May on the Outer Banks arrives with expectation of a new season of visitors. Blue sky days and warming ocean temperatures beacon us to visit the beach. For many folks, the anticipation of succulent soft shell crabs is the highlight of the season. Generally, the first full moon in May marks the beginning of the season but it is subject to a bit of variability. April/May to August/September is the season where blue crabs go through the molting stage to create this delectable delight.
Cooked live, often fried, this simple delicacy looks strange but one taste and you will be hooked. Get the best soft shell crabs at our favorite Outer Banks locations below. The first batch of the season is generally regarded as the best.
Where to Get ‘Em
I Got Your Crabs – Kitty Hawk
As the name implies, this eatery specializes in crabs. In fact, the owner is an experienced crabber. As a result, restaurant patrons always receive the freshest crabs. The restaurant prepares the soft shells in several ways. The classic fried version is lightly but crisply coated and fried to perfection to reveal the tender hot juicy crab meat inside. They also have a BLT soft shell and soft shell taco with fresh mango salsa.
Don’t let the laid back vibe or diner atmosphere fool you. The Kill Devil Grill has great food and their soft shell crabs will not disappoint even the most finicky gourmet. A southern pairing of grits with the soft shell is a great combination.
For those who prefer to prepare and cook the soft shell crab at home, Billy’s seafood has you covered. Locals shop at Billy’s to get fresh local seafood. It’s worth the trip. For cleaning and cooking instructions, check out this video or blog post from local chef Rosie Hawthorne.
What Are Soft Shell Crabs
The blue crab sheds its hard outer shell in order to grow. Over the course of its 3 year life span, the crab will go through the molting process 18 to 23 times. Once the crab sheds its shell, it will only remain soft for a few hours and must be removed from the water to prevent the shell from hardening.
Commercial crabbers have become adept at harvesting the soft shell at their peak of perfection. Travel by boat in the sound or through the canals to view their “shedders”. Here the crabs are monitored with precision. Crabbers have learned to predict the molting of the crabs by looking at the faint line next to the backfin. The color of this line provides an approximation of when it will be ready to molt. A white line is about 7 to 10 days, a pink line is 2 – 7 days and a red line is imminent.
Most restaurants will include this delicacy on their menu this time of year. Of course, no matter where you have them, you can’t go wrong with this scrumptious delightful dish. Be sure to try them if you are visiting the Outer Banks during soft shell crab season. While you are here visiting, contact Eillu to see how you can own your very own vacation home and save a week in May for yourself to savor the soft shell crab as an annual tradition. A vacation home can be a very profitable investment, with positive cash flow, that pays dividends with priceless family memories.