Close your eyes. Imagine your family and friends gathered around your backyard, playing games, visiting, waiting. The delicious smells drift to where you are standing. You smell spice, potatoes, sausage, shrimp, and crab! It’s time for the family crab boil. It is your first year hosting, and you have no idea how much crab to fish for or purchase. Bushel, half-bushel, dozen, jimmy, sook, sally, all these crab words, and no understanding, you begin to panic. But Stop! Don’t! We are here to help! After reading this, you will be able to answer all your questions and be the best crab boil host.
The most common crabs fished or bought for a crab boil are blue crabs. Blue crabs are in abundance down the Atlantic Coast. Found as far north as Canada and as far south as Mexico, blue crabs come in various sizes and sold in bushels. Harvesting blue crabs is a popular sport along the Atlantic coast and can be done by setting trotlines and crap traps. Each region and each state limit recreational crabbing.
Learn more: How to Keep Blue Crabs Alive
What’s a Bushel?
A bushel is often a term of measurement. In crabbing, whether purchasing or fishing, a bushel is equivalent to eight gallons or 36 liters. A bushel is also a container. For crabbing, it is a wooden basket with a lid. A half-bushel is just that, half of the basket or 4 gallons, 18 liters. Often, bushels differ from state to state, so when fishing for crab, it is best practice to purchase a bushel from a tackle shop to ensure you are using the right size. Be sure to check local regulations. A dozen is equal to twelve, even in the crabbing world, so a dozen crabs are twelve crabs. Now that you know what a bushel is, let’s look at crab sizing to see how many fit in a bushel.
There is no universal sizing method for crabs; however, there is a general guide for sizing crabs. Measuring crabs occur across their shell. The distance across their shell is called the carapace. When measuring blue crabs, the sizes go up by half an inch, so small blue crabs are four to five inches. Medium size blue crabs are 5-5 ½ inches. Large blue crabs are 5 ½ – 6 inches. Jumbo blue crabs are 6-6 ½ inches. Finally, colossal blue crabs are larger than 6 ½ inches.
Crabs in a Bushel
Several factors feed into the number of crabs that go into a bushel. First, the amount of crabs that can go into a bushel depends on the size and species of crab. Another factor is the size of a bushel, which varies state to state, so the number in a bushel will also vary. Other factors include the sex of the crabs. When it comes to blue crabs, anywhere from 48-108 crabs can fit in a bushel. 96-108 small crabs can fit in a bushel, which is 8-9 dozen. 84-96 medium blue crabs, which is 7-8 dozen, can fit in a bushel. A bushel of large blue crabs will have 72-84 crabs, which is 6-7 dozen.
When it comes to jumbo crabs, a bushel will contain 60-72 crabs, which is 5-6 dozen. Colossal blue crabs are the largest; therefore, the bushel will include fewer crabs. There are 48-60 colossal blue crabs in a bushel, which is less than five dozen. Dungeness crabs and Red Rock crabs are much more giant than blue crabs so that fewer crabs can fit in a bushel. There will roughly be five dozen in a bushel. The number of crabs in a bushel is dependent on the size of crabs, sex of crabs, and species of crabs.
Crabbing is a favorite hobby for many anglers. It is also a relatively easy hobby with great rewards. Crabs are easily caught in traps and on trotlines. A bushel of crabs can be found in just a few hours. When going crabbing, be sure to have a bushel that has a lid. If the crabs are giant, fewer will fit into a bushel. To follow local regulations, be sure that the top matches in place without distorting the basket. This will ensure just a bushel is caught and kept.
Different states have different regulations for crab fishing. For example, Florida allows anglers to harvest 10 gallons of days per harvesters. Females who are bearing eggs must be released. It is suggested that all females are released to help with conservation. Another example is Maryland. Maryland has size restrictions, and only one bushel is allowed per person per day. Two bushels are permitted per boat if there is more than one person crabbing.
Blue crabs can be found in Texas, and there are regulations when crabbing for them. Much like Florida, egg-bearing females must be returned to the water. Females with no ab apron must be returned to the water as well. Texas has no bag or creel limit; however, the crabs must be at least 5 inches wide. Alabama’s regulations are similar to Texas; they have no creel limit and must be 5 inches wide. Alabama does require you to return all females unless you are fishing with a commercial license. Before you go crabbing, be sure to check your current local regulations.
Before we talk about purchasing crab for your crab boil, let’s talk about some names that are used when purchasing crab. The first name is sally. A sally is an immature female. You can tell the female is juvenile by the inverted V or triangular shaped apron and will have red-tipped claws. Sallies should not be available for purchase as they should be returned to the water to help with conversation.
A mature female is a sook. Sooks have an inverted U or bell-shaped apron and red-tipped claws. Females can only procreate once a year, so egg-bearing females need to placed back in the water to live another day. Females usually are sold to commercial meat processors. Mature mails have blue-tipped claws and a long narrow inverted “T” shaped apron.
Adult males are called jimmies. Jimmies are the best to harvest because they are the biggest and can procreate multiple times a year, helping with conservation. They are also larger, heavier, and have more meat.
If you plan on purchasing crabs for your crab boil, you need to know a few pieces of information. First, crabs availability is by the bushel, half-bushel, and dozen. When purchasing crabs, look for heavier crabs—the more massive the crab, the more meat will be on the crab. You can’t just pick a crab according to the size. Crabs often molt their shells. When the crab molts, it loses all of the meat. A thinner crab hasn’t had the chance to get nice and fat and fill up the new shell. The darker the bellies, the thicker the crabs.
Back to your crab boil, you are probably wondering how many crabs you need to purchase for your boil. There is a smooth formula to use to figure out how many crabs you will need. If you multiply the number of people by the number of crabs eaten by each, person you will know the number of crabs you need. If you want to know how many dozen to purchase, take the number of crabs and divide by 12. The next question that might be raised is, how many crabs will each person eat? Mature blue crabs yield ¾ ounce of meat. A healthy serving per person is ½ a pound or 8 oz. This means each person can eat 8-12 crabs/person. A typical bushel of jumbos will feed 6-8 people because it has 60-70 crabs.
Crab Boil Time
Now that you have caught your crabs or purchased them, you are ready to invite the friends over for the crab boil. The easiest way to cook crab is to boil them. Boil the crab in a big pot, about 40-60 quarts is ideal and can do a bushel of crabs in one batch. It should take about 20-30 minutes. Bring the water to a boil, put the crabs in and cover the pot. The water will return to a boil. When the crabs are floating and have turned orange, they are done. If you prefer steamed crabs, follow the same procedures, use a steam basket, and keep the crabs out of the water. If you want to add other ingredients such as shrimp, potatoes, corn, and sausage, you can, but it will change the cooking time. Try adding some Old Bay’s Seasoning!
Now that you know the number of crabs in a bushel is dependent on size, sex, and species, you can plan your crab boil. Knowing the number of people in attendance and estimating how many crabs they will eat will help you understand how many crabs to catch or purchase. Keep in mind local regulations if you go crabbing. Once everything is finished cooking, enjoy and don’t forget the bibs!