Blue crabs are harvested as hardshells, peeler crabs (just before molting) and softshells (right after molting). Hardshell males, called jimmies, are commonly sold live to be cooked and eaten whole. The smaller females, called sooks, are more often sold to processors for picking, and the meat is sold fresh, frozen or pasteurized. Hardshells are sold in three sizes: jumbo, large and medium. Softshell blue crabs are available live, fresh or frozen and are subject to a more complex grading system, detailed below.

Whole Softshell Crabs

Common grades, measured across the carapace, are:

Meat: Most processed blue crab is marketed as picked meat, in three basic grades: 

Jumbo or jumbo lump: The largest unbroken pieces of white meat from the body, connected to the swimming legs. 

Lump, backfin or special: White body meat, containing smaller and broken pieces of lump and flake meat. 

Claw and claw fingers: The darker meat from the claw.


  • Whole cooks should not have cracked backs, and all legs should be present. 
  • Discoloration in shoulder end of clusters can indicate undercooking. Yellowing suggests freezer burn. 
  • Leg-and-claw packs should be of accurate proportion (i.e., three legs for each claw with king crab). 
  • Splits should exhibit clean and even cuts. 
  • All frozen crab products should be well glazed.