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Snow Crab vs King Crab: How are they Different?

Lisa Price
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by Lisa Price

Crab is seafood royalty. It occupies the throne next to lobster, and they rule the seafood market across the world. Snow crab and the aptly named king crab are just a couple of the hundreds of varieties that live in the ocean, but they are well known as the pinnacle of crab cuisine.

While there are significant differences between crab species, namely that some are edible and some are poisonous, there are also differences between the king and queen of crabs.

When comparing snow crab vs. king crab, there are several factors you must consider. These differences and similarities can change how you prepare and eat crab and even sway which type you choose to buy next.

The main differences between snow crab and king crab mainly hinge on price, taste, texture, appearance, and the dishes they’re used in.

Let’s start by briefly highlighting these differences, before breaking them down, and moving on to examine the standout aspects of each crab individually. We’ll also take a look at how you can substitute one for the other.

Differences Between Snow and King Crab

The main difference between snow crab and king crab is that snow crab has a sweet, briny taste, fibrous, chewy texture, and reasonable price point, while king crab has a rich and sweet taste, chunky, flakey meat, and sky-high price tag.

Appearance: Snow crabs are smaller than king crabs by a fair margin. They are usually ruddy-colored and smooth-shelled. King crabs, meanwhile, have spiky shells and come in many colors and patterns. Most of the ones fished around Alaska are red and very large.

Flavor: Snow crab has a delicate, oceanic taste. It is salty and sweet with a delicate complexity, whereas king crab is vibrant in flavor. King crab is sweet and savory with a more meaty and robust taste.

Crab Legs: If you’re having the legs plain, you’ll find that snow crab legs are much easier to crack and can be opened by hand, while king crab legs have a much thicker shell that requires a tool to break. The meat also comes out in larger chunks in king crab legs and tends to be stringier and separate in snow crab legs.

Preparation: snow crab and king crab are both best eaten as fresh as possible. They can be cooked using the same methods and served in the same manner, though king crab is wasted in complex, flavorful dishes.

Snow vs King Crab Comparison Table

Let’s take a quick look at some of the standout differences between snow crab and king crab. These are the first things people look for when trying to decide between the two.

 Snow CrabKing Crab
Size2-4lbs, long, thin legs6lbs, medium, stout legs
Price$20-$35 per 1lb$60-$70 per 1lb
AvailabilityLate fall to early summerMid-fall to mid-winter
Cooking MethodsBroil, steam, boilSteam, boil, grill, bake
TasteSweet and subtly brinySweet and rich like lobster
Dining ExperienceEasy to crack by hand, long, stringy fleshNeed a tool to crack, large, denser flesh
OtherAs with most crab species, snow and king crabs are at risk of endangerment from habitat loss, warming oceans, and overfishing

Can You Substitute Snow for King Crab?

Snow crab and king crab are relatively interchangeable. They can be prepared in the same manner, used in the same dishes, and are two of the most flavorful varieties of crab, but there are a few key differences to note if you plan to substitute one for the other.

The first important point is that king crab should never be the substitute. King crab is far more expensive than snow crab and has a more delicate and intricate flavor. Using king crab in snow crab dishes would be a waste.

The only time you should change out snow crab for king crab is when you want softer, cheaper legs.

The second point is that while king and snow crab are similar, they are not the same. If you plan to have crab legs plain, you will notice a difference in flavor and texture.

King crab is flakier and has juicy chunks of rich and sweet meat reminiscent of lobster. Snow crab, meanwhile, produces stringier, chewier tendrils of meat that have a sweet and briny taste. It is more like the quintessential crab flavor.

While you can substitute snow crab for king crab, there are almost no dishes that call for it. As king crab is so revered, it’s often only served on its own, whereas snow crab can be plain or used within other dishes.

If you can’t afford it or don’t want to pay for king crab, you can always buy snow crab instead. Snow crab is excellent on its own and in other dishes like crab cakes, snow crab macaroni and cheese, and snow crab egg salad. If you need to substitute snow crab for king crab, use it in a one-to-one ratio.

When it comes down to it, the main difference between snow crab and king crab is the price. King crab is often more than double the price of snow crab or at least half again as much per pound.

While there are differences in flavor and texture, the hit to the wallet is the real distinguisher. If you want a cheaper option for any crab dish, snow crab is the way to go.

Although king crab is tasty, it’s in the same category as those novelty dishes that are served with gold foil on top. You’re paying for the experience, presentation, and flavor, rather than just the flavor.

What is Snow Crab?

Snow Crab
Snow Crab

Snow crabs are large ruddy crabs, so-named for their frigid habitat and how their flesh goes from red to snow white when cooked. They live near the Arctic Circle in the north Pacific and northwest Atlantic Ocean. They can live anywhere between 20 and 2000 meters underwater.

Snow crabs are sometimes referred to as queen crabs for their size compared to king crabs and their royal blue blood. Snow grabs have high levels of copper and other compounds in their blood to help with oxidation in a colder climate and lower depths.

The lifespan of the snow crab is 12-13 years and reaches maturity by 9 years of age. Additionally, only male snow crabs are sold commercially, because the legal carapace harvesting size is 9.5cm, and females are much smaller.

How to Use Snow Crab

Snow crab is the cheaper option and that fact is often reflected in the taste. Snow crab is not bad by any means, but it might require a little more dressing up than king crab.

When deciding how to eat snow crab, you can always go the classic route and grill, boil, or bake the legs, but there’s a lot more you can do with it too. To add a little flavor, try smoking snow crab. The deep smokiness works wonders to defuse the briny taste and enhance the sweetness.

You can also use shredded crab to make dishes like crab cakes. They are delicious and perfect for any leftover bits you might wind up with when preparing the legs.

Snow crab legs also pair splendidly with coleslaw, potatoes, corn on the cob, salad, and cornbread. Snow crab is best enjoyed with simple dishes that serve to enhance the crab’s flavor without overshadowing it.

What is King Crab?

King Crab
King Crab

The king crab is a giant spindly creature that comes in a variety of colors and patterns. They are migratory crabs, traveling from deeper waters to shores for mating and reproduction. King crabs can be found along any near-Arctic coast including Canada, Alaska, Japan, and more.

Male king crabs can weigh more than double females and reach as much as 24lbs with a leg span of over five feet long.

They live between 20 and 30 years and communicate through touch and pheromones.

Baby king crabs have a special name and are called a zoea, while females are called a jenny, and males are called a buck. Groups of crabs are called consortiums.

King crabs live off of a diet of clams, worms, urchins, mussels, snails, and barnacles, but despite their size and giant claws, they are not aggressive.

How to Use King Crab

The best thing to do with king crab is to keep it simple. Steaming, grilling, and even microwaving are good options and then serve the legs with butter and lemon.

King crab is so rich and sweet on its own adding it to a dish would be like adding chocolate to fudge. It would be overpowering, and the flavors would end up as an indistinguishable mess lost in the other.

In addition to the legs, you can also eat the body of king crabs. Their large bodies have almost as much meat as all their legs combined. To make king crab legs at home, especially as a novice, start by baking them in the oven. This method takes very little input and yields delicious results.

About Lisa Price
Lisa Price
Lisa is Food Champ's resident fitness enthusiast and nutrition expert. She holds a nutrition degree in her home state of Florida and works for a large health system to ensure sound nutrition and dietetics information is passed on to all members.
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