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Crab vs. Lobster vs. Shrimp (The Differences)

Crab, lobster, and shrimp all come from the sea, that’s for sure. But they’re bought, cooked, and eaten differently.

There are so many differences between crab, lobster, and shrimp. Some differences are vivid and noticeable, while others are small and subtle. Here’s everything you need to know on the topic as a home cook.

A few similarities must also be mentioned to understand these three types of seafood and how they are a delicacy from shipment to the plate in front of us at the table.

The most significant differences are how each has its own look, the shipping, preparation, cooking, and serving. Shrimp is the smallest of the three, but crab and lobster can sometimes run a tight race in size, though lobsters are typically bigger.

The similarities are evident: they are all seafood, and each of them comes from the ocean.

All have shells and must be peeled to eat. Each has its own defense mechanism as crabs and lobsters have claws that pinch, while shrimp have smaller claws and somewhat of a sticker at the end of their tails. They must all be handled with extra precaution and thick gloves.

The Differences

Shrimp, lobsters, and crabs are all related, but from the world of science and culinary, they all have different features and distinct flavors that set them apart.

It is because of the physical features each is handled and cooked a sure way to perfection. We will start out our discussion with the easiest of the three, which is shrimp.

All About Shrimp

Shrimp can grow to an outstanding size—some have been recorded to be a foot or more in length—but it is rare to catch a massive amount that size at one time.

Shrimp sizes are represented by numbers, such as 12/15, which stand for the total number of shrimp in a pound (in the case of our example, 12/15 stands for 12 to 15 shrimp/pound).

These are known as Mantis shrimp, but the jumbo shrimp, which is excellent for grilling, is sized at 12/15. The medium size is 41/60, and smaller shrimp are labeled 71/90, and it only takes a few minutes to cook.

Medium and smaller shrimp are used for pasta dishes and side shrimp dishes, as they can comfortably sit alongside other ingredients on a plate, and shrimp is the most versatile of the three crustaceans.

Listed are some of the Home Cook World editorial team’s favorite ways to use shrimp (with only the tail edible):

  • Grilling;
  • Stews;
  • Gumbo;
  • Scampi;
  • Pasta;
  • Fried;
  • Boiled.

From Sea to Plate

Food writer and author of The Science of Cooking, Stuart Farrimond, MD had this to say about shrimp: “Called ‘insects of the sea’ because of their segmented body and exoskeleton shell, shrimp are the baby-sized relatives of lobsters and crabs. They are the most widely eaten seafood in the world.”

It certainly is the most popular and found in every restaurant across the world. A few other differences are worth noticing; it is the softest and easiest to peel among the three.

Prepping from sea to table is more of a challenge because the shrimp must be frozen immediately after the catch, whereas crabs and lobsters must remain alive until cooked.

Mark Bittman, food journalist, former columnist at The New York Times, and author of “How to Cook Everything,” said it best. “Shrimp are almost always shipped frozen and defrosted before sale. It’s better, though, to buy them still frozen; you may get a more favorable price, and you can control how and when they are defrosted.”

According to Bittman, the best way to thaw shrimp is in the refrigerator, which he says “takes a while,” or under cold running water, “which is quite rapid.” Indeed, when thawing shrimp, we recommend transferring them from the freezer to the fridge overnight, in a bowl to collect the water.

N.B. Shrimp are not meant for slow braising. Shrimp, being small, cook quickly. Searing or sautéing them over medium-high heat gives them the best, most lively texture. They come out juicy and tender without being overly chewy.

Lobsters From Ocean to Belly

The best way to describe a lobster on its looks is by saying it is a giant crawfish. The best kind are the big ones, and they sell by the pound.

Out of the three crustaceans, they are the most expensive and sold at high-class delicacy restaurants and supermarkets and must be sold live.

Lobsters are like the steak of seafood, and they can only get cooked a particular way.

They are not versatile like shrimp in any way, though they can be used in different dishes. They can only be cooked in the following manner:

  • Steamed;
  • Boiled;
  • Grilled;
  • Broiled.

Lobsters are served as the entrée or found in omelets, salads, ravioli, and other dishes from different cultures.

Since they are usually around a foot in size, more parts are edible such as the tail, claws, legs, and more giant lobsters have meat on the compartmented thorax.

The shells are spiky and a bit of a challenge to crack open as it takes table tools to break through the claws and legs.

Crabs and How They Are Different

Crabs are shorter in length but are wider with a more armored look to them. They do not have a tail like the lobster or shrimp, but the meat comes from the claws and the legs. The Dungeness and blue crab have edible meat from the thorax.

Blue crabs are special right after they molt because their shells are soft. Softshell crabs are easy to peel, whereas the rest are like the lobster and a challenge to peel and require tools to crack the shells. The best way to eat them is by doing the following:

  • Steam;
  • Boil;
  • Simmered.

Crabs are eaten as is, or they can be made into crab cakes or crab burgers. There are different recipes to follow, and some use other ingredients for different flavors. They are at the cook’s discretion, and all of them are made into patties or little cakes the size of burgers.

Price of Crabs and Suggestions

It takes much effort and boats to go offshore to catch lobsters and shrimp. They come from people who catch for a living and sell to the local restaurants and seafood dealers. All three sell at different prices throughout the seasons, but crabs are at the mid-level price compared to the other two sea creatures.

Crabs can be caught on the shorelines or docks as well as out in the deep blue sea. This leaves many who do not have a boat with a favorite pastime to catch crabs at their favorite beaches. It is free if you catch them and clean them yourself, which most people do.

People bring their ice chest, nets, family, and friends and cast nets all day until they reach their limit. Yes, the game wardens do watch and check, so be careful while having fun. The best way is to catch them and pay someone to clean them and cook them for you if you are not familiar with the cooking techniques.

Final Notes on Differences and Safety

As we discussed all the differences, there are differences if you choose to catch all three. It does take a license to catch each different crustacean and knowledge on how and where to catch them. Follow the professionals if it is something you may be interested in, but keep safety first.

It is always best if you are a do-it-yourself type to clean and cook them right away. All seafood is not steak or whole cut meats and will spoil, causing food poisoning if not handled carefully. And last but certainly not least, watch out for those pinchers because they hurt when they clampdown.