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Maryland Crab Cakes with Quick Tartar Sauce

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A Maryland staple, these crab cakes are made from fresh lump crab meat and just enough filler to bind the crabmeat together.

Crab Cakes

Photo by Alexandra Grablewski (Chronicle Books, 2018)

When you live in Maryland, eating Chesapeake blue crabs and crab cakes is practically a religion—and, in my family, we are all loyal devotees. Every summer, we hit all of our favorite crab shacks, from local joints all the way to the Eastern shore, where you can look out over the bay and put your feet in the sand.

I’d never attempt making steamed blue crabs at home. Live crabs, giant steamers—yikes! But I do often make crab cakes, which are just as delicious and easier to prepare (not to mention eat). The key is using fresh lump crabmeat and just enough filler to bind the crabmeat together. I love them with tartar sauce, but you could also serve them with lemon wedges or cocktail sauce. Don’t forget the peel-and-eat shrimp, hush puppies, and cornbread.

What you’ll need To Make Maryland Crab Cakes

Ingredients

It’s very important to use fresh, good-quality lump crab meat. Look for fresh-off-the-boat crab meat, which is sold in a clear plastic container, usually resting on ice in the seafood department. It’s expensive, but one pound is enough to make six generous crab cakes (or 12 mini ones), which feeds my family of four easily.

If fresh lump crab meat is not available, the second-best option is refrigerated crab meat, such as Phillip’s, which is readily available year-round. Avoid shelf-stable canned crab meat, which contains additives that affect the taste and texture of the meat. (For a less expensive alternative to crab cakes, or when fresh crab meat is not in season, try fresh salmon cakes.)

Note that celery is not traditional in Maryland crab cakes, but I love the little crunch it adds; feel free to leave it out if you’re a purist.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Make the Crab Cakes

To begin, combine the eggs, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire, Old Bay, salt, celery, and parsley in a bowl.
ingredients in bowl

Mix well to combine.

how to make crab cakes

Add the crab meat (be sure to check the meat for any hard and sharp cartilage) and panko.

crab meat and Panko

Gently fold the mixture together until just combined, being careful not to shred the crab meat.

how to make crab cakes

Shape into 6 large crab cakes (about ½ cup each) and place on a baking sheet. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. This is really important to help the crab cakes set.

ready to bake

Preheat a large nonstick pan to medium heat and coat with oil. When the oil is hot, place crab cakes in the pan and cook until golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes.

frying in pan

Flip and cook 3 to 5 minutes more, or until golden.  Be careful as the oil may splatter.

how to make crab cakes

Make the Tartar Sauce

tartar sauce ingredients

Combine the mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, sweet pickle relish, red onion, lemon, salt, and pepper in a small bowl.

how to make crab cakes

Whisk well, then cover and chill until ready to serve.

how to make crab cakes

Enjoy!

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Crab Cakes

Photo by Alexandra Grablewski (Chronicle Books, 2018)

 

Maryland Crab Cakes with Quick Tartar Sauce

A Maryland staple, these crab cakes are made from fresh lump crab meat and just enough filler to bind the crabmeat together.

Servings: Makes 6 large crab cakes
Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Cook Time: 10 Minutes
Total Time: 40 Minutes, plus at least 1 hour to let the crab cakes set

Ingredients

For the Crab Cakes

  • 2 large eggs
  • 2½ tablespoons mayonnaise, best quality such as Hellmann's or Duke's
  • 1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup finely diced celery, from one stalk
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 pound lump crab meat (see note below)
  • ½ cup panko
  • Vegetable or canola oil, for cooking

For the Quick Tartar Sauce

  • 1 cup mayonnaise, best quality such as Hellmann's or Duke's
  • 1½ tablespoons sweet pickle relish
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon minced red onion
  • 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions

For the Crab Cakes

  1. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy clean-up.
  2. Combine the eggs, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire, Old Bay, salt, celery, and parsley in a large bowl and mix well. Add the crab meat (be sure to check the meat for any hard and sharp cartilage) and panko; using a rubber spatula, gently fold the mixture together until just combined, being careful not to shred the crab meat. Shape into 6 cakes (each about ½ cup) and place on the prepared baking sheet. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. This helps them set.
  3. Preheat a large nonstick pan over medium heat and coat with oil. When the oil is hot, place the crab cakes in the pan and cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Be careful as oil may splatter. Serve the crab cakes warm with the tartar sauce.

