These easy crab cakes are ready in half an hour! With a quick mustard aioli. Includes how-to photos and plenty of tips!
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On our running list of recipes that people often think are fancy and complicated (but are actually very easy), crab cakes might be at the top.
And we can see why they scare people! Seafood in general can be intimidating to cook at home, and no one wants to risk messing up when $30 worth of crab is on the line.
Fortunately, crab cakes are actually pretty forgiving. The best ones are simple: just a few binding agents, some seasoning, and plenty of lump crab.
What kind of crab should I use?
Many stores sell generic "lump crab" without a prominent or specific species label: this works just fine! Blue crab (east coast) and Dungeness crab (west coast) are also great choices. (Don't forget to check Seafood Watch for up-to-date recommendations on sustainable seafood!)
When you're shopping, look for fresh, typically pasteurized crab in a container in the refrigerated seafood section (ask at the seafood counter if you need help finding it!) Avoid shelf-stable (non-refrigerated) canned crab and imitation crab if possible.
One quick note: Fresh crab sometimes comes in metal cans instead of plastic tubs, which can be confusing - but don't worry! Fresh crab should always be labeled "fresh" and should be refrigerated (not in the shelf stable section with the other typical canned goods like beans or tuna)
You'll likely see three main types of fresh crab meat: jumbo lump, lump, and claw meat. We recommend you use lump crab for crab cake recipes.
Jumbo lump - NO
Jumbo lump crab is the most expensive grade and has the sweetest, most delicate flavor (it's picked from the muscles that connect a crab's swimming legs or fins - there are only two of these pieces per crab!) Don't use jumbo lump crab for cakes: save it for a special occasion or use it as a topping for a great soup, salad, or pasta so it can shine on its own!
Lump crab - YES
Lump crab is our preferred grade for this recipe. It's a mix of large and small body pieces of crab, which gives our cakes a nice balance. The smallest pieces get worked in with our binding agents to form a relatively smooth texture that holds its shape, but the larger pieces remain whole to give you sweet, delicate all-crab bites throughout each cake.
Crab labeled backfin is a mix of smaller body pieces and is also a good choice for crab cakes, but we tend to see it less frequently than lump crab.
Claw pieces - NO
Meat from the claws of a crab is very, well, crabby. This meat is darker, less sweet, and has a very strong crab flavor. Great for soups and bisques, but we prefer using the sweeter, more delicate lump crab for cakes!
One note: If you're picking your own crab meat, don't worry about sorting through it for specific pieces! Just use what you have!
3 tips to make great crab cakes:
1. Make sure ingredients are well-mixed.
Rogue pockets of dry or wet ingredients can make it harder to shape the crab patties and result in a less-than-delicious texture. For best results, make sure to thoroughly mix your crab cakes until everything is incorporated.
If you want to preserve as many large chunks of crab as possible, mix everything but the crab together first and then fold the crab meat in at the very end. (Honestly, we often skip that step because #lazy)
2. Don't skip the binding agents (and dial them up if you need to).
The egg and mayonnaise (or Greek yogurt) in this recipe work with the bread crumbs to act as a binding agent - basically, the fats and the bread crumbs here form the "glue" that holds our crab cakes together.
In our testing, the texture and moisture content varied quite a bit across different brands of fresh crab meat: depending on your unique ingredients and how dry your crab meat is, you may need a bit more of this "glue" to form your crab cakes. If your crab cakes crumble when you try to form them, mix in another 1-2 Tablespoons of mayonnaise, let the mixture rest for a minute, and try to form your cakes again.
3. Let the crab cake mixture rest and chill a bit so they're easier to shape and fry.
One of the most common complaints we hear about crab cakes is that they're hard to form and fall apart when frying. Mixing well and using enough fat (our binding agents, or "glue") helps with this, but so does a quick, cold rest period!
Let your crab cake mixture sit for a few minutes in the fridge to give the wet ingredients a chance to really soak into the dry stuff: this makes shaping a bit easier. Once your crab cakes are mixed, pop the bowl in the fridge (uncovered is fine) for 10-15 minutes to let everything settle before you form your cakes. You could also form your cakes right away, lay them on a sheet pan or plate, and then take a second pass to re-form each crab cake and pat it more securely into shape.
