Guide to Soft Shell Crab Season on the Outer Banks

Soft Shell Crabs Outer Banks NC

Outer Banks locals are without a doubt spoiled when it comes to seafood which is not only plentiful but budget-friendly if you know where to shop.

In this post, we’re going to focus on a local and seasonal seafood delicacy: soft-shell crabs.


Continue reading to learn just about everything you need to know about soft-shell crabs on the Outer Banks.

When is soft-shell crab season on the Outer Banks?

They say timing is everything and that rings true for soft-shell crab season on the Outer Banks. Softshell crab season passes quickly, and part of its allure is because there is such a small window of time to enjoy them.

The biggest draw is, of course, the salty-sweet flavor, succulent texture, and the blissfully satisfying taste experience of these seafood delicacies. That’s what seafood lovers crave every time the season starts to roll around.

Crab pots and forks are always ready! Like any seafood or seasonal fare, there is a bit of a nebulous fluctuation in the availability of soft-shell crabs since they depend upon the conditions that surround them.

The season usually starts here around late April or early May and continues through late August or early September.

Some of the locals say that the first full moon of May is the official start of the season, but it truly does vary.

What are soft-shell crabs and how can you find them?

Exactly what constitutes a soft-shell crab? Good question!

All crabs shed their shells but only a few can be eaten in their soft-shell state. The illustrious blue crab is a unique specimen as it’s the only soft-shell seafood sold commercially.

During its lifetime, the blue crab goes through several growth stages and may shed its hard-outer shell near 20 or more times during its short three-year lifespan.

Each time the crab molts, it’s a soft-shell for only a few hours and must be removed from the water immediately in order to prevent the shell from hardening.

This is tricky business because of the time sensitivity.

How do you know when blue crabs are in their molting stage?

There are different methods of determining when blue crabs are molting, but the most scientific one is to look at the peel line on the back fin of the crab.

The color of this faint line determines when the crab is ready to shed. When there’s a white line on the back fin, the crabbers refer to the crab as a ‘green’ crab, which will most likely shed its shell within 7 to 10 days.

A pink line indicates the crab is likely to shed within two to seven days. A red line means shedding is imminent.

Crabbers separate the crabs according to their progress in the molting process. When the crab molts, it’s very vulnerable and must be removed from the water. They should be kept alive until immediately before cooking, so usually, crabs must be eaten within four days of shedding. Fascinating, isn’t it?

You can read more about what you need to know about soft-shell crabs on the OBX here.

Where can you find the best soft-shell crabs on the OBX?

We are so glad you asked!

There are many wonderful places on the Outer Banks to get your soft-shell crab fix. Most every notable seafood restaurant on the islands serves up a soft-shell crab inspired dish.

If you prefer to do your own cooking, you’ll be pleased to learn that soft-shell crabs can be purchased at most every locally-owned seafood market on the island – even out of season (however they’ll be frozen instead of fresh which although tasty, isn’t quite the same).

Are there any soft-shell crab recipes I can use in my OBX rental?

Of course, yes!

We’re going to hand it over to one of the masters here to famed chef Emeril Lagasse so you know you’re in good hands. He has a simple yet satisfying way for you to make soft-shell crabs in the comfort of your own home or your vacation home.

There aren’t many ingredients and the method is totally and completely doable for chefs of any skill level.

Check out Emeril Lagasse’s Sauteed Soft-Shell Crabs with Garlic and Butter recipe and get ready to start cooking… and drooling.

Happy eating!

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