For the Quick Tartar Sauce

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, relish, mustard, onion, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
  2. Make-Ahead Instructions: The crab cakes can be formed, covered, and refrigerated a day ahead of time before cooking. The tartar sauce can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.
  3. Note: If you can only find jumbo lump crab meat, you may need to break the pieces up a bit. If the clumps are too large, the crab cakes won't hold together well.
  4. Note: The nutritional information does not include the tartar sauce.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Serving size: 2 crab cakes
  • Calories: 299
  • Fat: 14 g
  • Saturated fat: 3 g
  • Carbohydrates: 9 g
  • Sugar: 1 g
  • Fiber: 1 g
  • Protein: 32 g
  • Sodium: 1141 mg
  • Cholesterol: 275 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Comments

  • We love Maryland style crab cakes b/c there is very little filler and these did not disappoint, they are delicious.It is Dungeness Crab season here in Northern Ca. so we use the fresh crab,simply amazing.Looking forward to making them again soon.Thanks Jenn.

    • — lowandslow on January 29, 2023
    • Reply
  • Please Jenn, I have never liked the taste of Old Bay and will avoid in restaurants if they prepare with Old Bay. Would love to try your recipe but I do need suggestions for spices. We have many in our home but not sure what to substitute. Thank you

    • — Greta Roberts on January 24, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Greta, this is a recipe for a homemade version of Old Bay seasoning so you can see the various spices it contains. I’d make a spice mixture using a combination of the spices you like from the recipe. Hope that helps and that you enjoy the crab cakes!

      • — Jenn on January 24, 2023
      • Reply
  • These are delicious, I’ve used this recipe often. How can I make them gluten free?

    • — Maureen on January 21, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Maureen, Glad you like them! To make them gluten-free, you can use gluten-free panko.

      • — Jenn on January 21, 2023
      • Reply
  • These turned out absolutely incredible!!! Loved the simplicity and the seasoning was peefect.

    • — Mary on January 15, 2023
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  • The best crab cakes ever. Thanks for sharing.

    • — JoAnne on January 12, 2023
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  • Awesome recipe. Did batch without Dijon and celery and 1 with. We prefer without those 2 ingredients but just a matter of taste. Either way was great! Thanks for the recipe! Will be doing it again!

    • — Marc on January 8, 2023
    • Reply
  • Got up very early today here in Rhode Island. Made this to bring to my mom & dad and had one for breakfast. Crabcakes are in just about every clam shack here in New England and this was by far the best. I didn’t change anything. Thanks for a great recipe!

    • — Robin on January 8, 2023
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  • If you’re on the fence, this recipe, you won’t regret it! We’ve made these a few times now, not tweaking a thing, and the crab cakes turn out wonderful.

    I was wondering – is it possible to prep the crab cakes and then freeze them? I’d like to make ahead and then vacuum seal some for “in case of emergency” freezer meal crab cakes.

    • — JC on January 8, 2023
    • Reply
    • Glad you like them! I don’t love the way crab freezes, but it is possible. Place them on a baking sheet in the freezer just until firm, about 2 hours. Wrap each cake in plastic wrap and place in a plastic freezer bag. Freeze for up to 1 month. Defrost the crab cakes in the refrigerator overnight before cooking.

      • — Jenn on January 10, 2023
      • Reply
  • Not a crab lover but my husband is. Easy recipe but cake wasn’t staying together so I added more Panko. In refrigerator for about 5 hrs. Heated pan up but one was ok, the other fell apart. Husband said didn’t matter they were delicious. I froze the other 4. Hoping they’ll stay together after freezing them, but if you have a suggestion as to how to keep them together I’d appreciate it.

    • — Regina Lamm on January 7, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Regina, sorry you had a hard time with these falling apart! Often, adding a bit more egg will help bind things together but now that the crab cakes are already formed, unfortunately, there’s nothing you can add to ensure that they’ll stay intact. Did you happen to use jumbo lump crab meat? (Sometimes if the lumps are too large, the crab cakes can fall apart. You don’t want to shred the meat, but smaller lumps work best.

