If you’ve gone crabbing, you may have caught a lovely big haul of blue crabs, more than you can cook today. Now you want to store them to use tomorrow or even the next day, but you aren’t sure how long they will live. You know that you shouldn’t cook a dead crab. So how long will blue crabs live on ice?
Blue crabs will live for approximately 48 hours on ice inside a cooler, although they can live up to 60 hours. Ensure that they stay out of standing water and replace any melted ice. Use a cooler large enough that you need not stack the crabs. Alternatively, you can store them in a modified fridge.
Blue crabs are a delicious bounty from the sea, and if you’ve caught more than you can use immediately, there are various tricks you can use to preserve that bounty till you can use them. While crabs are still best as fresh as possible, these tricks will ensure that you have healthy crab meat to eat. Let’s take a look.
The Maximum Time That Blue Crabs Can Live On Ice
Blue crabs will live for approximately 48 hours inside a cooler full of ice, provided you replace any melted ice and keep the crabs out of standing water. If you are lucky, they will last for up to 60 hours.
We do not recommend keeping the crabs for longer, as they will get hungry despite being in a chilled, sluggish, dormant state and either try eating each other or starve. If your crabs starve, their meat will deteriorate, becoming mushy and falling victim to an explosion in bacterial growth. The flesh will first taste unpleasant and then become toxic to eat.
Check whether the crab is alive before cooking it to prevent food poisoning. To do so, try putting the crab on the ground. If it moves, it’s alive. However, if it fails to move, pull down on the crab’s mouth to open it. If it makes an effort to close its mouth, you can cook it.
If it fails to close its mouth, hold it with the underside facing you and gently pull on a leg until it barely detaches. Release it and see whether it bounces back into place. If it does, you can cook it. If the leg remains hanging down, discard the crab as it is dead, and the meat is not safe to eat.
How To Store Blue Crabs On Ice
To store blue crabs on ice, use a large cooler. We recommend using a premium brand cooler, such as a Yeti, Kong, or Pelican, as these will maintain ice for longer than a cheaper cooler. Ensure the cooler is large enough to hold the crabs without stacking them (or at least stacking them only minimally). Stacking crabs stresses them and causes the meat to be tough and unpleasant.
Leave the drain plug open, and tilt your cooler so that any meltwater runs out to eliminate any standing water. Get enough ice to fill the bottom third of your cooler and spread it out. Lay an old towel, a layer of newspaper, or burlap over the ice to prevent the crabs from coming into direct contact with it. If they come into direct contact with the ice, the intense cold will shock them and kill them immediately.
Cover the cooler with a damp towel to keep up the humidity inside, and put the lid on, but do not put it on firmly – crack it open to allow fresh air to circulate so that the crabs can breathe. If you dedicate a cooler to keeping crabs, you could poke holes in the top. Doing so should not affect the cooler’s ability to hold ice too severely.
The cold will put the crabs into a dormant state, similar to what they experience during the winter. While they will last longer this way and are easier to handle, it can be challenging to know whether any have died. Before you cook them, set your crabs in the sun for a few minutes to warm up so you can see which ones begin moving. Otherwise, apply the tests described above.
Replacing The Ice When Storing Blue Crabs
You may need to replace the ice if you store blue crabs for a long time. As this is stressful for the crabs, try putting in as much ice as you can initially.
If you must replace the ice, gently transfer your crabs to a container, remove the old towel (or newspaper, or burlap) over the ice and top up the ice. Replace the towel and dampen it if it is dry.
The Factors Affecting Blue Crab Survival Once Caught
Three main factors affect how long blue crabs will survive after being caught: temperature, oxygen, and humidity.
The Ideal Temperature To Store Blue Crabs
The ideal temperature range to keep blue crabs alive is between 48 and 58 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep your cooler of crabs inside your vehicle with the air con on to maintain a stable, cool temperature.
If you keep them in the back of a truck while driving home, keep them forward, behind the cab, so that they are out of wind turbulence that would dry them out. If summer temperatures exceed 70 degrees, try to get them home as quickly as possible. Keep your cooler out of direct sunlight, for example, in a garage.
While there is a range of temperatures at which you can keep blue crabs alive, you should avoid large temperature swings, as these will negatively affect the crabs’ survival.
Ensuring Enough Oxygen And Humidity When Storing Blue Crabs
When blue crabs live in water, their gills take up oxygen from the water. However, when you remove them from the water, they dispel it from their gills with much bubbling and foaming so that they can assimilate oxygen from the air.
Once they have done so and started breathing air, being submerged in water once more will stress them as they must go through the process again. For this reason, it is essential that standing water does not accumulate and cover them. Leaving the drain plug open on the cooler and tilting lets water drain and prevents this from happening.
Although they should not be submerged in their dormant state, the crabs must retain some humidity to breathe. They should not dry out. The moisture released by the ice will be sufficient. Keep the cooler out of the wind. A garage makes an excellent sheltered spot.
If you have a bounty of blue crabs, now you know how to keep them alive on ice for up to 48 hours until you are ready to cook them. While crabs are at their best, the fresher they are, you will still enjoy these crabs. Just remember to check whether they are still alive before cooking them, and discard any that are not. Happy eating!