This Smoked Crab Imperial is my favorite recipe for a delicious side dish or entree! Delicate pieces of jumbo lump crab are folded into a rich, creamy imperial sauce, then smoked for a bonus layer of umami flavor. 

Smoked Crab imperial served in a cast iron skillet

With “imperial” in the name, you have to assume that some sort of royalty is involved…or at least some very important diplomat. Turns out, crab imperial sounds, looks, and tastes fancy, particularly when paired with a smoked beef tenderloin

It’s a classic American dish from the Eastern Shore of Maryland with just a few simple ingredients all whipped up in a bowl and baked that’s an incredibly easy recipe to make!

Instead of a traditional baked crab imperial recipe, we’re cooking this crab imperial on a smoker with good kiln-dried wood chunks.

This adds an unexpected smoky flavor to the classic dish that’s just subtle enough not to overtake the dish but notable enough to have everyone raving about how it’s absolutely delicious and the best crab imperial recipe they’ve tasted! 

What is crab imperial?

Crab imperial is a hot crab dip made up of lump crabmeat folded into a rich and creamy imperial sauce which, at its simplest, is a mixture of mayo, egg, and seasonings.

It’s a rich, indulgent, and incredibly easy crab recipe! And, this smoked version is the best crab imperial for special occasions, holiday dinners, and pairs with any holiday feast!

What is the difference between crab cake and crab imperial?

Although crab cake and imperial are similar in a lot of ingredients, they are totally different!

Crab imperial is creamier, has less structure, where the crab mixture is baked in a casserole dish. Maryland Crab cakes have a filler such as bread crumbs to give them more structure so they can be baked into “cakes”. Besides the crab flavor, they are totally different.

Mustard, Mayo, Crab Meat, Onion, Egg, Butter and other ingredients for crab imperial

What you need to make this recipe

Once you have your crab meat, the rest of this great recipe is made up of pantry staples! 

  • Jumbo Lump Crabmeat– you can also use regular lump crab or backfin crab meat, but we recommend the meat from blue crabs for the best taste of the crab. Check the refrigerated meat and seafood area of your local market, or even Costco occasionally stocks tins of it. Make sure to pick your crabmeat over for small shells.
  • Mayo – the base of the classic, creamy imperial sauce. You can use whatever variety of mayo you like.
  • Worcestershire Sauce – adds a salty tang that helps offset the creaminess of the sauce.
  • Melted Butter – provides a rich flavor depth. Always use unsalted butter.
  • Fresh Lemon Juice – adds brightness to contrast the rich, buttery flavor of the sauce.
  • Onion – be sure to mince the onion pretty small so the flavor doesn’t overtake the crab. 
  • Seasoning – I use Tony Chachere’s BOLD Seasoning to give the imperial a smoky, spicy kick. Zatarain’s Creole seasoning or Old Bay seafood seasoning will work as well.
  • Mustard – you can use regular mustard or dijon mustard for a spicier kick. For this recipe, we used ground mustard / dry mustard powder.
  • Egg – binds everything together, so the crab imperial becomes more of a casserole texture.
  • Parsley – or chives for garnish!
Crab imperial topping on Sliced beef tenderloin

How to make smoked crab imperial recipe

Place the crab in a large bowl and preheat your smoker to 300 degrees F.

In a separate small bowl, mix together mayo, Worcestershire, butter, and lemon juice. Add the onion, seasoning, and ground mustard and toss to combine. Mix in the egg and parsley and mix. 

Add the mayo mixture to the bowl with the crab and fold gently. The idea here, is to not break apart the crabmeat. Spoon the imperial mixture into a small cast-iron skillet, baking dish, or individual ramekins for smaller portions.

When you’re ready to smoke, add the wood chunks to the embers and place the skillet over a grate at least 10” from the flames. Make sure you wait for the smoke to burn clean before

Cover and cook for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown on top and bubbling. Remove from the heat and cool for 5 minutes. 

Serve garnished with additional Creole seasoning or Old Bay seasoning and minced parsley or chives.

Step by step process on how to mix ingredients for crab imperial

FAQs

What type of crabmeat to use for crab imperial?

I use jumbo lump crab meat which comes from the body of the crab and features big chunks of meat. Lump meat is the most expensive crab to use, but it’s totally worth the investment. Since crab is the focus of this recipe, you want the best stuff you can get!

If you don’t want to use jumbo lump crab, you can use regular lump crab or backfin crab instead. You can also swap the crab out entirely and use lobster if preferred!

Where to buy lump crab meat?

You can find high-quality lump crab meat at your local fish market or in the seafood department at most bigger markets. Look for “Lump Crab” on the label. You’ll want big chunks from the body for this recipe! I personally love real east coast Maryland Blue crabs for their sweet flavor.

