Maryland Crab Cakes with Quick Tartar Sauce

Tested & Perfected Recipes Cookbook Recipe

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.

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.

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!

crab cakes

Photo by Alexandra Grablewski (Chronicle Books, 2018)

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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
  • 2-1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise, best quality such as Hellmann's or Duke's
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup finely diced celery, from one stalk
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 pound lump crab meat (see note below)
  • 1/2 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
  • 1-1/2 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

  • I made these for dinner last night using freshly picked Maine crab. Love to cook and love to eat in restaurants . I’m fairly critical of my efforts and restaurant cuisine.
    These were possibly the best crab cakes I have ever eaten!! The recipe allows the crab to shine and adds just enough flavor and texture. Made the tartar but added capers.

    • — Dale Hahn on August 29, 2021
    • Reply
  • I made these for dinner and they were awesome. I didn’t have panko on hand, so I used corn flake crumbs and they worked just as well and added a little more flavor to them.

    • — ADELE VAVERCHAK on August 27, 2021
    • Reply
  • How well do you think these would freeze? I’d mix them up, form them and place them on parchment paper to freeze individually. When lump crab is $50 a pound at the grocer I’m hesitant to experiment too much.
    Thanks!

    • — D Duellman on August 14, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi D, I generally am not crazy about the way crab freezes, but a number of readers have mentioned that they have frozen them successfully (after cooking them), so you could definitely give it a try. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on August 16, 2021
      • Reply
  • wow….so good…..I would use a little less fresh lemon juice in the tartar and more sweet relish

    • — COBY on August 3, 2021
    • Reply
  • How long does the tartar sauce last?😬

    • — Kitty on August 1, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Kitty, I’d guesstimate 3 to 4 days.

      • — Jenn on August 2, 2021
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    • I live on the Eastern Shore, catch,cook and pick my own crabs. I love this recipe! I particularly like the addition of celery for that interesting crunch. I do find that adding a tablespoon of flour helps to keep them together while cooking. I don’t like sauces because I think it hides the delicate flavor of the crab but I do serve them with lemon wedges.

      When I cook them my wife says, “It’s the best meal in town!” 5 stars!

      • — Jay Holt on October 16, 2021
      • Reply
  • I had been bragging for years about two different restaurants’ crab cake. Sadly, they have both changed the recipe and were not as good as I remembered. I decided for the price of one, I would invest in my own crabmeat and try my own. OMG, my husband gave me three “really” goods and said I’d outdone myself. I was very, very pleased and never will I ever buy a restaurant crab cake again. Thank you a lot.

    • — Cynthia Brown on July 23, 2021
    • Reply
  • Hi Jen!
    Love your recipes and pre ordered your new cookbook. Quick question.. can I substitute saltine crackers instead of panko breadcrumbs?Thank you!
    Justine

    • — Justine on July 21, 2021
    • Reply
    • So glad you like the recipes and thanks for your support of the cookbook! Yes, it would be fine to use Saltines here. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on July 21, 2021
      • Reply
  • I used half imitation and half snow crab. It was great! Affordable and tasty. Don’t forget the frig to set it up.
    I have used many recipes from once upon a chef and they are all yummy, simple to follow. Unlike food network that has a lot of crap recipes (except for Barefoot). I guess my fav is tequila chicken. Big hit with company along with the Tex mex salad!

    • — Diane baum on July 20, 2021
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    I’ve made these crab cakes many times and love them! I want to serve them to company on Friday night. Do you think it would work to form them Thursday night and cook them Friday or should I do it all in one day? Can they be sautéed a few hours earlier and then reheated in the oven right before serving or is that a bad idea?
    Thank you!

    • — Helene Winschel on July 14, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Helene, You can go either way here. If you want to sautee them ahead and reheat, I’d reheat them in a 350°F oven for about 7 – 8 min or until heated through. Hope everyone enjoys!

