Maryland Crab Cakes

4.63 from 8 votes
2 hours 45 minutes
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This Maryland-Style Crab Cakes recipe is a recipe handed down several generations so they’re the REAL DEAL!  Crispy on the outside and moist and flaky on the inside, they’re also freezer-friendly and easy to reheat!

Born and raised in Baltimore and this recipe is spot on!

Maryland-Style Crab Cakes on blue-rimmed platter garnished with chopped fresh parsley, parsley sprigs and lemon wedges.

Why This Recipe is a Keeper!

As a personal chef for 21 years, I’ve tried numerous crab cake recipes.  In that period of time, none has been requested more than these–my dear friend Bea Smith’s Maryland-style crab cakes.  These are the real deal!

This Maryland-Style Crab Cake recipe was handed down to Bea from her mother, who settled in the Baltimore area after emigrating from Europe. Bea’s mother learned to make crab cakes from the locals and Bea herself lived in the Baltimore area for much of her 96 years, so this recipe has deep authentic roots. The tradition of this Maryland crab cake recipe continues with her daughter, who also grew up in the Baltimore area.

I added a little Old Bay Seasoning and lemon juice just to take it up a notch.

Fish and seafood cakes freeze and reheat very well, and don’t require thawing before reheating so if you want to double the batch for a quick meal, you’re good to go!

This Maryland crab cake recipe is:

  • Authentic!
  • Easy!
  • Delicious!
  • Make ahead.
  • Freezer-friendly!
  • A great appetizer that’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. You can prepare them ahead of time in any size and brown them just before serving or gently reheat them.

Let’s make ’em!

Stack of three Maryland-Style Crab Cakes on white plate garnished with parsley and lemon wedges.

How to Make Crab Cakes:

Recipe Ingredients:

Here’s everything you’ll need to make this crab cake recipe along with how to prep the ingredients. See the recipe card below for the exact quantities.

Ingredients for Maryland-Style Crab Cakes in glass bowls.

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions:

  • Lump Crabmeat: Although the crabmeat is in the lower bottom corner of the above photo, it’s really the most important ingredient. Use jumbo or lump Maryland blue crab if possible. Although all the crab sold worldwide is wild-caught, use Maryland blue crab to keep the crab cakes authentic. If you can’t find it, stick with crab from U. S. waters at the very least.  Avoid imported crab. In some parts of the world, crab is caught in ways that are illegal, not environmentally friendly or use unfair labor practices.
  • Onion: Some crab cake purists will tell you no onions! But, because this is a three-generation recipe, I’m keeping the onion in. I also like the added texture.
  • Saltine Crackers: If salt-sensitive, you can use Saltines with unsalted tops. If using regular Saltines, remember they’ll add salt to your crab cakes so keep that in mind when adding additional salt.
  • Dry Mustard: Dry mustard is made from ground mustard seeds, is pure mustard and is available in the spice aisle in most grocery stores. “Wet” mustard, on the other hand, such as yellow “ballpark” or Dijon mustard has other ingredients.
  • Old Bay Seasoning: Old Bay is a classic seafood seasoning that’s a unique blend of spices including (but not limited to): Celery seed, paprika, mustard, salt, red pepper, and black pepper.
  • Mayonnaise: We love Duke’s! Use your favorite brand.
  • Panko: Panko is also referred to as Japanese bread crumbs and is found in the baking aisle or near the seafood department. The texture is very coarse. If you can’t find or don’t want to use it, you can use some additional crushed Saltine crackers (which is what Bea used).

Step-By-Step Instructions:

