Is Lump Crab Meat The Best To Use For Crab Cakes?

Crab cakes are a quintessential food which can act as an appetizer or an entree; a taste or bright salinity that shines in the summertime; and a perfect vehicle for plump, subtly sweet, fresh crab. Sometimes paired with a remoulade or tartar sauce, the crab cake is strong enough to stand on its own. Often simply crab mixed with bread crumbs or crushed crackers, eggs, fresh herbs, spices and seasonings, sometimes vegetables, and a binder like mayonnaise, a crab cake is a pure spotlight on the nuances and flavor profiles of fresh crab. While the specifics of the crab itself changes, it's often assumed that most (if not all) crab cakes are made from lump crab meat, picked through to ensure there's no errant shell remaining. 

But, perhaps, crab cakes can (and should) contain more than just lump crab, which can help to diversify the flavor and texture of the cake itself.

First off, what exactly characterizes crab meat as "lump" crab meat? Phillips Foods defines it as a valuable piece of crab meat known for its size, bright color, and taste. It consists of two muscles that connect to a crab's swimming fins, giving it its large size. Full pieces of crab meat are celebrated for their rich flavor and mouthfeel, and often aren't broken down. They serve the dish best when they're left in their original form without flaking or crumbling.

Do I need to use lump crab for crab cakes?

Once Upon a Chef references using expensive, fresh lump crab meat, but if you can't afford or find that, you can opt to instead use refrigerated crab meat (and avoid shelf-stable canned crab meat). As Costas Inn notes, crabs only have two muscles that make up lump crab meat, which is why the price tag can be so high.

However, you can always use backfin or even claw meat instead, which tends to have a stronger flavor, but could be a bit tougher and not as tender as lump crab meat (per America's Test Kitchen). Furthermore, Food Republic notes that crab meat can quickly spoil, so do not let a can or tub of fresh crab meat linger in the fridge before using it in crab cakes, bisque, or other dishes.

Just like wine and terroir, the location in which the crab lives has an effect on its flavor, which is then present in the crab cake itself, according to Richard Gorelick of The Baltimore Sun. Gorelick references Maryland crab cakes falling out of favor in place of crab meat coming from the Gulf of Mexico, South America, and Asia due to financial concerns. Regardless of where your crab is from or what type of crab meat is used, you can take a crack at your own crab cakes with our recipe and see the results for yourself.