Learn how to make smoked crab legs on ANY grill or smoker!
Smoked Crab Legs are easy to prepare, whether you are using a pellet grill like a Traeger, Camp Chef, or Pit Boss, a propane or electric smoker like a Masterbuilt, or just a conventional grill like a Weber.
Check out our easy recipe below that also includes a Cajun Clarified Butter for basting and dipping.
Preparing the Crab Legs for Smoking
Crab legs are traditionally steamed and the served with clarified butter for dipping, sometimes referred to as drawn butter.
This is simply melted butter with the milk fat solids removed so that it is more clear and thin and well...appetizing.
We are going to kick it up a notch by adding some garlic, lemon, and Cajun seasonings and spices to our drawn butter.
We are especially big fans of Zatarain's Liquid Shrimp and Crab Boil to give your Cajun butter that authentic Cajun crab boil flavor.
Mix about a tablespoon of that stuff in along with some garlic and lemon and you are in serious business.
We'll be basting the crab legs while we are smoking them, and then also setting some aside for dipping after the crab legs come off the smoker.
Preparing the Cajun Clarified Butter
Melt your butter in a saucepan as SLOW as you can on VERY LOW heat.
Slowly stir to break up the sticks as they melt.
Once the butter has melted you can turn off the heat and gently skim off all the milk fat solids from the top leaving only the clear, or clarified, butter remaining.
You can follow our Cajun inspired recipe below or add your own spices to season the butter how you want it.
Divide the Clarified Butter
Make sure you have set aside about half of your Cajun clarified butter for dipping later.
You don't want to cross contaminate the butter you are basting the carb legs with while they are smoking with the butter you will be dipping into later.
This is a food safety rule and should be followed with ALL marinades and sauces you baste food with while its cooking.
Coat and Baste the Crab Legs
Pour anywhere from ⅓ to ½ of the seasoned clarified butter into an aluminum foil pan and roll your crab legs around in the butter before putting them on the smoker.
Yes, this will mainly coat and season the shells but will also give the crab legs a great color while they are smoking and trust us that a lot of that flavor will make its way into the crab legs over the next 45 minutes.
At the 15 and 30 minute marks, use the leftover butter from the foil pan to baste the smoked crab legs some more on both sides.
The Best Wood to Smoke Crab Legs
Like most seafood, smoked crab legs benefit from a milder smoking wood such as peach, apple, or cherry.
A little hickory is fine but we recommend using a small amount and blending it with some milder fruitwoods.
Make sure you are choosing the correct type of wood for your smoker. Electric smokers use wood chips, pellet grills use hardwood pellets, and charcoal grills use chunks of wood.
If you are using a pellet tube smoker to smoke on a gas grill or augment the smoke flavor on a pellet grill, you will fill it with pellets.
We also created a small firebox with charcoal briquettes and real wood chunks. This box can be used on a pellet grill, a charcoal grill, or a gas grill.
We are going to set up the smoker or grill for indirect cooking at 225°F.
This will allow the crab legs to absorb plenty of smoky flavor for about 45 minutes while we also baste on the Cajun butter seasoning every 15 minutes or so.
Most frozen crab legs sold in the US are already pre-cooked so you will in essence just be heating up the crab legs while smoking them if you buy frozen crab legs.
Make sure to thaw them a little before throwing them on the hot smoker.
If you are smoking fresh, raw crab legs, they should be a bright red color and fully cooked after the 45 minutes of smoking.
Unfortunately, unlike a steak or piece of fish, we can't just stick a temperature probe in the hard shelled crab leg to check for doneness.
But, you can always check one of them for doneness by cracking it open and inspecting the meat. It should be firm and not slimy and slide out easily in one piece.
Grill Baskets or Grill Mats
You may be more successful if you place the smoked crab legs in a grill basket rather than directly on the grill grates.
Especially if you have little orphan legs that can easily fall between the grates.
We are particular fans of the ORDORA Portable Grill Basket because it comes with its own handle, making it much easier to manage and move lots of delicate food around with one quick motion.