      • — Jenn on January 10, 2023
      • Reply
  • I have made several crab cake recipes and this is the best crab cake recipe. There is very little filler and they taste amazing. You can make 6 large cakes or mini cakes for an appetizer. I wouldn’t change a thing. I also made the tartar sauce and that was delicious. I used one tablespoon of lemon juice.

    • — Marijo on January 5, 2023
    • Reply
  • Can I bake/broil this recipe?

    • — Carol Tempest on December 31, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Carol, I like the crab cakes best pan-fried but you can cook them in the oven. I’d suggest you use a combination of baking and broiling; bake them in a 350-degree oven on a lightly greased baking sheet for about twenty minutes, or until hot (and it’s not necessary to flip them). Then I’d slide them under the broiler for about a minute to get them golden brown on top. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on January 2, 2023
      • Reply
  • Very good recipe, I come from Virginia and ate a lot of Maryland crab cakes, this recipe was close to them but I added bread crumbs instead of panko tried this recipe first then with bread crumbs also cooked my celery in a little butter before adding to crabmeat.

    • — Lucy on December 30, 2022
    • Reply
  • Way to satly

    • — Peggy on December 26, 2022
    • Reply
    • It calls for 1/4 teaspoon of salt, how it possible that they’re too salty?
      I made them and both my husband and I thought they were wonderful.

      • — Lynn Lozer on January 6, 2023
      • Reply
  • This recipe was EASY to follow and provided me a GREAT foundation to incorporate on !

    • — Brandy on December 26, 2022
    • Reply
  • Thank you so much for this delicious recipe! My husband bought the packaged fresh crab at Cotsco (Phillips). I was wary, but using it in this recipe was fantastic! We saved a few crabcakes and they were also delicious the next day. Googling for a crab cake recipe lead me to Once Upon a Chef and I have been enjoying many more recipes since.

    Keep up the beautiful work!

    • — Beth on December 25, 2022
    • Reply
  • You cant call this a Maryland Crab cake if you gonna put TARTAR sauce on it. GEEZ.

    • — Chris Paul on December 8, 2022
    • Reply
  • This recipe is amazing. Thank you so much!

    I have tried so many recipes, even my own. This one is excellent. Remember the rest in the fridge, as this is critical.

    • — Anim8d on December 4, 2022
    • Reply
  • Made these tonight for dinner and they were excellent! Restaurant quality! Even the tartar sauce was delicious! This is the first recipe that I have made from this site (just discovered it while searching for a crab cake recipe). Based on the results, I look forward to trying many other recipes from this site.

    • — Maria on December 3, 2022
    • Reply
  • I’ve made these crab cakes before several times and always delicious! I am I interested this time if possible in the oven. What do you think Jen? And how would you do it? Thanks in advance and thank you for all your great recipes.

    • — Janio on November 30, 2022
    • Reply
    • Glad you like them, Janio! I like them best pan-fried but you can cook them in the oven. I’d suggest a combination of baking and broiling; bake them in a 350-degree oven on a lightly greased baking sheet for about twenty minutes, or until hot (and it’s not necessary to flip them). Then I’d slide them under the broiler for about a minute to get them golden brown on top. I’d love to hear what you think of the baked versus pan-fried versions!

      • — Jenn on November 30, 2022
      • Reply
  • I made these in a hot iron skillet and baked them in a convection over at 400 for 20 min They were delicious crispy on the bottom and fluffy throughout! Did not do the tarter sauce because I prefer Remoulade.

    • — Tamara on November 28, 2022
    • Reply
  • Easy prep and tastes delicious!

    • — Mohammed Safur on November 24, 2022
    • Reply
  • I tried this last night & it turned out good. I’ll definitely make them again but need to modify the recipe for 2 picky eaters & based on what I had in the pantry.

    I used artificial crab meat chunks (Kroger Chunk Style Imitation Crab Meat $4/lb.) & the taste/texture was fine once you mixed in all the other ingredients. There was no real difference between artificial vs. real meat ($20+/lb.), based on crab cakes I’ve had in nicer restaurants. Plus, no shells…lol.