For an even easier frying process, chill your formed crab cakes, uncovered, in the fridge for 30 minutes or so before you pan-fry them. (You could also pop them in the freezer for 10-15 minutes!) This is a helpful step if you're new to making crab cakes, although we find that with practice and a great nonstick skillet it isn't as necessary.
What sauce or aioli to serve with crab cakes
There are a ton of options for crab cake sauce - and honestly? They're all good. So just pick your favorite and roll with it!
In the recipe below, we're giving you a two-minute mustard aioli to keep things streamlined and simple. (Though technically, this is just a "cheater" aioli because we're using pre-made mayo: aioli purists would tell us to make our own emulsion of garlic + olive oil. But again, we say: #LAZY).
Some of our other favorite sauces and aiolis for crab cakes:
- Roasted Red Pepper aioli (roast, peel, and de-seed a red pepper, then blend it up with a scoop of mayonnaise and a splash of lemon juice)
- Tartar Sauce
- Lemon wedges (no sauce - just keep it simple!)
- Spicy Aioli (we love this chipotle aioli!)
Some quick crab cake FAQs
How do you stretch crab cakes?
If you want to stretch your crab a little further (to save a bit of cash, to serve more people, or to cut down on the crab taste), just double the non-crab (or "filler") ingredients in this recipe!
Can I make these into mini crab cakes?
You bet! Form these patties into any size you like - just keep an eye on them as you fry them because you may need to adjust the cooking time. When we worked in catering, we used a cookie scoop to portion out our mini crab cakes (and our larger crab cakes, too!) so they're all the same size.
Can I bake instead of fry?
Yes! We love pan-frying our crab cakes because it gives us a golden, crispy crust. You won't get quite the same crust on them if they're baked, but they're still great (and it's much easier to make them for a crowd if you bake them!)
To bake your crab cakes, heat an empty sheet pan in the oven at 400 degrees F for about 15 minutes (this is the best way to mimic the crispy crust you get from frying!) Carefully remove the sheet pan, mist it with canola oil or cooking spray, and lay crab cakes in an even layer. Mist the tops of the crab cakes with another spritz of canola oil, then bake until lightly browned (about 15-20 minutes depending on their size). If you'd like them a bit crispier, pop them under the broiler for a minute or two after baking to crisp up the top!
We haven't tested these crab cakes in an air fryer, but if you'd like to air fry them take a look at this tutorial for instructions!
Can I make these ahead of time?
Yes! Mix and shape as directed, then place uncooked crab cakes in a single layer in an airtight container and store in the fridge for 2-3 days (if you need to stack them, place a silicone baking mat or sheet of waxed paper between crab cakes to prevent sticking). To cook ahead of time and reheat, fry crab cakes as instructed, let cool completely, and store in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days.
You can freeze uncooked crab cakes for up to 3 months. Form them as directed and freeze for an hour or two on a sheet pan lined with a silpat or waxed paper, then transfer to an airtight container (we love our half-gallon Stasher Bag!) When you're ready to cook, remove crab cakes from freezer, defrost overnight in the fridge, and cook as directed.
We don't recommend pan-frying crab cakes straight from frozen (they won't form that golden, crispy crust as easily if they have to defrost as they cook).
We don't recommend freezing already-cooked crab cakes - you can do it in a pinch, but they can dry out and the texture can change a bit.
How do I reheat leftover crab cakes?
To reheat leftovers, heat a bit of clarified butter or canola oil in a skillet and pan-fry cakes until warmed through! You can also bake leftover crab cakes to reheat them - bake on a sheet pan at 350 degrees F for 10-15 minutes until heated through.
Eat leftover crab cakes with leftover aioli or use them in our easy crab cake eggs benedict.
Riffs and Substitutions
There are hundreds of ways to customize a crab cake! Below are some of our favorite additions and substitutes.
