King Crab Legs vs. Snow Crab Legs: What’s the Difference?

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king crab legs
“King Crab Legs” by Inspired RD is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It’s tough to beat a plate full of crab meat, especially when it comes from a snow crab or king crab. These delectable crustaceans have long legs and crab claws filled with meat that are perfect for dipping in buttery sauce or enjoying in a crab salad or another seafood recipe.

But what’s the difference between the two? You might notice a significant difference in price between Alaskan king crab legs and snow crab legs, but why? This guide should help you understand where the similarities and differences lie between these two popular types of crab legs.

What’s the Main Difference Between King Crab Legs vs. Snow Crab Legs?

The primary difference between king crab legs and snow crab legs is size. King crab legs are much larger, giving you more meat in each leg and claw. This size difference is why you’ll see such a hefty price discrepancy between the two, whether you order them from a restaurant menu or buy them at your local fish market. If you’re looking for more meat and don’t mind spending more money, choose the king crab. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly dinner, order the snow crab.

King Crab vs Snow Crab: Other Notable Differences

While size is definitely the most prominent difference between these two types of crab legs, there are some other variations between the two to consider when you’re buying them. Here’s a closer look at king crabs and snow crabs: 

What is a King Crab?

The king crab is a large crab species that mostly exists near Japan, Alaska, and the Bering Sea. It’s not uncommon for a king crab to range anywhere from 10 to 20 pounds or more. Interestingly enough, their unique anatomy and odd-shaped bodies make them potential relatives of hermit crabs.

King crab is actually just a blanket name given to several species of crab. Each species looks a bit different from one another, but they tend to share the same asymmetric body style that’s unique to king crabs.

What is a Snow Crab?

A snow crab’s genus name means snow inhabitant, so it’s easy to see where this simpler name came from. Snow crabs, sometimes called queen crab, like super cold waters, so it’s common to find them around the coast of Alaska, Maine, Greenland, Russia, and similar areas. However, some species make their home in warmer waters.

There are also different species of snow crab, but not nearly as many known species as king crab. Snow crabs are much smaller than king crabs, usually weighing just a few pounds. They have much smaller bodies than king crabs, too, but their legs can be long — sometimes even longer than king crab legs.

Fishing Seasons of King Crab and Snow Crab

The fishing seasons of these two crabs differ from each other, mostly because of their breeding pattern variations. Most species of both types of crabs breed just once a year, but their schedules aren’t the same.

Snow crab hatch their eggs in the spring to early summer, pushing their fishing season into the later fall months and culminating in late winter or early spring, depending on population size. The king crab’s mating and hatching season is also in the spring, but their fishing season doesn’t start until winter to avoid the hatching and soft-shell crab seasons. King crabs can usually only be caught for a limited period of a few weeks during the winter.

Taste Differences Between King Crab and Snow Crab

Let’s preface this by saying that you absolutely can’t go wrong with king crab legs or snow crab legs in terms of flavor. If you love seafood and crab meat, you’ll love king crab and snow crab meat. They offer some of the tastiest crab meat on the block, whether they’re topped with a little lemon juice or dipped in melted butter. 

But there are some differences between them. Snow crab meat is a little more salty, but still sweet. King crab meat is sweeter and very tender. It’s common to hear people compare it to lobster meat because of its texture and flavor. Both leg meat options are sure to satisfy any crab lover, though.

Which Crab is Easier to Crack?

Cracking crab legs open isn’t always an easy task, depending on how tough the shells are. And this is one area where these two crabs differ.

Snow crab is often a soft shell crab, making these crustaceans relatively easy to crack open with your hands. Unless you prefer to use tools, they’re not usually necessary when enjoying a plate of snow crab legs.

If you opt for king crab legs, you’ll want some help! Not only are their shells tougher to crack open, but they’re also covered in little spikes, which doesn’t feel so great on your hands as you work to open them.

King Crab and Snow Crab Nutrition

Like most seafood, king crab and snow crab legs offer a lot of nutrition in each 100-gram serving. They both provide lots of protein and nutrients in their low-fat, low-calorie meat.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) FoodData Central database, Alaskan king crab has about 18 grams of protein and just 84 calories in a serving. Plus, each serving gives you calcium, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, and other important nutrients.

Snow crab isn’t listed in the database, but other reputable sources note its nutrition facts. According to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, a 100-gram serving of snow crab provides 24 grams of protein and 115 calories. Again, it’s a low-fat food and an excellent source of nutrients, especially Omega-3 fatty acids. 

Cooking King Crab and Snow Crab

There’s not much difference between cooking king crab and snow crab other than needing to account for the larger size of the king crab. You might need a few more minutes of cooking to allow the heat to fully penetrate and cook each leg.

Otherwise, you can use the same cooking methods to whip up a batch of king crab or snow crab legs. Usually, this means boiling the crab, but you might also choose to steam it, roast it, or grill it. Whatever your chosen cooking method for crab, you can use it for either snow or king crab legs.

Using King Crab and Snow Crab in Recipes

Because of the similarities in taste and texture, king crab and snow crab leg meat can pretty much be used interchangeably in recipes. Usually, people enjoy cooking the legs and simply enjoying them with a lemon wedge or butter. But you can also remove the meat to use in recipes like crab cakes, crab fettucini, crab risotto, crab salad, crab rolls, or crab tacos. The options are endless. 

Pricing Differences

You will definitely notice a difference in the price of king crab legs and snow crab legs, no matter where you live and what species is more available in your area. Quite simply, king crab legs can be double the price of snow crab legs!

You might guess one reason why: king crab legs contain more meat, generally. So, they’re priced more per pound and they’ll weigh more, which drives up the price.

But there’s another reason you’ll pay more for a king crab leg package, and that’s because the fishing season is more limited than the snow crab’s fishing season. King crabs can usually only be fished for a few weeks, while the snow crab season can last for months. A more limited supply means a higher price. 

While you might pay between $20-$30/pound for snow crab legs, expect to pay anywhere from $40-$60/pound for king crab legs. The pricing difference holds true whether you buy fresh crab or frozen crab legs.

Other Crab Species

King crab and snow crab are definitely some of the more popular types of crabs to eat, but they certainly aren’t the only ones. And, other types of crabs actually fall into the king crab or snow crab species, but they all get lumped together with blanket names.

Here are some other crabs you can enjoy that often yield lots of yummy meat, too:

  • Stone crab
  • Blue crab
  • Blue king crab
  • Dungeness crab
  • Red king crab
  • Jonah crabgolden king crab
  • Brown king crab
  • Tanner crab

Your Guide to King Crab Legs vs Snow Crab Legs

There’s one word to describe both snow crab and king crab legs: delicious! If you’re a seafood fan, you’re going to love either one. What you may not love is the price, but most seafood — lobster, fish, clams, etc. — can be pricey. It’s the price we pay to enjoy some yummy food, even if it’s just an occasional treat.

While there aren’t huge differences between these two crabs, you will definitely notice a difference in size and price, and maybe even a slight difference in flavor. King crab is the best option for meat yield, while snow crab is the better choice for affordability.

Want more seafood knowledge? Head to Seafood University!