This Smoked Crab Imperial is a simple yet decadent 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.
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, but it’s actually just a few simple ingredients all whipped up in a bowl and baked.
Instead of a traditional baked crab imperial, we’re cooking this crab imperial on a smoker with good kiln-dried wood chunks. This adds an unexpected smoky flavor that’s just subtle enough to not overtake the dish but notable enough to have everyone raving about how delicious your crab imperial is!
What is crab imperial?
Crab imperial is a classic American dish made up of lump crab meat folded into a rich and creamy imperial sauce which, at its simplest, is a mixture of mayo, egg, and seasonings.
What is the difference between crab cake and crab imperial?
Although crab cake and imperial are similar in a lot of ingredients, they are different!
Crab imperial is creamier, has less structure, and is baked in a casserole dish. Crab cakes have a filler such as breadcrumbs to give them more structure so they can be baked into “cakes”.
If you love this crab imperial, you’ll love my Maryland crab cakes recipe!
What you need to make this recipe
Once you have your crab meat, the rest of this recipe is made up of pantry staples!
- Jumbo Lump Crab – you can also use regular lump crab or backfin crab meat.
- 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 sauce.
- Melted Butter – provides a rich flavor depth.
- Lemon Juice – adds a 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 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.
- Egg – binds everything together so the crab imperial becomes more of a casserole.
Parsley – or chives for garnish!
How to make smoked crab imperial
Place the crab in a large bowl and preheat your smoker to 300ºF.
In a separate 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 toss to combine.
Add the mayo mixture to the bowl with the crab and mix gently. Transfer the mixture to a small cast-iron skillet.
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. Cover and cook for 30-40 minutes or until golden and bubbling. Remove from the heat and cool for 5 minutes.
Serve garnished with additional Creole seasoning and minced parsley or chives.
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 MVP 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 Maryland Blues.
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 MVP for this recipe. I highly recommend using the real thing for the best flavor and texture.
Tips, tricks, and notes for this recipe
- Buy quality crab. Trust me. It’s worth the investment.
- 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 cooked, you’re essentially just warming it up.
- If you’re using crab meat packed in a container, make sure you drain any liquid before you start this recipe.
Crab imperial makes a delicious and decadent appetizer served on baguette slices or with crackers.
It also really shines when paired with another protein as an entree! It’s amazing spooned over chicken, 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!
How to store
Leftover smoked crab imperial 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
- 1 lbs jumbo lump crab
- ½ cup Mayo
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon melted butter
- 1 teaspoon Lemon juice
- ¼ Onion minced
- 2 teaspoon Tony Chachere’s BOLD Seasoning divided
- ½ teaspoon Ground mustard
- 1 Egg
- ½ teaspoon 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.