    The Dijon mustard & Worcestershire sauce was the perfect combination of tangy & savory. I didn’t have any Old Bay, so I used cajun seasoning instead. Next time I’ll use 2t. instead of one.

    We never eat celery since it always goes to waste, so I left that out. The salt ratio was fine. If I ever buy celery salt, I’ll use that.

    I used 2T. dried parsley instead of fresh & it added a beautiful pop of green color & made them look restaurant quality.

    I used Panko bread crumbs, but I’ve never been a fan of them in other recipes, so the next time I’ll use regular bread crumbs. They’re just too big & gritty for me. We both have more of a problem with food texture than taste.

    The only real problem I ran into was leaving the crab chunks too big. I chopped them up to try & match the size shown in the photo but the cakes were falling apart while frying. Maybe I used too much oil? I only used barely enough to cover the bottom of a large 13″ skillet, but even after letting them sit in the fridge for an hour, the pieces of meat along the edges kept breaking off & a few of them split into big pieces. Next time, I’ll mince the crab much finer as you would find in a salmon patty.

    I shaped them using 2 different 1/2 c. measuring cups, which made it really easy. One was shorter & wider, the other was taller & deeper. I scooped the mixture into the short wide measuring cup & used the taller, deeper one to pack it down nice & tight. This made for a really pretty presentation. I got 8 uniform crab cakes using this method.

    I formed them & put them all on a plastic cutting board, then covered them with cling wrap & left them in the fridge for an hour to set.

    It took 5 minutes on each side to fry in olive oil over medium heat & they turned out a gorgeous golden brown.

    I didn’t make the tartar sauce, because we don’t eat it anyway, so I have no idea how that tastes.

    This is definitely a 5-star recipe. If you like crab cakes, I would highly recommend giving them a try.

    • — Jen on October 17, 2022
    • Reply
    • I have a great way to store celery!!
      I love celery!!! So when you bring home from store, you cut a slime slice off the stock end. Rinse dry with paper towel wrap it good with foil.. and also, I cut off any brown ends on the tips. You can keep for a month or more!!!

      • — Sue on November 23, 2022
      • Reply
  • Simply superb- followed recipe exactly and they were as expected- delicious!

    • — Dave K. on October 9, 2022
    • Reply
  • I would eliminate the salt as Old Bay has a lot of salt in it!! This ruined our Very Expensive Crab for our Anniversary dinner! I may make my own Old Bay seasoning from now on so I can control the salt!!

    • — Rebecca on October 1, 2022
    • Reply
  • Just made these. Delicious! SO important to chill in the refrigerator before cooking! I chilled for almost 2 hrs. Stayed together perfectly!

    • — Rita on September 26, 2022
    • Reply
  • I used regular bread crumbs and it was very good!! Thanks !!!

    • — Coqui on September 16, 2022
    • Reply
    • Jenn, my family on my mother’s side were watermen in St. Mary’s county Maryland all the way back, according to church records, at least to the 1700’s, maybe even earlier. I remember having meals with my grandmother and great grandmother in the 50’s having stuffed ham, crab cakes/balls, imperial crab, Oysters, snapping turtle, ducks. geese etc. All that said, I enjoyed your crab cake recipe, but it’s absolutely critical if you want a traditional recipe, the meat needs to be in the same proportion as it picked out of the crab. There is no one who uses just the swimmer meat. To get the sweetness you need clawmeat, again proportionate to the whole crab. Lastly, if you were at my grandmother’s table and tarter sauce came anywhere close to that crabcake you’d have a willow branch on your backside. Ask for Heinz 57 at Ruth Chris and see how that works.

      • — John on September 18, 2022
      • Reply
  • This was a great recipe! We got some really nice jumbo lump crabmeat, and it was just enough binder to hold the crab together. Not a tartar sauce fan, so we made a quick sriracha mayo, which went beautifully. Thanks!

    • — Fred Darche on September 4, 2022
    • Reply
    • How did you make the sriracha Mayo? Ingredients?

      • — Ariel on November 14, 2022
      • Reply
  • This was so easy to make and the steps were easy to follow they came out amazing! Definitely following more recipes!

