There are few things more traditional along the shorelines of the Chesapeake Bay than a good, old-fashioned crab pickin’!

A bunch of steamed crabs – orangish-red, covered in Old Bay seasoning, steaming hot on a picnic table covered with old newspaper. Bowls of melted butter and cocktail sauce. Hammers and plyers and pickers at the waiting. Pitchers of ice cold beer.

Napkins… lots and lots of napkins.

Toss in the fun of fellowship and good times with great friends and you have all the elements of a great weekend afternoon.

But there’s a better way. At least when it comes to the steaming and seasoning of crabs.

Now don’t get me wrong, the traditional way is special. It’s also extremely messy when you factor in all the guts and “dead man” that you need to clean out before you start picking. Of course, by then, your hands are covered in the stuff unless you have a tree’s-worth of paper towels or a bucket of water to clean up.

Before I proceed, I must tell you that a method taught to me by friends will bring you tremendous wrath from the traditionalists. They will call you more names than you’ll hear in a political debate. But once this method is tried, many will convert to the dark side of crab pickin’.

So here’s the deal: Buy your crabs or go out and catch them. Take those crabs and put them in a big cooler with plenty of ice on the bottom.

“Damn,” you say. “Crabs have to be alive before you cook them.”

They will be, but not for long.

The chilling aspect of ice on a crab is that it stunts them. That makes it easier to take them out of the cooler, crack open their backs, then flush all the innards out of the cavity. Pluck off the dead man and toss them back onto the ice. Now dead, but cleaned and on ice – just like cleaning a fish.

Get your crab boil or steaming routine started. Once the bell goes off, toss in the cleaned crabs and cook for the same time as you would a whole one. All of the seasoning from your cooking method will be infused into the cavities that hold the meat.

Now you’re ready for a crab pickin’ feast without as much of the mess. Just don’t yell at me when you see me at the next table.

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