These Maryland crab cakes get the stamp of approval from locals and out-of-towners alike. This classic lump crab cake recipe combines the flavors of lemon, parsley, and Old Bay seasoning, but the most flavor comes from the crab meat itself. For the best texture, use lump crab meat, very little filler, and bake the cakes in a very hot oven.
I’ve lived in Maryland for half my life and say with 100% honesty that crab cakes are as essential as the air this state breathes. My husband was born and raised here and has crab-feasting down to a science. Crab isn’t just food, it’s a way of life here. I’ve served these particular crab cakes to locals and out-of-towners alike, all of whom rave about the recipe. (My crab dip, too!) I’m really proud of it and am so excited to share these Maryland crab cakes with you!
Overview: How to Make Maryland Crab Cakes
Crab cakes make a wonderful main dish or even as a sandwich on a toasted bun. If shaped smaller, mini crab cakes are an awesome finger food. With this recipe, you can be confident that you ALWAYS have a quick dinner recipe in your back pocket, as well as an impressive crowd-pleasing appetizer. They make great leftovers, too.
The full written recipe is below, but here’s an overview.
- Whisk the flavors and binders together.
- Add the crab meat & filler.
- Very gently mix together: Fold the ingredients together slowly and carefully. If over-mixed, the lump crab meat will break apart.
- Refrigerate for 30 minutes: This is a key step in the recipe. Make sure the crab cake mixture is cold before you shape it into individual cakes. There is little filler in this recipe, so the cakes will fall apart if the mixture is not refrigerated before cooking.
- Grease baking pan & preheat oven. The oven gets pretty hot, so I don’t recommend using parchment paper. Grease the pan or use a silicone baking mat.
- Portion into cakes: Use a 1/2 cup measuring cup to scoop and portion out the mixture. Form into individual cakes. Place on the greased baking sheet.
- Bake: Bake the cakes on very high heat for about 12–14 minutes.
Baking vs. Sautéing: Some cook crab cakes on the stove, but I prefer the baking method. When cooked on the stove, crab cakes are often flattened into patties so the center cooks. For thick jumbo-style crab cakes, I recommend baking them in the oven at a high temperature. They cook very quickly and remain extra plump.
Types of Crab Meat
- Jumbo Lump: Jumbo lump crab meat is off-white and comes from the crab’s swimmer fin muscles. Crabs only have 2 of these muscles, so you need a lot of crabs to make a serving of jumbo lump crab meat. This is why it’s the most expensive type. It’s very sturdy and is wonderful served alone or as a topping for dishes or salads.
- Lump: Lump crab meat is also off-white, but a bit smaller than jumbo lump. It’s still very sturdy and flavorful. It comes from the body of a crab and is ideal for chunky crab cakes.
- Backfin: Backfin crab meat, also known as flake crab meat, is off-white too. It also comes from the body of a crab. The term “backfin” can also include the broken pieces of lump crab meat. It’s flakier than big lumps of crab meat.
- Claw: Claw meat is darker than the other types of crab meat. It’s not as sweet, but it has a stronger flavor. Claw meat is the least expensive and is ideal for soups, dips, and stews.
Best Crab Meat for Crab Cakes
The Chesapeake Bay is home to Maryland’s famous blue crabs. Opinions vary on what the best-tasting crab variety is, and it’s usually determined by where you live. Maryland crabs are known for their delicately sweet, buttery flavor, and Dungeness crabs, found on the West Coast, are known for their impressive size and meatier texture. If you aren’t steaming your own crabs for crab meat, let me help you navigate which crab meat is best for crab cakes.
Whichever crab variety you use, make sure you purchase crab meat labeled “hand-picked” or “fresh-picked,” which means that the crab meat has been picked through for shells and cartilage. (Still, it’s good practice to gently run your hands through the meat for any hard cartilage remnants.)
Crab meat sold out of the shell has been cooked and can be consumed. It’s very rare to find raw crab meat sold out of the shell—it’s almost always cooked before it’s picked out of the shell. At the market, you can find canned, frozen, or fresh (refrigerated) crab meat. Unrefrigerated canned crab meat doesn’t have an ideal flavor for crab cakes. If you need to use canned, look for canned crab meat in the refrigerated section of your market. The fresher the crab meat, the better the crab cake will taste. Ask your grocer where to find the freshest crab meat in the store. I purchase fresh crab meat sold in a 1-pound tub from the seafood counter in my grocery store. Sometimes the tubs are behind the glass or found on ice next to the seafood counter.
For the absolute best crab cake (and crab dip!), I recommend using lump crab meat or a mix of lump crab meat and backfin meat. Lump crab meat guarantees those big, mouthwatering bites of crab. Don’t worry, all the other ingredients are pretty inexpensive.
Ingredients in Maryland Crab Cakes
Let’s walk through each ingredient so you understand its importance. While there are a few flavorful and binding ingredients, the real star of this crab cake is the crab itself. These flavors and binders simply enhance the true taste of crab.
- Egg: Egg is the main binding ingredient in crab cakes.
