I put together this page because I have perceived a great deal of confusion surrounding the different types of king crab – all three. Before I started crab fishing, I was unaware of any difference. Whether you are a buyer for a restaurant or just an individual crab enthusiast, I hope this page sheds some light on this subject.
There are three species of king crab in Alaska- red king crab, blue king crab, and brown king crab. They are found in different areas of Alaskan waters. Below is a detailed map of the main habitat areas. Most of the king crab harvested in Alaska comes from the Bering Sea. There are smaller fisheries to the north in Norton Sound and the southeast.
Red King Crab
Caught in the waters of Bristol Bay and Norton Sound, the true red king crab is the most prized crab in the world, with strong demand from consumers in Japan, the US, and Europe. Alaska’s largest harvest of red king crab occurs in Bristol Bay waters. Roughly 100 boats participate in the fishery and harvest millions of pounds over 2 to 3 months.
Alive, red king crabs are dark burgundy. When cooked, they turn bright red- with scarlet-red highlights on the shell’s top part, especially around the toes. Taste-wise, true red king crab is the best in the world. The meat is snow-white, with highlights of bright red. Many white tablecloth restaurants offer fresh red king crab during the season- a sumptuous treat. Succulent and served steaming-hot, there is no other meal I would rather have!
Blue King Crab
Caught in Alaska near St. Matthew Island and the Pribilof Islands, this species is known for its sweet meat and proportionally giant claws. Pribilof Islands blue king crabs are among the largest crabs in the world. In 1998, I saw blue king crab unloaded at the dock weighing more than 18 lbs in Dutch Harbour! Blue king crabs are brown with royal blue highlights when they are alive.
However, when they are cooked, they turn bright orange-red. This is why blue king crab is generally marketed as “red king crab” in the United States. Taste-wise, blue king crab is similar to red king crab, typically sweeter, although slightly milder in flavour than red. When it is available in-season, I like serving blue king crab when I am entertaining guests. They are always amazed at the size of the claws.
Golden King Crab
The golden king crab is the smallest of the three main species caught in the Aleutian chain waters. Their shells are golden-orange. They have the mildest flavour of Alaska’s three commercially-harvested types of king crab. Golden king crab generally has the lowest percentage of meat “infill” inside the shells and sells for less than blue or red.
Because they are one of the most abundant types of crab in Alaska, they are beginning to become available fresh instead of brine frozen. A growing number of chefs around the United States are beginning to request and serve fresh-cooked Alaska golden king crab legs.