  • Gather and prep all the ingredients.
  • Heat butter in a skillet or sauté pan over medium heat.
  • Add onion, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until soft and lightly golden (do not brown).
  • Transfer to a large bowl to cool.
Cooked onions in nonstick skillet.
  • Crush the Saltine crackers. Place them in a zipper-top bag then gently crush them with a rolling pin by rolling over them. You can also do this in a food processor.
  • Stir in crushed crackers, Old Bay seasoning, dry mustard, Worcestershire, lemon juice, mayonnaise, egg, parsley, salt and black pepper and mix well.
  • Fold in crabmeat.
Blue spatula stirring all the ingredients for crab cakes in glass bowl.
  • Form into 12 even cakes.
  • Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour or in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Crab cakes being portioned out on aluminum foil-lined rimmed baking sheet.
  • Coat cakes with panko or cracker crumbs on both sides.
12 crab cakes on aluminum-foil lined rimmed baking sheet with panko sprinkled over the top.
  • Heat canola oil in a skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat.
  • Working in batches, brown cakes for 2 to 3 minutes per side or until nicely browned, adjusting heat as necessary to prevent over-browning or burning.
  • Drain on a wire rack. Don’t use paper towels as the crab cakes can get soggy. Repeat with remaining cakes. Sprinkle with fresh parsley.
12 cooked crab cakes on cooling rack set over rimmed baking sheet.
  • Bea doesn’t serve these crab cakes with a sauce, and my clients don’t request a sauce either, but you may enjoy a remoulade, tartar sauce or something as simple as a squeeze of lemon.

How to Cook Maryland Crab Cakes in the Oven:

If you prefer to bake the crab cakes in the oven rather than fry them, it’s easy!

  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Place on the baking sheet and spray with a small amount of cooking spray.
  • Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked through.
Maryland-Style Crab Cakes on blue-trimmed platter garnished with parsley, parsley sprigs and lemon wedges.

Chef Tips and Tricks:

  • A piece of advice Bea gave me about making a Maryland crab cakes recipe is you never want to add extra herbs, funky spices or other ingredients like bell pepper that will detract from the sweet flavor of the crab — crab cakes are all about the crab.  She used only Maryland blue crab, but that’s not always easy to find in many areas.  At the very least, try to use crab caught in U. S. waters.
  • You want the onions soft without browning them so they’re not crunchy in the crab cakes. Adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of water while softening the onions will help. Cook until all the water has evaporated.
  • For uniform cakes, I like to mold them in a 1/3 cup measuring cup.  I fill it about two-thirds of the way, invert it onto a baking sheet, then gently tap the measuring cup on the baking sheet until the formed cake comes loose.
  • A good chill in the refrigerator for an hour or freezer for 30 minutes will help them set up so they hold together better when browning.
  • You always want to ensure your oil is hot before adding the crab cakes. When the oil is shimmering and looks ready, add a pinch of panko or crushed cracker crumbs to the hot oil before adding the first crab cake. When it browns, you can start adding the crab cakes.
  • To easily remember which crab cake went in first (which means it’s the first one you should turn), place the first one near the handle of the skillet or sauté pan, then work in a clockwise motion with the rest of the cakes.  If you have room to cook one in the center, it would be the last one you place in the pan and subsequently, the last one you turn.
  • Place the browned crab cakes on a cooling rack that you’ve set over a baking sheet.  You don’t want to place them on paper towels because they will get soggy.
Maryland-Style Crab Cakes on platter with parsley and lemon wedges.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What makes a Maryland crab cake different?

Different variations of crab cakes can be found across the nation. However, a Maryland-style crab cake is considered a signature dish of that state. Typically, only Maryland blue crab is used, Old Bay seasoning is added (another product of the state of Maryland) and it has very little filler and basic ingredients so that the sweet flavor of the crab shines.

Can Maryland crab cakes be baked instead of fried?

Yes, absolutely! Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place on the baking sheet and spray with a small amount of cooking spray. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until lightly browned.

What can I substitute for crab if I’m allergic to shellfish?

If you can’t eat shellfish, substitute a mild white flaky white fish such as tilapia. Although salmon has a more assertive flavor, the texture of salmon lends itself well to fish cakes and the spices in these Maryland crab cakes work with salmon. You could also use imitation crab, which is made from surimi, a paste made from minced and washed mild white fish. The main ingredient is usually Alaskan pollock or another type of white fish.

What are the different types of crabmeat?


Jumbo Lump: Jumbo lump crab is easily recognizable because the name describes it perfectly. Jumbo lump crabmeat comes from the crab’s swimmer fin muscles and because crabs only have two, there’s not much to be had from an average crab. It’s a creamy white color and is the most expensive grade. You may also see it labeled “colossal.”

Lump:  Lump crab meat is also creamy white, but has smaller flakes than jumbo lump. It comes from the body of a crab, works well for crab cakes and is less expensive than jumbo.