      • — Jenn on July 14, 2021
      • Reply
  • I made this twice already. Scarfed! We are kosher so I swapped out the crab with whiting that I chopped up in small pieces. Followed the rest of the recipe exactly. Easy to make with ingredients I usually have in my fridge/pantry. This is a keeper! Make it with any mild fish if you don’t do shellfish. Thank you for this delicious recipe. Do not skip the fridge step. My family says five stars!!!

    • — Raizel on July 11, 2021
    • Reply
  • It was easy and I really like the tartar sauce.

    • — Jeff R on July 6, 2021
    • Reply
  • Why did you recommend Phillips crab meat? Although Phillips is from Maryland the crab meat that they sell is from Indonesia and is not blue crab meat. The texture is very different and I personally do not like it.

    • — JOSEPH YOUNG on June 26, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Joseph, that’s just the brand that my store happens to carry (and is a backup option if you can’t find fresh lump crab meat). Feel free to use whatever brand appeals to you. Hope you enjoy the crab cakes if you make them!

      • — Jenn on June 28, 2021
      • Reply
  • Made these twice and they are delicious! I think the trick is to refrigerate them first then try not to disturb them in the hot oil and flip once. Second time I made them they didn’t have lump crab at the store and I used claw meat. I just chopped it a little and the recipe came out great. The tartar sauce is heavenly! I think I could put that on anything and it would taste great. Thank you so much for this recipe. My family was quite impressed : )

    • — Sylvia on June 25, 2021
    • Reply
  • I made it today for Father’s day and my husband said this is the best crab cake he’s ever had. I had the claw crab meat in the fridge so I used that instead.

    • — Elizabeth G. on June 20, 2021
    • Reply
  • I made these as crab balls for a party two years ago and they were amazing. Now I’m being asked to bring them again. The problem – the party is three hours away and I’m going up the day before. Can I combine everything the day before, transport in a cooler with ice and make the balls the day of? Or is there a better way to do this (other than make them on site)?

    • — Bonnie on June 19, 2021
    • Reply
    • Sure, Bonnie, I wouldn’t let the mixture sit any longer than that, but that should work. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on June 21, 2021
      • Reply
  • Horrible. Cakes came apart in the pan.

    • — Rick on June 6, 2021
    • Reply
    • Did you put them in the fridge for an hour to let them set first before frying? That’s the ticket!!!

      • — Dianne F Gross on June 16, 2021
      • Reply
  • These were terrific! Easy, Tasty, moist and flavourful.. I’m thinking to make them ahead of time and freeze them for later use. Yum! 💕😋

    • — Priti Lad on June 6, 2021
    • Reply
  • My first hand at crab cakes & this recipe was absolutely amazing. They are so moist on the inside. I liked the fact that the recipe didn’t call for a lot of panko. Most restaurants serve them with very little crab meat and way too much bread crumbs. I will make this recipe again for sure, thank you.

    • — Tricia Corbin on May 10, 2021
    • Reply
  • Could the same recipe yield 12, small appetizer sized crab cakes, or should I double the recipe?

    thanks!

    • — DMC on May 4, 2021
    • Reply
    • I think you can keep the recipe the same for 12 small crab cakes. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on May 4, 2021
      • Reply
      • Hi! I’m excited to make these for my mom in a couple days! Are they ok to be made a day in advance and then cook before serving?
        Thanks!

        • — Jessica on June 8, 2021
        • Reply
        • Sure, but I wouldn’t wait any longer than that to cook them. Hope you enjoy!

          • — Jenn on June 9, 2021
          • Reply
    • i did that for dinner last night and they were wonderful

      • — paula weil on June 19, 2021
      • Reply
  • The BEST crab cakes! I will never buy them. Already made again. The tartar sauce is also a must to complete the meal.

    • — Lulu on April 25, 2021
    • Reply
  • Loved all your recipes so far! Could I make these in a cast iron skillet? Or is a regular skillet better?

    • — Kate on April 18, 2021
    • Reply
    • Glad you’re enjoying the recipes! Sure, a cast iron skillet should be fine here. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on April 19, 2021
      • Reply
  • Can I make these in the oven instead of a frying pan, or my air fryer? I don’t use non stick pans.

