Once you try these smoked crab legs, you'll never want steamed or boiled crab legs again.
This grilled crab legs recipe is the easiest and most comprehensive one out there for smoking crab legs on a pellet grill—trust us. We're the experts.
With everything you need to know, from times and temperatures to how to identify overcooked crab legs, this official Z Grills recipe is the only crab legs recipe you'll ever need.
- Equipment You'll Need for Smoked Crab Legs
- Ingredients for Smoked Crab Legs
- How to Smoke Crab Legs on a Pellet Grill
- The Best Ways to Serve Smoked Crab Legs
- The Best Times and Temperatures for Smoked Crab Legs
- How to Open Crab Legs
- Smoked Crab Legs Recipe
Equipment You'll Need for Smoked Crab Legs
Before we dive into how to make smoked crab legs, let's go over the supplies and ingredients you'll need to make great grilled crab legs.
1. The Best Pellet Grill
If you're going to smoke crab legs, you absolutely need a great smoker. We highly recommend getting a Z Grills Pellet Smoker if you don't already have a grill.
Z Grill's smokers are incredibly versatile, which means smoking crab legs is just one of the many things you can accomplish with one.
If you want to choose the best pellet grill, then you want one that:
- Delivers authentic wood-fired flavor
- Includes precise temperature control
- Maintains excellent quality
- Gives you direct flame searing access (like the Z Grills 600 series)
Z Grills Pellet Smokers deliver all that and more.
2. The Best Wood Pellets
If you know anything about smoking seafood, then you know that seafood pairs best with light hardwoods that have soft flavors. Smoked crab legs are no exception to this rule.
For these grilled crab legs, we recommend using soft and mild woods like the Z Grills Oak BBQ Grill Pellets. However, you can also use fruit woods for smoking crab legs, like:
- The Z Grills Fruitwood BBQ Grill Pellets
- The Z Grills Apple BBQ Grill Pellets
- The Z Grills Cherry BBQ Grill Pellets
Z Grills wood pellets are the best for smoking because they:
- are American made
- contain 100% all-natural hardwood with no additives
- have a low moisture content
- burn cleanly and efficiently
3. Other Supplies
Although your smoker and your wood pellets are the most important supplies for these smoked crab legs, you'll need a few more things, like:
- A baking pan or shallow dish
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Basting Brush
Ingredients for Smoked Crab Legs
If you're going to smoke the best crab legs you've ever had, you're going to need the right ingredients. Here's what you need to know.
1. Fresh Crab Legs: The Differences Between King Crabs and Snow Crabs
We'll be using 5 pounds of King crab legs for this crab legs recipe.
There are two main types of crab legs used for cooking in North America: King crab and snow crab.
Snow crab is a term that refers to several different species of crab that live in the cold northern oceans. In Canada, these crabs are also called queen crabs. Snow crabs are more accessible and slightly smaller with longer, thinner legs.
When we talk about king crabs, we're usually referring to the red king crab or the Alaskan king crab. Since this variety is rarer, meatier, and tastier than snow crabs, they're also more expensive.
You can definitely use snow crab legs for this crab legs recipe, but we highly recommend smoking king crab legs if you can get your hands on them.
2. How to Make Clarified Butter
For this recipe, you'll need one pound of clarified butter for every 10 pounds of crab legs (four sticks of butter is one pound). Although using clarified butter is optional, we highly recommend it for the best tasting smoked crab legs.
Here's how to make clarified butter.
Heat your butter on the stovetop until it melts and forms a thick, white layer of foam. Scoop the foam off the melted butter and throw it away.
Now, you should have yellow-transparent butter with no white parts or milk solids. This clear butter is clarified butter!
3. The Perfect Spice Blend
Once you've clarified your butter, it's time to add your spices. You can use your favorite spice blend, whether it's something entirely premade (like Old Bay Crab House Seasoning Salt or Code3Spices Sea Dog Rub) or a homemade blend like ours.
Check out our crab legs recipe down below for our favorite smoked crab legs spice blend! It uses:
- black pepper
- garlic powder
- onion powder
- cayenne pepper
- dried leaf oregano
- dried leaf thyme
How to Smoke Crab Legs on a Pellet Grill
This smoked crab legs recipe is sure to be a fast favorite. After you taste these smoked crab legs, steamed or boiled crab legs just won’t satisfy you.
