Planning a crab boil for your friends and family? Maybe you’re a recreational crabber wondering how many crabs you’re allowed to keep? Either way, one of the most commonly asked questions by both crab fishermen and enthusiasts is “how many crabs are in a bushel”?
The answer is not that cut and dry. It depends on the crab’s size, sex, as well as your region. In addition to variations in the crab’s size, bushel sizes actually differ slightly from state to state.
If you’re planning a crab feast, and are wondering how many crabs you’ll need per person, this post will answer that as well.
So how many crabs are in a bushel anyway? Let’s dive into it!
What is a bushel of crabs?
Whenever you hear crabs being measured by the bushel, it’s generally in reference to blue crabs. Blue crabs are caught all along the Atlantic coast of the United States and in the Gulf of Mexico.
Because they’re significantly smaller than the Dungeness and Red Rock crab caught along the west coast, they’re typically measured by the bushel rather than individually.
A bushel is roughly equivalent to 8 gallons (or 35 liters) of volume. This translates to somewhere between 50 and 110 crabs, depending on their size.
In reference to recreational crabbing, the keep limit in many states is defined by the bushel (typically 1 to 2 bushels per person).
When ordering crabs, there are a few key terms you need to be aware of. Male and female crabs differ significantly, with males being larger and containing more meat. Mature male crabs are called “Jimmies”, while mature female crabs are referred to as “Sooks”.
Immature females must be returned to the water, and it’s illegal to keep them.
Because of their larger size and a higher proportion of meat, Jimmies are generally preferred for cooking and eating whole. Sooks often get sold to commercial crab processing plants and turned into packaged and pasteurized crab meat.
When you’re ordering whole crabs, make sure you’re getting Jimmies rather than Sooks.
Another interesting factor to consider is how heavy or “fat” it is. Depending on how recently the crab has molted, the amount of meat inside the shell will vary. Recently molted crabs will be lighter and contain less meat than crabs nearing the end of their molt cycle. This is because they haven’t had the chance to fatten up and fill the inside of their shells yet.
You can identify “fat” crabs by their darker bellies. The color will be slightly yellowed and spotted with “rust”. For more info on molt cycles and how they affect meat yields, check out this in-depth article.
Always go for “fat” or heavy crabs whenever possible.
Crab sizes will vary significantly depending on the time of year, location, and age of the crab. Also, keep in mind that there is no official standard for grading crab sizes. What may be classified as a jumbo crab in Maryland could be called a medium in North Carolina.
Crab can be roughly classified into several different sizes as measured across their back (carapace) as follows:
- Small – 4 ½ to 5 inches, usually females.
- Medium – 5 to 5 ½ inches.
- Large – 5 ½ to 6 inches.
- Jumbo – 6 to 6 ½ inches.
- Colossal – 6 ½ inches or more.
Crabs per Bushel
So, how many crabs are there in a bushel anyway? Also, as crabs are often sold by the dozen, you might be wondering how many dozen crabs are in a bushel.
This table will give you an approximate number of crabs per bushel, as well as dozens per bushel:
|Jumbo||6 – 6 ½ inches||5 – 6 dozen||60 – 72 crabs|
|Large||5 ½ – 6 inches||6 – 7 dozen||72 – 84 crabs|
|Medium||5 – 5 ½ inches||7 – 8 dozen||84 – 96 crabs|
For more info on blue crab sizing and grading, check out this detailed article.
How many people does a bushel of crabs serve?
If you’re in the process of planning a big ol’ crab boil, you’re going to need some idea of how many crabs each person will eat – plus how many a full bushel will feed.
A mature blue crab will yield approximately 14% of its weight as crab meat. That’s fairly low. With an average weight of 1/3 pound per crab, that means you’re getting just 0.75 ounces of crab meat per crab. Obviously, this will vary somewhat depending on the individual crab, as well as the skill of the crab picker.
This means that to get a healthy serving of 1/2 a pound of crab meat per person, you’ll need around 8 to 12 crabs per person. If the crabs are a side dish rather than the main course, you can get away with much less.
A typical bushel of jumbo blue crabs contains around 60 – 70 crabs, which would be enough to feed 6 to 8 people, assuming you’re only serving traditional crab boil fare like crabs, corn, potatoes, and clams.
How long does it take to cook a bushel of crabs?
Assuming you have a really large pot to boil/steam the crab (40 to 60 quarts is ideal), then you should be able to cook an entire bushel in 20 – 30 minutes or so. Most people don’t have huge boiling pots though, so if you’re using a smaller 12 – 16 quart pot, then you’ll need to split the crabs up into smaller batches and cook them piecemeal.
Boiling crabs is pretty straightforward. Simply bring your water to a boil, drop the crabs inside – which will cause the water to drop below a boil – then cover the pot until it begins boiling once again. The crabs are done once they’ve turned completely orange and you can see them floating on the surface.
Steaming crabs is similar to boiling but you’ll need an internal basket to suspend the crabs above the boiling water.
Recreational Crabbing Limits
Many states and jurisdictions along the east coast have crab limits stated in numbers of bushels. This is a slightly confusing measurement, as bushel sizes actually differ slightly depending on the state.
Additionally, many people wonder if this means a full bushel with the lid on or without.
To be on the safe side, make sure that when your crab bushel basket is filled, the lid fits in place without popping up or distorting.
If you’re a recreational crabber make sure to consult your local fish and game regulations to ensure you’re complying with the law.
Hopefully, you now have a better idea of various crab sizes, how many crabs are in a bushel, as well as how many dozen crabs are in a single bushel. If you’re planning a big crab feast, just remember 8 to 12 decent sized crabs per person should satisfy everyone nicely.
Catching and cooking crab is one of the most enjoyable activities you can do – plus you get to share your hard gotten catch with friends and family! Go enjoy that crab boil!