Should You Fry Crab Cakes In Butter Or Oil?

The answer to whether you should fry crab cakes in butter or oil may be simple and straightforward, or it could come with caveats. That's because it depends on what you mean by frying: Are you planning on deep-frying your crab cakes? Or do you mean to pan-fry (or sauté) them instead?

If the goal is to deep-fry your crab cakes, then the answer is easy. You'll probably want to use a mild vegetable oil. Perhaps most importantly, butter's low smoke point makes it incompatible with the high-heat required for this technique. Another reason is simple — the price. While ghee, a type of clarified butter that contains no water or milk solids and is essentially just pure butterfat, is ideal for deep frying, the amount required for deep frying would make it financially impractical as vegetable oil is significantly cheaper than butter or ghee.

Now, if you're talking about sautéing or pan-frying your crab cakes, the answer is a bit more nuanced. And that's because it is more a matter of taste, so there really isn't a definitive answer. There are plenty of options, however, and which you go with is totally up to you.

When should you fry crab cakes in oil?

Aside from the price, one of the main reasons to fry your crab cakes in a vegetable oil like canola oil is that it has a neutral flavor that won't change the taste of the cakes. This will allow the flavor of the crabmeat (plus any spices and veggies) to really shine through without extra or unwanted notes from the oil.

Of course, not all oils are neutral. Some, like extra virgin olive oil and unrefined coconut oil, have very strong flavors. Frying or sautéing your crab cakes in these oils will contribute their unique savor to the dish, which may or may not be a bad thing depending on your palate. Some chefs and home cooks do recommend using olive oil (even the extra virgin kind). Additionally, unrefined coconut oil can be fun to use if you are trying out an alternative crab cake recipe that also contains coconut or other complementary ingredients. However, you will want to be careful not to overheat any of these oils to the point where they smoke.

When should you fry crab cakes in butter?

As with coconut and olive oil frying, it's important to keep butter from getting so hot that it will burn. Butter will also change the taste of your crab cakes, but it might be just what you're looking for. Cooking crab cakes this way will naturally add a creamy, buttery flavor that will tickle many people's fancy. The dairy product is a classic accompaniment for steamed crab and crab rolls, after all. Chef Leon C. Brunson, owner of Leon's at Lake Ella in Tallahassee, Florida, uses a small amount of butter to sauté his crab cakes. (He recommends using just a tablespoon per pound of crabmeat.)

Of course, a blend of oil and butter will also work well for pan-frying. Many people use a half-and-half mix to fry a variety of foods. This method will give your crab cakes some buttery flavor without potentially becoming overwhelming. Ultimately, it is your decision how you choose to fry your crab cakes, as both oil and butter will work equally well depending on your taste and cooking preferences.