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Can You Eat Dungeness Crab Gills?

dungeness crab gills
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Dungeness crab is a very messy delicacy, but some parts of it are definitely less tasty than others. An old saying about crabs is that their gills are, in fact, toxic, but is that true?

A Dungeness crab’s gills are not poisonous, but they are not very easily digested, and they have a sickening taste. Those experienced in cooking crabs recommend that you remove them. 

So, if they aren’t that easily digested, then what happens if you were to eat them? We’ll explain what happens below:

Are There Any Consequences When You Eat Dungeness Crab Gills? 

The gills of the crab, also known as ‘Dead man’s fingers, are tough, nasty tasting feathery textured things underneath the shell but over the meat. Eating them is generally similar to eating anything else, which is inedible and has a few side effects.

  • If it’s small, then it might pass through your intestine fine.
  • If it’s larger, it may require surgery, or else it may cause intestinal perforation when an inedible object might tear a hole in the gastrointestinal organs.

However, the gills of a crab are unlikely to cause anything like that. They are softer, and often considered chewy, meaning they are not very likely to cause much damage if swallowed. 

Essentially, if you swallow Dungeness crab gills, the most common thing that is likely to happen is nothing. However, if you begin to suffer with:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Vomiting 
  • Other gastrointestinal distress

Then call a doctor and get some advice.  

Can You Eat Dungeness Crab Viscera?

Something else which needs to be understood about Dungeness Crab is that some areas of California have reported dangerous levels of domoic acid, which often can be found in the internal organs and meat of bottom-feeding crustaceans, such as shrimp and crabs. 

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) says that the meat is generally safe to eat when cooked properly but warns against eating the viscera, as this is where the domoic acid tends to collect. 

The poisoning symptoms can begin as short as half an hour to 24 hours after consumption, and it is crucial to remember that cooking doesn’t destroy or even decrease the poison. Symptoms of this poisoning include:

  • Disorientation
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures

In the worst cases, then poisoning could result in death. Therefore, if you plan to eat Dungeness crab, you need to clear out the guts first or be at serious risk of poisoning.

What Parts of a Dungeness Crab Are Best To Eat?

So the gills are not good to eat, and the viscera is even worse. What parts of a Dungeness crab are best to eat?

Dungeness Crab Claws

The claws are considered good to eat, but they are also considered the best part of the crab to eat. Claws include the largest amount of muscle in the crab, which means that it has the most delicious meat on them. The shell will need some cracking, but you can either crack them with 

  • Special crab cracking tools
  • Any hard utensil

Dungeness Crab Legs

The legs are also a very good source of meat, but crab legs are very well known for being low in saturated fat and are reportedly quite sweet with a delicate saltiness.

Dungeness Crab Body

Of course, this is the main part of the crab, which is often used in crab cakes and other dishes involving crab. 

To get to the meat of the body, the best way to get into it is to remove the claws and legs and crack it in half lengthways using a hammer. 

Dungeness Crab Shells

Crab shells by themselves are not a good source of food – so we’re not recommending that you pick up the shell once you’ve cleaned them of meat and bite into them like a sandwich, but it can still be productive.

Once you’re done with the crab meat itself, you can put the crab shells into a big pan, cover it with cold water, then bring it to a boil. It should only take about ten minutes to make into a good fish stock which can be used for all sorts of things such as:

  • Fish soup
  • Chowder
  • Bouillabaisse stock

Best Way To Prepare Dungeness Crab To Eat

Despite the toxins present in Dungeness crab, it can be safe and delicious when prepared properly. Here’s the best way to do it:

  • Boil them whole, which will cause a good amount of the domoic acid to leach into the water. Remember, the water is poisonous now, so you must throw it away. 

Other methods of cooking crabs, such as steaming, baking, stir-frying, and grilling, won’t do much to remove any domoic acid, so you are still at risk then.

  • If you want a grilled, baked, or stir-fried crab, experts recommend slightly boiling it to remove the domoic acid and then continuing with your preferred cooking method.
  • Half-backing, as in removing half the shell and the viscera, can also help prevent any poison from leaking into the meat. 


In conclusion, you can eat the Dungeness crab’s gills. However, they are chewy, foul-tasting, and have next to no nutritional value. However, there are parts that you absolutely should not eat, such as the crab’s guts, known as the viscera, due to domoic acid, which can cause severe poisoning. 

But if you boil these crabs first to ensure the poison leaks into the water or half-back it to remove the viscera, they become much safer to eat, and some parts are quite delicious. It is said that the best piece of meat on a crab is the claws, then followed by the legs, and finally topped by the body.

Zaldy G.

I love feeling the cool ocean spray every time I hit the beach with a rod and a bucket of bait. I love the thrill of feeling bites on my line whenever I hook a big one. And I especially love the pride that comes with cooking a fresh catch and sharing it with my friends and family. Thank you for stopping by. Let's go catch some fish!

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