Gently unwrap crabs into a sturdy paper bag (cut off any handles first), putting in no more than 2 at a time. If crabs are loose in a box, use tongs to lift from the rear between legs and put in bag.
Holding bag near bottom, gently pour crabs into boiling water (tongs don’t always give a steady grip) and cover pot. Cook, lowering heat to a simmer once water is boiling again: 15 minutes for 1½- to 2½-lb. crabs, 20 minutes for bigger ones.
Lift crabs out with tongs and rinse with cold running water until cool enough to handle.
Place cooked crab, belly up, on a work surface. Pull off and discard triangular flap and the pointy appendages underneath it, plus the small paddles from the front of the crab.
How to crack and clean
4. Twist legs and claws from body. Using a nutcracker or wooden mallet, crack the shell of each leg and claw section. With a knife, cut the body into quarters.
Using a tip of a crab leg or a cocktail pick, remove meat as you pull legs and body sections apart. A cooked, cleaned crab yields about 25 percent of its weight in sweet, juicy meat. For example, plan on getting about 8 oz. (1½ cups) meat from a 2-lb. crab; 1 serving is about 6 oz.