1. Preheating Your Grill for Smoked Crab Legs
Smoking crab legs on a pellet grill is a careful task. You want to avoid over-heating the grill because it's incredibly easy to overcook smoked crab legs.
Your grill temperature should rest comfortably between 225-235 °F.
2. Heating the Crab Legs
On a pellet grill preheated to 225 °F, king crab legs will take about 30 minutes to cook. If your crab legs are smaller or larger, the time will vary. So, keep an eye on them
3. Basting Smoked Crab Legs
Every 10 minutes, you'll want to baste your crab legs with the butter and spice mixture. And halfway through cooking, around the 15-minute mark, you should flip the legs over.
4. Searing Smoked Crab Legs on High to Finish
To finish these crab legs off, you'll grill them on high heat for just two minutes on each side.
5. How to Tell If Crab Legs Are Overcooked
Grilling crab legs at too high a temperature or for too long will result in overcooked crab legs—and nobody wants that.
Overcooked crab legs will have a pinkish tint to the shell (instead of the red-orange color we want to see). The meat inside will become tough and rubbery, and it won't come out of the shell easily.
The Best Ways to Serve Smoked Crab Legs
Unlike most proteins, crab legs can make an entire meal without feeling incomplete. Be sure to serve your smoked crab legs with some dipping sauces, such as:
- clarified butter
- tartar sauce
- hot sauce
- cocktail sauce
We also recommend serving smoked crab legs with fresh lemon wedges.
If you want more sides with your grilled crab legs, go right ahead! Here are some of our favorites:
- corn on the cob
- roasted or mashed potatoes
- potato salad
- mac and cheese
- steak (for a surf and turf dish)
You may also want to have some cocktail forks and crab crackers on hand for your guests.
The Best Times and Temperatures for Smoked Crab Legs
Whenever you cook crab legs on the grill, you want the temperature to be between 225-235 °F. Your crab legs will only take about 30 minutes to cook. Keep in mind that the cooking time will vary, so be sure to watch for that distinct red-orange color of well-cooked crab.
How to Open Crab Legs
To open crab legs, you’ll need a cocktail fork and a crab cracker. Use the cracker or your hands to break the shell. Then, pull the crab meat cleanly out of the shell.
Smoked Crab Legs Recipe
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- Total Time: 40 minutes
- Serves: 4
- 5 pounds of King crab legs
- 2 sticks of butter
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 2 tbsp paprika
- 2 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp dried leaf oregano
- 1 tsp dried leaf thyme
- 1/3 cup of your favorite seasoning blend
- 3 lemons
- clarified butter
- Preheat your Z Grills Pellet Smoker or other grill to 225 °F.
- Heat butter over the stovetop on medium heat until fully melted. Scoop away the milk solids until you're left with clarified butter.
- Lower the heat. Then, add all the spices and lemon juice into the saucepan. Mix until everything is thoroughly combined.
- Pour the basting butter and spice blend mixture into a shallow dish or tray.
- Lay crab legs in basting butter, allowing them to soak for a few minutes each. Flip the crab legs, so each side is marinated in butter.
- Transfer the crab legs to your preheated smoker.
- Heat crab legs until the legs become a deep orange-red color (about 30 minutes). If they start turning pink after that, they're overcooking.
- Baste crab legs with butter mixture every 10 minutes and flip them around the 15-minute mark.
- After about 30 minutes, grill on high for 2 minutes on each side.
- Remove crab legs from the smoker and serve immediately with fresh clarified butter and lemon wedges.
Conclusion: Pro Tips for Smoked Crab Legs
If you've never smoked crab legs before, don't worry. You can do it.
But there are some pro tips you should know before you dive into the world of smoked seafood. Here are the most important things to know about smoking crab legs on your grill.
1. Don't overcook your crab legs.
Most of the time, crab legs are pre-cooked when you buy them. So, you're simply heating them and finalizing the cooking. Make it a point to avoid overcooking since it's so easy to do.
2. Choose the right wood pellets.
Never use strong wood pellets like hickory or mesquite when smoking seafood. It's overpowering. Instead, choose light fruit woods or oak and pair it with a well-seasoned basting butter.
3. Don't rely on the time.
The number one mistake made by cooks new to smoking is relying too much on cook time. There are a million things that can affect cook times on a pellet grill, so take cook times with a grain of salt. Use your eyes and instincts to determine if your crab legs are ready.
Hungry for more? We've got tons more best smoke recipes for your Z Grills pellet smoker here.