Velvety smooth crab imperial has always been a classic – and for good reason. But can it be smoked for a bonus layer of umami flavor and still hold it’s own? Turns out yes. And it goes perfectly slathered over a smoked beef tenderloin.
Crab imperial is one of those dishes that is pure heavenly sin. It’s light and silky, loaded with luscious sweet lump crab, and spiced with intense creamy flavor.
If you have ever tried it, you knew what true love was at first bite. Served over steak, chicken, or even just a plain cracker, it is a truly wonderful dish.
This recipe was smoked in a cast-iron skillet to add one more soft flavor component. It’s shockingly easy to make and will be your go-to crowd pleasure for the holidays from now on. (Or ‘tween you and me, a great recipe to make just for yourself, cuz you’re worth it).
This recipe is easy to prep ahead of time if you are hosting company. It can be stored in the fridge for 24 hours and then heated up right before everyone arrives. And it’s totally one that looks amazing right from the skillet with a simple serving spoon.
Because it is one of those super-rich-lick-the-skillet-clean sort of dishes, I only make it very very rarely, but when I do it goes quick and is worth every single calory.
What Exactly Is Crab Imperial?
So, with “imperial” in the name, you have to figure some sort of royalty is involved. Or at least a very important diplomat or something like that.
Turns out crab imperial gets its name by way of the sauce you make. An imperial sauce is essentially a classic mayo based sauce and it is really easy to make. But the name sure makes it sound all high falutin’ and difficult.
The imperial pretty much describes how richly decadent the sauce is. Especially since you cover the crab with it. And by the way, if you want to make it even more rich and fabulous, you can always use lobster meat instead of crab.
What Is Lump Crab Meat?
Crab meat comes packed in a few grades to differentiate the quality of the product. Lump crab meat comes from the body of the crab and features big chunks of meat. Lump is like the medium level of lumpiness because there is jumbo lump and special lump. You might also see claw meat with lump.
Regardless of what type of crab meat you choose, any crab meat you get, including if you choose to break it down from a whole crab in shell, has been thoroughly cooked first. So, it is safe to eat directly out of the can.
Crabs harvested at sea are literally cooked as quickly as possible – otherwise the meat goes bad quickly. And bad crab is worse than leftover stinky salmon even. You don’t want to ever experience that smell because your nose will never forgive your face.
Tony Chachere’s Vs. Old Bay or Zatarains
Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning is what I use here, but Zatarain’s creole or Old Bay seasonings also work too. These are all seasoning spice blends that are great for seafood of any sort, but are completely awesome for shellfish especially.
What you Need:
Crab imperial sounds fancy. But for reals, it’s a few quick ingredients all whipped up in a bowl before finishing it off in the smoker.
Once you have shopped for your crab meat, the rest should be pantry staples.
Mayo, ground mustard, butter, lemon juice, Tony Chachere’s BOLD blend, minced onion, and Worcestershire sauce are all this recipe needs. It really is kind of magic how simple it is to make.
Where to buy lump crab meat?
You can find high-quality lump crab meat at your local fish market. If you have a fish market nearby, call and ask if they carry it, and if not, would they order you some. Make sure to ask how much they are charging per pound so you know what you are getting into. This can run from $20 to $25 a pound at times.
Most bigger markets also have some in the seafood department. Look for ‘Lump Crab‘ on the label. You will want big chunks from the body for this recipe.
I love real Maryland blues, personally, and have been known to pick blue crabs up myself and freeze it in large batches when in season so I can have it all year long.
How to make Smoked Crab Imperial
Make sure you are working with a bowl bigger than you think you need. You will be mixing mayo with the ingredients and then gently folding the crab in. You don’t want to mix this too hard, or the delicate meat will fall apart.
Having a bigger bowl will allow you to fold everything without having to push it around too harshly. We’re going for tender loving here. Mainly so we have big flavorful bites later. Trust me on this one.
Once everything has been evenly folded to evenly coat, you will transfer it to a fire safe skillet, cast iron is your best bet here.
Instead of traditionally baking this, with a buttery bread topping, place it on a smoker with good kiln-dried wood chunks (I proudly partner with and use Western wood chunks for all my smoking and LOVE the flavor I get from the smoke).
This adds an unexpected flavor, soft but there as the dish comes to a bubbling finish in under an hour over the coals. Everyone will be raving about this!
What to serve with crab imperial?
Perfect with a spoon over crackers, this is great as a stand-alone appetizer. Privately, if I’m going that route, I like a cracker with a good snap, like one hearty with grains and seeds.
However, this really shines when paired with another protein. It goes amazing over spooned over chicken or, my personal favorite, beef tenderloin to create an over the top at-home fine dining experience.
Serve with fresh asparagus or green beans, and roasted potatoes on the side.
Looking for more show-stopping seafood recipes? Try some of my favorites!
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Smoked Crab Imperial
- 1 lbs jumbo lump crab
- ½ cup Mayo
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp melted butter
- 1 tsp Lemon juice
- ¼ Onion minced
- 2 tsp Tony Chachere’s BOLD Seasoning divided
- 1 Egg
- ½ tsp Parsley minced plus more for garnish
- Preheat your smoker to 300 degrees.
- Place the crab in a large bowl.
- Mix the mayo, Worcestershire, butter, and lemon juice in a bowl.
- Add the minced onion.
- Mix in 1 teaspoon of the Tony Chachere’s BOLD blend and the ground mustard to combine.
- Mix in the beaten egg to combine and the parsley.
- Add the mayo mixture to the bowl with the crab, folding gently to not break up the crab meat.
- Gently spoon into a small 6” cast iron skillet.
- When ready to smoke, add the wood chunks to the embers and place the skillet over a grate at least 10” from any flames.
- Cover the smoker and cook for 30 to 40 minutes until the crab imperial is golden and bubbling.
- Carefully, with heat resistant gloves, remove the skillet from the fire and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
- Garnish with the remaining Creole seasoning and minced parsley or chives.
- Spoon over beef tenderloin or serve as an appetizer.