    • — Brianna on August 27, 2022
    • Reply
  • I tried this recipe this past weekend. Absolutely delicious! I will make this again. My husband also gave it 5 stars.

    • — Jacqueline Kovacs on August 15, 2022
    • Reply
  • BEYOND amazing!!! My 11 year old loves to cook and no longer likes most meats, so really experimenting with seafood. She made this herself and the only addition was about a Tbs of green onion. Simply amazing. We didn’t have relish, so diced some pickles and added in pickled red onion bc we had it….that tartar was amazing as well. We served them on toasted brioche rolls with a side of roasted broccoli and fresh veggies. We ALL want her to make it again tomorrow! YUM!!!

    • — Lisa on August 1, 2022
    • Reply
  • Dear Jenn,
    I’ve made these a couple times now and they are absolutely delicious. However, they fall apart in the frying process. I’m following your recipe faithfully! Please advise.

    • — Lorraine Marier on July 31, 2022
    • Reply
    • Glad you like them, but sorry you’re having a problem with them falling apart! Did you use jumbo lump crab meat? Sometimes if the lumps are too large, they can be hard to form into cakes. You don’t want to shred the meat, but smaller lumps work best. Hope that helps.

      • — Jenn on July 31, 2022
      • Reply
  • As per usual with your recipes Jenn, , these were delicious! Simply perfect in flavour and texture! I’m curious if you have a recipe for Coquilles St. Jacques? Wondered if you have made it, what you typically serve with it?
    Thank you for your most delicious guidance!

    • — Anita on July 29, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Anita, So glad you liked the crab cakes! As of now, I don’t have a recipe for Coquilles St. Jacques – I’ll have to add that to my list of recipes to potentially develop. Although I don’t have a recipe for it, because it’s a pretty rich dish, I’d suggest something on the lighter side like roasted asparagus. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on July 29, 2022
      • Reply
  • This is an excellent recipe. Simple ingredients, easy to prepare, and delicious. Made it for our party the other day and everyone loved it. I have made crab cakes in the past but these by far the best!

    • — Lazy cook on July 20, 2022
    • Reply
  • This is an awesome recipe, and I love the tartar sauce! I used Wickle’s Pickle relish, which is both sweet and a little spicy, and really upped the flavor. Got some shrimp spiced at the grocery store, and served with your corn, garlic, basil side dish. Now I need some ideas for the leftover tartar sauce.

    • — PaulainVA on July 18, 2022
    • Reply
    • Glad you liked the crabcakes! The tartar sauce would also be great with fish and chips, fried seafood, seafood sandwiches, or salmon cakes.

      • — Jenn on July 18, 2022
      • Reply
  • Made these crab cakes over the weekend and I am thrilled to report that they were everything that I expected and more!!! This recipe is absolutely perfect! Thank you

    • — FMB on July 18, 2022
    • Reply
  • Can these be made ahead of time and warmed in an oven? I need to take them as an appetizer for a dinner party.

    • — Brenda on July 17, 2022
    • Reply
    • Yes, that will work. I’d reheat them in a 350°F oven for about 7 – 8 min or until heated through. Hope everyone enjoys!

      • — Jenn on July 18, 2022
      • Reply
  • These crab cakes were delicious. I used West coast dungenous crab and this is now my favorite recipe to use. I wonder about cooking them in an air fryer…that would be easier still.

    • — Barbara on July 9, 2022
    • Reply
  • Winner! Making again, today!
    Sadly, no fresh crab here so I used the pasteurized canned stuff. Still good.

    • — Steve on July 9, 2022
    • Reply
  • Easy and delicious!! I added a little paprika to the crab cakes because I like things a little on the spicy side. But this recipe makes customizing very easy! This recipe is a keeper!

    • — Marianne Maye on July 9, 2022
    • Reply
  • These are from heaven. The best ever!

    • — Joni on July 7, 2022
    • Reply
  • What can I sub for the panko for a gluten free recipe? Thank you!

    • — Anita on July 7, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Anita, You can use gluten-free panko here. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on July 8, 2022
      • Reply
  • The Best!!!! Tartar sauce is excellent!

    • — Lorraine on July 7, 2022
    • Reply

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