Maryland crab cake recipe made with saltines, no bread crumbs or excess filler, jumbo lump blue crab crab meat and Old Bay seasoning. Simple yet authentic recipe. Pan-fried in butter.
★ Why You'll Love this Recipe ★
These crabs cakes are made with just a few saltine crackers as a binder. No mushy bread crumbs.
These are pan-fried so you get a nice crisp.
With this recipe, you'll enjoy big bites of real jumbo lump crab meat and lots of flavor including the quintessential Maryland spice mix, Old Bay.
These crab cakes are simple to prepare at home yet taste just like what you'd order at a Maryland restaurant.
I was born and raised in Annapolis, Maryland. Grew up swimming and boating in the Chesapeake Bay. Ate plenty of crab cakes. Lucky, I know.
This is how my family makes crab cakes. With just a few saltines instead of breadcrumbs. I recognize that some families make crab cakes differently. However, in my opinion, this is the best recipe for authentic Maryland crab cakes! I think you'll love how these turn out.
Made with Jumbo Lump Crab Meat
We catch or buy our own crabs, cook them and pick the meat to use. Or we purchase jumbo lump fresh crab meat from the grocery store when crabs are in season.
Not everyone has this luxury so I have tips below for sourcing crab meat for people who aren't able to easily access Maryland crabs.
I also explain why we use a small amount saltines instead of loading our crab cakes with breadcrumbs.
★ What is a Maryland Crab Cake? ★
A true Maryland crab cake is made with very little filler.
If you're not from Maryland and have ordered a "Maryland Crab Cake" off of the menu somewhere else, it may have been full of breadcrumbs instead of being mostly crab meat. This isn't how it's actually done in Maryland.
Real Maryland crab cakes don't taste like filler because instead of using bread as a binder the crab cakes are made almost completely out of crab meat.
Our family uses saltine cracker instead of bread crumbs to act as a binder. We use just enough to hold the crab together to form a cake.
★ Ingredients You'll Need ★
For this crab cake recipe, you'll need just a handful of ingredients. A delicious crab cake is surprisingly simple to make at home!
Here's everything you'll need:
- Jumbo lump Maryland crab meat. Fresh, jumbo lump crab meat is what makes or break a great crab cake. See tips below for sourcing the best crab meat.
- Egg yolks. Just the yolks is all you need. This acts as a binder and also add a bit of fat which enhances the flavor of your crab cake making it taste buttery and rich.
- Saltine crackers. These combine with the egg yolks and works to bind the crab meat and other ingredients together to form a patty.
- Mayonnaise. This also acts as a binder and adds a rich creaminess to your crab patties.
- Worcestershire sauce. This dash of flavor balances out the natural seafood taste of the crab meat nicely.
- Ground mustard. This further compliments the crab meat.
- Salt. You can use table salt or sea salt for additional flavor.
- Old Bay seasoning. This classic Maryland blend of spices is the finishing touch to all things crab.
- Lemon zest. A bit of a lemon rind adds a pop of flavor that brightens the crab meat perfectly.
- Butter. For frying. Real butter is best for a crispy outside layer. You could use oil in place of butter.
★ How to Make this Recipe ★
You can get the full recipe below but here are the basic steps:
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl.
- Form patties.
- Fry crab cakes on each side in a buttered skillet.
- Serve with a bun or with a side veggie.
★ FAQs and Tips ★
Why are saltine crackers better than bread crumbs?
You cannot make a crab cake that holds together without some sort of binder. So if you want to make a crab cake without breadcrumbs, saltine crackers are a great alternative.
The difference is, bread crumbs are typically made with bread flour which has more protein and more gluten. This gives bread it's chewy texture but that same chewy texture is not really desirable when you're talking about putting it into a crab cake. Crackers, on the other hand, are typically made with all purpose flour which produces a less chewy, more crisp taste in this case.
How to Make Crab Cakes Stick Together.
As I mentioned, you need a binder so that the crab meat sticks together to form a patty. You don't need much of a binder just enough to hold the patty together. The crab should be the hero. The crackers are only doing a job and should not necessarily be tasted.
Many restaurants outside of Maryland make crab cakes with a lot of bread crumbs or other fillers because it's cheaper than filling them with actual crab meat. You really only need a small amount of starch in order to form a lovely crab cake.
Is it better to pan fry or bake crab cakes?
Pan frying is better. You will get a nice crispy outside and you'll preserve more moisture vs baking. Pan frying sears the outside of your patty, locking in moisture.
Baking does not offer the same searing effect so the heat tends to draw out moisture leaving you with a dry patty.
When making crab cakes, remember you are starting with crab meat that is already cooked. So you don't want to double cook the meat. You want to cook your crab cakes just enough to form the patty and heat it through so you can enjoy it hot.