- Add diced red or green bell pepper, diced celery, red onion, or fresh chopped herbs (parsley, chives, dill, cilantro) in place of or in addition to the green onions
- Press both sides of the cake into bread crumbs just before cooking for an even crispier coating
- Use any brand of seafood seasoning if you don't have Old Bay (or make your own!)
- Use dijon or stone-ground mustard in place of the mustard powder.
- Double the non-crab ingredients to stretch the recipe.
- Use panko or regular breadcrumbs, or blitz some saltine crackers a few times in a food processor to make your own!
Quick and easy homemade crab cakes with a five minute mustard aioli.
FOR THE CRAB CAKES:
- 1 pound lump crab meat, drained and double-checked for shells
- ¼ cup chopped green onion
- ⅔ cup bread crumbs
- 1 egg
- ⅓ cup mayonnaise or plain Greek yogurt
- 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon dry (ground) mustard
- 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning (or a similar seafood seasoning)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3-4 Tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or canola oil
FOR THE MUSTARD AIOLI:
- ½ cup mayonnaise or plain Greek yogurt
- ¼ cup stone-ground or dijon mustard
- 3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 3 teaspoons lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon hot sauce
- salt and pepper to taste
MAKE & FORM THE CRAB CAKES:
- In a large bowl, combine lump crab meat, green onion, bread crumbs, egg, Greek yogurt, Worcestershire, dry mustard, Old Bay, salt, and pepper. Use your hands to gently fold the mixture together until well incorporated.
- Shape crab mixture into patties. Place patties on a large plate or baking sheet until you're ready to fry.
If you're making the crab cakes in advance, store formed patties between layers of wax paper in an airtight container and keep in the fridge for 1-2 days before frying.
MIX THE AIOLI:
- In a small bowl, combine Greek yogurt, mustard, Worcestershire, lemon juice, hot sauce, salt, and pepper. Whisk to combine and set aside until you're ready to serve.
If you're making the aioli ahead of time, transfer it to an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to 5 days.
FRY THE CRAB CAKES & SERVE:
- Heat 1 Tablespoon of ghee in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When ghee is hot, gently place crab cake patties into skillet (you will need to work in batches here - don't overcrowd the skillet!)
- Cook crab cake patties for 3-4 minutes per side until browned and cooked through. Add additional ghee to skillet as necessary.
- Serve immediately with mustard aioli or your favorite sauce.
Additions and substitutions. Swap the green onion for diced bell pepper, celery, red onion, or fresh herbs, or omit it entirely. Use dijon or stone-ground mustard in place of the mustard powder. To stretch the recipe, double the non-crab ingredients. Use panko or regular breadcrumbs, or use crushed saltines instead. We prefer using ghee to fry our crab cakes because it has a high smoke point (the solids in non-clarified butter cam burn when frying) and great flavor, but you can also use a neutral oil like canola for frying.
Sauces and Aiolis. We chose a quick mustard aioli here to keep things simple, but serve these crab cakes with any sauce or aioli you like! We like tartar sauce, roasted red pepper aioli, lemon wedges, and chipotle aioli.
To bake these crab cakes, heat a sheet pan in a 400 degree F oven for 15 minutes to get it nice and hot. Spray with canola oil, then lay crab cakes in a single layer, spray the tops with oil, and bake 15-20 minutes (depending on size) until cooked through. Pop them under the broiler for a minute or two to crisp the tops further if you like!
You can make crab cakes ahead of time. Store uncooked crab cakes in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Store cooked crab cakes in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days. (See the post above for more options and instructions!) Make the aioli up to 3 days in advance and store in an airtight container in the fridge until you're ready to serve.
To reheat leftover crab cakes, pan-fry in a bit of ghee in a large skillet until warm or bake at 350 degrees F until heated through, about 10-15 minutes. Use leftover crab cakes with our easy crab cake eggs benedict!
To prevent the crab mixture from sticking to your hands while you shape your crab cakes, run your hands under a bit of cold water periodically while shaping.
For best results, please read through the full post above! We cover the differences between types of crab (and why we prefer lump crab), our best tips for great crab cakes, alternatives to frying, mini crab cakes, the best sauces, and more!
Keywords: crabcake, seafood, summer