Our personal favorite is the Grillaholics Mesh Grill Mat.
Just throw it down on your grill to keep your smoked crab legs (or any other food) from falling through.
It keeps your grates really clean, and when you are done, you just throw it right in the dishwasher!
Monitor your Smoker Temperature
Almost every grill and smoker will have some sort of temperature gauge on them.
This is what makes them so convenient!
If, however, you are using a charcoal or propane grill/smoker, you can't rely on the cheap lid mounted temperature gauge that come installed on them.
We have found these can sometimes be up to 30°F off from what the true actual temperature at the grill grate level.
This is unacceptable.
This is why you will always see competition cooks, and backyard chefs who know their stuff, using wireless digital probe thermometers to keep track of both their meat AND their cooking chamber.
And even if you have a fancy pellet grill like a Traeger or even an electric smoker, it can't hurt to double check how accurate your temperature settings are to the true temperatures you are getting.
We are big fans of the ThermoPro Wireless Digital Meat Thermometer series.
Our current favorite thermometer is the MEATER. It has a dual probe that measures the internal temperature of your food and the ambient temperature of the grill at the same time.
The MEATER connects wirelessly with a free app on your smart phone to allow you to monitor the temperature from up to 165 feet away. It even gives an estimated time when the food will be finished.
Your smoked cab legs should be served immediately after removing them from the smoker.
No need to rest or wait to eat!
Make sure to give everyone some extra fresh lemon wedges as well as their own small side of Cajun butter to dip the smoked crab legs into!
Smoked Crab Legs with Clarified Cajun Butter
- Large Saucepan
- Mixing Bowl and Large Spoon
- Large Aluminum Foil Pan
- Basting brush
- Grill, Pellet Grill, or Smoker
- Pellets, Wood chunks, or a pellet tube smoker with pellets or a smoker box with wood chips
- Grill Tongs
- Grill Basket or Phat Mat (optional)
- 6-8 lbs Frozen Crab Legs Thawed
Cajun Clarified Butter
- 2 lbs Unsalted Butter
- 1 tablespoon Zatarain's Liquid Shrimp and Crab Boil
- 2 tablespoon Minced and crushed fresh garlic
- 3 tablespoon Fresh Chopped Parsley
- 2 tablespoon Cajun Seasoning
- 2 Lemons Juice of 1 Lemon (Save the other lemon to cut into wedges to squeeze on fresh when serving.)
- Salt and Pepper to taste
Melt the Clarified Butter
- Place the butter in a large saucepan and melt slowly over VERY LOW heat, stirring occasionally until completely melted
- Remove the butter from the heat and gently skim off the solid milk fat solids floating on top with a large spoon and discard.
- Transfer the clarified butter from the saucepan to a large mixing bowl and set aside.
Prepare the Grill or Smoker
- Light or turn on your smoker or pellet grill and set up the temperature to 225°F. If using a grill, set up the burners or charcoal on only one side for indirect cooking.
- Add your wood chunk(s) directly to the firebox or on top of the charcoal of a smoker, or use chips in a smoker box, or pellets in a tube smoker on a gas grill.
Prepare the Cajun Butter and Season the Crab
- Add the liquid shrimp boil, garlic, parsley, cajun seasoning, and the juice of 1 lemon to the clarified butter. Stir gently to incorporate.
- Set at least half of the cajun butter aside for dipping later, pour the remaining half into a large aluminum foil pan.
- Roll the thawed crab legs in the pan of butter to coat on all sides and then place on a tray until ready to smoke.
Smoke the Crab Legs
- Once smoke is being produced, put your crab legs in the smoker, or on the grill AWAY from the direct heat.
- At the 15 and 30 minute marks, brush the smoked crab legs on all sides with more cajun butter from the foil pan. Do not use the butter you set aside for dipping.
- After 45 minutes, remove the crab legs from the smoker or grill and place on a large serving platter.
- Serve with a lemon wedge and individual cups of the cajun butter you set aside for dipping for each guest. Enjoy!