Can you leave out the saltines all together?
Since crab does not naturally bind with itself like other more fatty meats, you need to have some amount of starch plus an egg. This is what keeps crab cake from falling apart.
I have experimented and attempted to leave out the saltines all together but the crab cake just falls apart without any starch at all. So this recipe includes the minimum a amount of filler you need to bind the patties together.
A Gluten-free Option
If you are looking for a recipe without bread crumbs because you're seeking a gluten-free option, you could try gluten-free substitutes like gluten-free saltines.
If you've tried this, please leave a comment below for other readers who are curious. I do not have a gluten intolerance so I have not tried this recipe with gluten-free crackers.
Just for fun, here are some ways to spot a fake "Maryland" crab cake.
If you're at a restaurant and you're just not sure if you should opt for the crab cakes or not, here are some ways to help you decide.
It's most likely not a real Maryland crab cake if:
- It's called a "Maryland Crab cake." Ha! Trickery. It's like if it's trying to hard to be the real deal, it's probably not the real deal.
- It tastes more like breadcrumbs than anything else. - Sadly, this only happens after you order.
- You can't see big, lump pieces of white crab meat.
- There's an orange skin on your crab (Oh no! That's imitation crab meat).
- It's priced less than $9.99. Real lump crab meat is $$$.
If you didn't know. Now you know.
What's the best type of crab to use for a crab cake?
The most delicious crab cakes are made with jumbo lump crab meat from freshly picked crabs. Hands down.
You can buy a bushel of crabs, steam them, invite your friends and family over and feast! Pick the leftover crabs for that yummy fresh meat and make yourself a crab cake!
Do this after your friends leave or they will want you to make them one too. ? Or if you have enough, you could be nice and share. 😉
If you don't want to go to the trouble of cooking your own crabs but you have access to a seafood market that sells Maryland crabs, chances are, you can purchase cooked lump crab meat from then in a small container. This is also an excellent option. It'll be expensive but obviously a big time saver.
Can I use canned crab meat?
If crabs aren't in season or you don't live anywhere remotely close to a place that sells crabs or fresh seafood, fret not. You still have options. You can opt for canned crab meat.
I no longer live in Maryland sadly. We are up in Pennsylvania now and fresh crabs aren't available on the side of the highway like they are in Maryland. So, I actually use canned crab meat. It's OK. It's better than imitation crab for sure, but it's no comparison to freshly hand-picked Maryland blue crabs. It also tends to have small pieces of shells.
Also, not all canned crab meat is create equal.
The best canned crab meat is available in the seafood section of your grocery store. It costs about $20 per can and will be refrigerated and labeled "lump crab meat." If you're lucky, you can sometimes find it on sale for half the price. Whenever I see it on sale, I grab up a few cans to make crab cakes and one of my favorite appetizers, this crab dip.
You do not need to rinse canned crab meat before using it.
Fresh crab meat is still your best bet.
With canned crab meat, you may not get big, flaky chunks of white crab meat like you would if you buy or pick your crabs fresh. Also, the meat will have lost some of it's flavor after being packed into the can and sitting for awhile and, as I mentioned, I think it must be machine picked because I always notice a few shells.
If you're a stickler for the best quality but don't have access to fresh seafood, then another option is to order fresh crab meat online. Just make sure when you order, that you're getting real crab meat from a place located in Maryland. It's not going to be cheap.
So, since real crab cakes are made up of mostly crab meat...
The quality of your crab will affect it's flavor.
Now that you know the difference between fresh crab meat, canned crab meat and imitation crab meat, you can make an educated choice and what type to use for this recipe.
Also, now that you know Maryland crab cakes are made without bread crumbs and just a small amount of saltines, you can see why starting with the best crab you can get is very important because that's where all the flavor comes from.
I hope this helps you make the best tasting crab cakes!
What do you serve with crab cakes?
A lemon wedge is a must! Lemon and seafood go hand in hand and when it comes to crabs, this is no exception.
You truly don't need a bun for crab cakes. They are amazing by themselves! You can add a bun though, if you'd like a heartier, more filling meal.
I love the combination of fresh corn and crabs. Fresh scraped corn, or corn on the cob, with a little butter and old bay is just perfect! If you want to step it up, you can make a corn medley like what you see in the photos. Use corn, pimentos or red bell peppers, red onions, and Old bay. Saute everything together in a pan until onions are soft and translucent.
Spinach also goes really well with crab cakes. A spinach strawberry salad makes a great side dish, or try fried spinach if you want to get fancy!
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Maryland Crab Cakes - Pan-fried
- 16 oz fresh jumbo lump Maryland crab meat
- ¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 egg yolks
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon ground mustard
- 4 saltine crackers crumbled
- 4 tablespoon mayonnaise
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 tablespoon butter