club
- 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
Oil Mix for Pan-Frying
- 3 tablespoons butter or ghee
- 3 tablespoons oil canola, light olive oil, etc.
Crab Cake Mixture
- In a medium bowl, beat egg with a fork, and whisk in mayonnaise, lemon juice, lemon zest, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and seafood seasoning. Fold in cracker crumbs and mix thoroughly.
- Very gently fold the crab meat into the wet ingredient mixture, taking care to not break up the crab meat too much.
- Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
- Use a 3-inch cutter for main dish size crab cakes, or a 2-inch cutter for appetizer size cakes. Amounts are given for 3-inch cutter, with 2-inch in parenthesis.(A) Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.(B) Place cutter on the parchment where you want the crab cake to be.(C) Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of fresh bread crumbs evenly in the bottom of the cutter. (½ tablespoon)(D) Add about ⅓-cup of the crab mixture on top of the fresh crumbs, pressing very gently to flatten. (~3 tablespoons)(E) Sprinkle another tablespoon of fresh bread crumbs on top and press again gently. (½ tablespoon)(F) Carefully lift the cutter up and off, leaving the formed crab cake on the tray.
- Once the patties are formed, leave them on the baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).Heat an electric skillet or griddle to 375°F (190°C), or a heavy skillet over medium heat.
- Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in 3 tablespoons of neutral oil (i.e., canola, light olive oil) in the skillet.
- Using a flat metal spatula, gently transfer the crab cakes into the heated skillet and pan-fry until golden brown; about 2 minutes per side.Carefully transfer the pan-fried crab cakes to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- When all the crab cakes have been fried, place them into the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes.
- Sauce plates and arrange crab cakes on top, or serve cakes on a bed of greens with the sauce on the side.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. You are solely responsible for ensuring that any nutritional information provided is accurate, complete, and useful.
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Bill Volckening says
Imagine my surprise when I googled "Dungeness crab cake recipe" and landed here! Hello, long-lost fellow PDX blogger. It's been a long time. I got married and haven't been blogging so much. My wife and I love this recipe. We made them a few weeks ago, and now we're making them again. We use the Costco crab meat, and the whole thing's a breeze. Before I tried this recipe, I was afraid of making crab cakes, because...failure! But this recipe is a huge success. Now I want to make them for the whole family. Thank you! -Bill Volckening, Wonkyworld
Renée B. says
Awww, thanks so much, Bill! It's great to hear from you. I'm so glad to read your happy news - sounds like life is treating you well! Thanks for your enthusiastic feedback on the crab cakes recipe, too. It's one of our favorite. (I mean, it's *Dungeness* - how can you go wrong?!)
(BTW - I hopped over to check your Etsy store today. That Boston Commons quilt is fabulous.)
These were great. Love the red pepper sauce as an alternative to cocktail or tartar sauce.
Thanks for checking back, Annie. So glad you liked them! The roasted red pepper sauce is what really makes these crab cakes special, for sure.
Leo Tat says
I like this dish as it's simple and kinda low carb too (the crumbs are small proportion of the dish). My wife does the cooking, but this looks easy enough for me to try.
Erin @ Platings and Pairings says
Such a huge fan of Dungeness... and crab cakes... And that sauce looks amazing! Can't wait to try this recipe. Pinned!
Marlynn | UrbanBlissLife says
Yummmm... I adore crab cakes and can't help but order them if I see them on a menu. Can't wait to try your recipe for the crab cakes - and the red pepper sauce looks like the perfect accompaniment!
Rachel Lloyd says
Crab cakes are one of my favorites! I love making them myself because you can have MORE crab than store bought. These look delish. I'll have to try that red pepper sauce too. YUM!
What a fun story on how you developed this recipe! Beautiful photos too.
Renée ♥ says
Thank, Michele! It was quite a challenge to get those crab cakes looking presentable. They are NOT photogenic at all!