If you have a fish market nearby, I recommend calling and asking if they carry it. If they do, great! If they don’t, you might be able to have them order you some. Make sure you check how much they are charging per pound so you know what you’re getting into. Lump crab meat can cost up to $20-$25 per pound.

Can you use imitation crab meat?

No! Crab is the main ingredient for this recipe, and you can really taste the crab. Immitation just won’t cut it here, and I highly recommend using the real blue crab meat for the best flavor and texture.

Smoked crab imperial in a cast iron skillet with fresh parsley on a dark table

Tips, tricks, and notes for this recipe

  • Buy quality crab. Trust me. It’s worth the investment. If you aren’t on the eastern shore, look in Costco for Phillips Crab Meat Brand, as they have great quality.
  • Check for shells. Anytime you’re using crab meat, give it a quick once-over to check for shells. There is often one or two that have slipped through. 
  • Use a big bowl. You will be mixing the sauce then adding the crab to that. You want enough space to mix!
  • Mix gently. Crab meat is pretty delicate. As you’re folding the meat into the sauce, be gentle so you don’t break it apart.
  • Don’t over-cook. Once the crab imperial is golden and dubbing, take out out right away. Overcooked crab can be dry. Plus, since the crab comes already fully cooked, you’re essentially just warming it up.
  • If you’re using crab meat packed in a container or tin, make sure you drain any liquid before you start this recipe.

Serving suggestions

This crab imperial recipe makes a delicious and decadent appetizer served on baguette slices or with crackers. 

It also really shines when paired with another protein as a main course! It’s amazing spooned over chicken, stuffed in omelets, or, my personal favorite, layered on top of a medium-rare smoked beef tenderloin to create an over-the-top, at-home, fine dining experience.

Serve that with fresh asparagus, green beans, and roasted potatoes on the side and dry white wine.

How to store

Leftover smoked crab imperial recipe will last in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 1-2 days. To reheat, warm in the oven at 350ºF for 10-15 minutes or until heated through.

I don’t recommend freezing crab imperial because the creamy sauce will separate and become watery when thawed.

More seafood recipes you’ll love

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Smoked Crab Imperial Recipe

5 from 28 votes
Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 40 mins
Resting Time: 10 mins
Total: 1 hr
Servings: 8
Crab imperial in a cast iron skillet
This is an amazing recipe that works well all by itself as a glorious appetizer or paired with a main course. With a few simple ingredients and fresh crab, the smoker adds an amazing layer of flavor to an already luscious recipe.

Ingredients  

  • 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
  • 1/2 tsp Ground mustard
  • 1 Egg
  • ½ tsp Parsley minced plus more for garnish

Instructions 

  • 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.

Notes

When using any crab meat, you want to quickly look it over for small shells. Hard to spot, but there is often one or two that slipped through that can be pulled out before you mix the crab with anything else. 
If you are using crab meat packed in a container, make sure to drain it of any liquid before you start this recipe. 
Crab meat is one of the few ingredients where I will really splurge. I want to make sure that it’s top-quality jump lump crab meat. It costs more than canned crab, but it’s worth every penny for special occasions. 
We used Creole seasoning for this recipe, but for an authentic Maryland crab imperial, use Old Bay. 

Nutrition

Serving: 1g | Calories: 166kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 11g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 54mg | Sodium: 591mg | Potassium: 139mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 200IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 29mg | Iron: 1mg
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: American
Author: Kita Roberts
Keyword: crab imperial, crab imperial recipe, smoked crab

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    This smoked crab imperial over beef takes a whole new level to surf and turf. This would be a great New Year’s eve or date night dish.

  2. 5 stars
    This dish looks seriously delicious! I am loving the idea of serving it over the beef tenderloin for a date night dinner with the hubby. He will be impressed for sure.

  3. I’m drooling just reading this post! It’s NYE and I have been planning on a crab feast. I’ve never heard of Crab Imperial but it sounds great to me. This is the ultimate surf and turf!

  4. 5 stars
    My mouth is watering just looking at this smoked crab imperial recipe! What a rich and tasty dish to serve for special occasions. I live in the PNW so crab is (thankfully) easy to source. I can’t wait to use some in this gorgeous dish!

  5. 5 stars
    I have never had crab imperial. But it over that meat, my goodness! I am drooling. I may have to attempt this recipe for sure.

  6. 5 stars
    Even the name of this recipe must make you want to party like a queen! Delicious crab with some incredible food shots. Love it all. And the smoking must see the flavors go through the roof!

  7. 5 stars
    My what a beautiful dish! I’ve never had crab this way but would love to try it! Sounds and looks magnificent.

  8. Oh heck yes! What’s not to love about this recipe? Creamy, savory, delicious! I think I’m already falling in love with this imperial on top of that gorgeous beef! I’m about ready to lick my screen!

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