- Mayonnaise: Mayonnaise is another binding ingredient. I don’t like mayonnaise and I LOVE these crab cakes, so if you aren’t a mayo person, don’t worry. You can’t taste it.
- Fresh Parsley: Fresh herbs are a MUST in crab cakes. Sometimes recipes or restaurants use dill, but fresh parsley is most common. If needed, you can use dried parsley.
- Dijon Mustard: Dijon mustard is another must-have ingredient in crab cakes. I don’t recommend any other type of mustard—just dijon.
- Worcestershire Sauce: Just a small amount provides big flavor, just as it does in chicken meatballs, black bean burgers, and beer cheese dip.
- Old Bay Seasoning: What is Maryland crab without locally made Old Bay seasoning???
- Lemon Juice & Salt: Fresh, balancing flavors.
- Crab Meat: The leading role in the whole recipe.
- Cracker Crumbs: Drumroll please… the filler in this crab cake recipe is cracker crumbs. There is so much debate on what the best filler is and, trust me, some of the best crab cakes are made with CRACKERS! See more below.
Since we’re baking the crab cakes and not sautéing them in butter or oil, brush the cakes with a little melted butter prior to baking. This tiny addition gives them that unmistakeable restaurant flavor. When they come out of the oven, squeeze a little lemon juice on top!
Crab Cake Filler
While we have binding ingredients like mayonnaise and egg, crab cakes need a filler so they remain intact when cooked. And this is where people are very opinionated: what is the best filler? I’ve tested many and have even asked popular restaurants to spill the beans—most are very secretive about the crab cake ingredients they use! My #1 crab cake filler choice is cracker crumbs—specifically, saltine cracker crumbs. Bread crumbs are flavorless and too crunchy. Go for the saltines! To make the crumbs, you can place the crackers in a zipped-top bag and crush the heck out of them with a rolling pin, or you can use a little ninja, a big food processor, or even a blender.
What to Serve With Crab Cakes
Keep it simple and serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon. These Maryland crab cakes are so juicy and flavorful that they don’t need tartar sauce or cocktail sauce, but both are popular finishing touches. (I love a touch of cocktail sauce with mine.) If you’re making crab cakes for a big family meal or on your menu of Memorial Day recipes, here’s what I recommend serving with your crab cake dinner:
- Cornbread and/or corn on the cob
- Caesar salad
- Baked potatoes or roasted potatoes
- Zucchini casserole
- Steamed vegetables
- Dinner rolls
For the best texture, use lump crab meat, little filler, and bake the cakes in a very hot oven. Serve with lemon wedges, a garnish of chopped parsley, and/or cocktail sauce or tartar sauce. For more success tips and to learn which crab meat to use, see blog post above.
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup (60g) mayonnaise
- 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (or 2 teaspoons dried)
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning (up to 1 and 1/2 teaspoons for a spicier kick)
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, plus more for serving
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 pound (454g) fresh lump crab meat*
- 2/3 cup (41g) saltine cracker crumbs (about 14 crackers)
- optional: 2 Tablespoons (30g) melted salted or unsalted butter
- Whisk the egg, mayonnaise, parsley, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Old Bay, lemon juice, and salt together in a large bowl. Place the crab meat on top, followed by the cracker crumbs. With a rubber spatula or large spoon, very gently and carefully fold together. You don’t want to break up that crab meat.
- Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 day.
- Preheat oven to 450°F (232°C). Generously grease a rimmed baking sheet with butter or nonstick spray, or line with a silicone baking mat.
- Using a 1/2 cup measuring cup, portion the crab cake mixture into 6 mounds on the baking sheet. (Don’t flatten!) Use your hands or a spoon to compact each individual mound so there aren’t any lumps sticking out or falling apart. For extra flavor, brush each top with melted butter. This is optional but recommended!
- Bake for 12–14 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges and on top. Drizzle each with fresh lemon juice and serve warm.
- Cover leftover crab cakes tightly and refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.
- Freezing Instructions: You can freeze the portioned unbaked crab cakes for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator, brush with melted butter, then bake as directed. You can also freeze the baked and cooled crab cakes for up to 3 months. Thaw, then warm up in a 350°F (177°C) oven for 10–15 minutes or until warmed throughout. Or bake the frozen crab cakes at 350°F (177°C) for about 25–30 minutes.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): Glass Mixing Bowls | Whisk | Rubber Spatula | Baking Sheet | Silicone Baking Mat | Pastry Brush
- Which Crab Meat to Use: For any questions regarding which crab meat to use, see Best Crab Meat for Crab Cakes in the blog post above. I highly recommend fresh (refrigerated) lump crab meat.
- Smaller Sizes: For smaller crab cakes, divide the mixture into 12 1/4-cup portions. For mini crab cakes, divide into 24 2-Tablespoon-size portions. Bake at the same oven temperature. The bake time is shorter for these smaller sizes. The crab cakes are done when the tops and edges are lightly browned.
Keywords: seafood, Maryland, crabs