    • — cheryl Johnson on April 16, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Cheryl, I don’t have any experience with an air fryer. And 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 April 16, 2021
      • Reply
    • I put them in the Ninja air fryer and they are just delicious.

      • — Kaiann on May 30, 2021
      • Reply
  • Where is the Bluebay spice available?

    • — Irene on March 18, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Irene, Old Bay seasoning is available at most major grocery stores in the US. If you live outside of the US or shop at a smaller store, you can make your own. Here is a recipe if you’d like to give it a try. 🙂

      • — Jenn on March 19, 2021
      • Reply
  • Made them tonight and they were delicious!

    • — D.Tomkins on March 16, 2021
    • Reply
  • Loved this recipe. I did put the crab cakes in the oven, followed by broiling to brown.
    No oil, less calories. Great taste!

    • — Deborah Stubbe on March 9, 2021
    • Reply
  • Just made this but made some changes. I didn’t have dijon. Used store-bought remoulade sauce. Added lemon juice 2 tablespoons..added crushed red peppers. Corn. Gave it an awesome little kick. Served with remoulade sauce.

    • — Kim g. on March 1, 2021
    • Reply
  • We loved both the crab cakes and the tartar sauce! Will definitely be making these again!

    • — Judi Green on February 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Just ok. Lacked flavor. Will not make this again.

    • — Janina Lyons on February 22, 2021
    • Reply
  • We love the crab cakes at Loeb’s Boathouse in Central Park and this recipe is very close when omitting the celery. A waiter there actually gave me their recipe and said they strive to serve the purest form of crab cakes while keeping them shaped. I use a form, which he recommended, for a perfectly round presentation and the entire pound of crab makes 6 cakes. Thanks again, Jenn for another great recipe.

    • — Patticakes from Darien on February 21, 2021
    • Reply
  • What is a suitable substitution for Old Bay. My husband is not a fan.

    • — Cynthia (Cyndi) Barrett on February 19, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Cynthia, there’s really no perfect substitute for Old Bay. You could use Cajun seasoning instead. The crab cakes willl still be good; they’ll just have a slightly different flavor. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on February 23, 2021
      • Reply
  • These are AMAZING! They are so very close to my favorite crab cakes from a local restaurant.
    Follow the recipe and you will not be disappointed.

    • — Noelle on February 18, 2021
    • Reply
  • My family loves when I make these crab cakes although I don’t eat them they are so easy to make.
    The tartar sauce is easy to make as well and is very good.

    • — Laureen Pollard on February 13, 2021
    • Reply
  • Wonderful recipe! We give it 10 stars!

    • — Nancy on February 7, 2021
    • Reply
  • These were unbelievable… they were so delicious. Key to it is to make sure your oil is the right temperature so they brown nicely but don’t burn. I had to add a little more panko so they would hold together, more like 3/4 cup instead of 1/2 cup, and I didn’t have fresh parsley so I left it out, but they were still so good. I’ll share this recipe with many friends and family members! Thanks for sharing!

    • — Jen on February 7, 2021
    • Reply
    • I agree with adding more bread crumbs, the right temperature and also making sure you definitely refrigerate them for at least an hour or more before cooking. Perfect recipe

      • — Laureen Pollard on February 13, 2021
      • Reply
  • Could I use gluten free breadcrumbs?

    • — Christyne on February 6, 2021
    • Reply
    • Sure – enjoy!

      • — Jenn on February 7, 2021
      • Reply
  • These crab cakes taste AND look great. The first time I made them for our family we felt like we were eating a dinner from a high end restaurant. I’ve come back to them again and again and am never disappointed.

    • — Lisa Sletmoe on February 2, 2021
    • Reply
  • I continue to come back to this recipe for the best balanced crab cakes ever. The crab meat is the star and all the other ingredients just make the crab better without stealing the show! Frying them up in my cast iron pan makes them absolutely delicious. I have tried broiling them in the oven, but they just aren’t as tasty as they are when fried.

    • — Mike on February 1, 2021
    • Reply
  • These are the best crab cakes to make. I enjoyed making and didn’t find them to be dry like with other recipes.