Backfin:  Backfin crab meat, also known as “special” crab meat, is also off-white and comes from the body of a crab. It’s very flaky and also works for crab crakes.

Claw:  Claw meat is dark in color with a strong flavor. It’s the least expensive and can be used for crab cakes, but you won’t have the lovely creamy color.

Four Maryland-Style Crab Cakes on white plate with lemon wedges and fork in the background.

Storage:

  • Store leftover crab cakes in the refrigerator and eat them within three days.
  • Or, place them in the freezer in an airtight container and freeze them for up to two months.
  • Reheat in a 350-degree oven or toaster oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until heated through.

Serve with:

More fish and seafood cakes you’ll love:

More great crab recipes you’ll love!

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Maryland-Style Crab Cakes on blue-rimmed platter garnished with chopped fresh parsley, parsley sprigs and lemon wedges.

Maryland Crab Cakes

4.63 from 8 votes

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By: Carol | From A Chef’s Kitchen
This Maryland-Style Crab Cakes recipe is a recipe handed down several generations so they're the REAL DEAL!  Crispy on the outside and moist and flaky on the inside, they're also freezer-friendly and easy to reheat!
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Additional Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 45 minutes
Course Fish and Seafood
Cuisine American
Servings 12 cakes
Calories 330 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small onion - finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 16 Saltine crackers - crushed, plus more for coating crab cakes (or panko)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce - or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice - (approximately 1/2 small lemon)
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 large egg - beaten
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley - plus more for sprinkling over finished crab cakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper - to taste
  • 1 pound jumbo or lump crabmeat - picked over for shells
  • 1/2 cup panko - for coating or additional crushed Saltine crackers
  • Canola oil - for frying

Instructions
 

  • Heat butter in a skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion, reduce heat to medium-low and cook 8-10 minutes or until soft and lightly golden (do not brown). Transfer to a large bowl to cool.
  • Stir in crushed crackers, Old Bay seasoning, dry mustard, Worcestershire, lemon juice, mayonnaise, egg, parsley, salt and black pepper and mix well. Fold in crabmeat.
  • Form into 12 even cakes. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour or in the freezer for 30 minutes.
  • Coat cakes with panko or cracker crumbs on both sides.
  • Heat canola oil in a skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat.
  • Working in batches, brown cakes 2-3 minutes per side or until nicely browned, adjusting heat as necessary to prevent over-browning or burning.
  • Drain on a wire rack. Repeat with remaining cakes. Sprinkle with fresh parsley.

Notes

MAKE AHEAD:  Can be formed and refrigerated for up to 24 hours before frying.
FREEZER-FRIENDLY:  Cool thoroughly and place in an airtight container with parchment paper between each layer.
TO REHEAT:  No need to thaw.  Reheat in a 350-degree oven for 15-18 minutes or until heated through.
TO BAKE:  Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place on the baking sheet and spray with a small amount of cooking spray. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until lightly browned.  You can skip the panko if desired.

Nutrition

Serving: 2cakes | Calories: 330kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 34mg | Sodium: 450mg | Potassium: 109mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 41IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 28mg | Iron: 1mg

These are estimated values generated from a nutritional database using unbranded products. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.

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Recipe Rating




7 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Born and raised in Baltimore and this recipe is spot on. Crab cakes and crab soup, nothing better. lol

    1. Hi, Marsha, Thanks so much for your question. These absolutely can be made a day ahead, refrigerated and then browned later. In fact, if you want to brown them ahead of time, that will also work then reheat in a 350 degree oven. I make these for clients all the time and that’s what I do for them. Thanks again and hope you enjoy!

    1. Hi, Kelly, Thanks so much for your question. I would do a tartar sauce, horseradish sauce or remoulade. I believe tartar sauce is traditional. Thanks again and hope you enjoy!

  2. GrEATINGS Carol,

    Don’t know why it took me so long to sign up. I am also a member of APPCA and spoke with you on the phone about three months ago. I also love cookbooks and have a collection from years past. I thought I had a sickness, but now I know I am normal. It is and was always a part of my destiny.

    I will be preparing the Maryland-Style crab cakes next week.

    Love your site,

    Claire