    • — Natasha Murphy on January 30, 2021
    • Reply
  • I’ve made this twice now exactly as written, and both times, it was perfect. The crab is not overpowered by other flavors, and the veggies are fresh and crisp. We prefer this without the tartar sauce because the flavors are so wonderfully delicate.

    • — Shelley on January 30, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is the best crab cake recipe ever. I’ve served this often and it’s delicious. Served on a bed of arugula with a light French vinaigrette and Jenn’s tartar sauce. Delicious. I made a mistake of doubling up on the Old Bay (I’m from New Orleans and thought this would work) but don’t do that. The lovely flavor of the jumbo lump crabmeat (ours comes from the Gulf) is lost. Make this today and yes…it is adequate for a meal (two per serving).

    • — Sue on January 29, 2021
    • Reply
  • These are the best crab cakes I’ve ever had! Truly restaurant quality. I knew they’d be good when I saw the picture. I made them for friends who are very picky and they loved them!

    • — Mindy Einhorn on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Absolutely the best crab cakes recipe! I have made these at least five times, and they never disappoint! Excellent!

    • — Christine Allen on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is hands down the best crab cake recipe I ever tried, and the homemade tartar sauce is the perfect accompaniment. The panko breadcrumbs are the key to a good crunch. For the holidays, I make miniature versions of these as appetizers. We served these to some visiting friends from Maryland and they claim that these were better than any they’ve had back home! I’ve never been disappointed in any of Jenn’s recipes.

    • — Lynn J. on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • My husband loves crab cakes and for our annual New Years appetizer night, I made these crab cakes. Amazing! They are so easy to make and so good! Only change I made was to bake them. Even our picky eater liked them and that’s saying something. Try these, you won’t be disappointed!

    • — Jen on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Easy and delicious! A definite “keeper”!

    • — Kathy on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Hi Jen. I don’t know if you remember me but I’m the die hard loyal gourmet cook who used “The New York Times Cookbook,” by Craig Claiborne for over 30 years before I found you and your amazing recipes online. Just like my favorite cookbook your recipes never fail. That’s the sign to me of a great recipe or cookbook. That being said, your recipe for Maryland Style Crab Cakes were not only easy to make but delicious 😋! Crab🦀 Cakes are one of my husband’s favorite foods, and both of us agree that your recipe is hands down the best we have ever had. Tom is from a country town in Maine and I moved to Maine from New Jersey/New York 18 years ago. Tom grew up with fresh farm food and local seafood and I frequented many restaurants in New York City. He knows “fresh” and I gourmet. What a match! I always cook with my All-Clad pots and pans but I wouldn’t mind owning a Le Creuset Dutch oven that you are giving away. I’m going to try and review all the recipes I’ve used of yours to hopefully win the Dutch oven. Stay safe and well, Love, Beth 😊💕

    • — Beth Sorenson on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
    • ❤️

      • — Jenn on January 28, 2021
      • Reply
  • This was one of the first recipes I tried from your emails. I made them for a poolside cocktail party. They were bite size & I served them with the quick Tarter sauce.
    They were a huge hit, My future son in law who hates seafood loves them. I have given this recipe as well as your email address out so many times. PS I love your book.

    • — Lorie Kershaw on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
    • Would the cooking time be the same if I make 6 large crab cakes vs the smaller size (12 mini)? Thanks!

      • — Debbie Krakower on February 7, 2021
      • Reply
      • Hi Debbie, the recipe is for 6 crab cakes, so I’d just stick with the timing in the recipe. Hope you enjoy!

        • — Jenn on February 8, 2021
        • Reply
  • These crab cakes are amazing and tartar sauce are amazing even for the pickiest and crab cake snobs. (We have some in my family).

    • — Dana on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is such a great upgrade from using just Old Bay and Mayo. It gives it more flavor and crunch. I usually freeze some and pull them out for a quick and delicious lunch.

    • — Cheryl Sheppard on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • I always wanted to make crab cakes and was excited to try this recipe! It delivered! Delicious and so much more crab than what you get in a restaurant crab cake!

    • — Annie on January 28, 2021
    • Reply

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