Claws for Celebration, It’s Stone Crab Season

A guide to a Florida delicacy, plus a tasty seafood dipping sauce

A plate of stone crab claws with mustard dipping suace

Photo: Jennifer Harris

Florida’s popular stone crabs are one of the original sustainable foods. After trapping the crustaceans, crabbers remove one of their claws at the joint and then toss the still-living crabs back into the water, where they regenerate their claws within a year or two. A whopping 98 percent of all harvested stone crab claws come from Florida, of which 40 percent comes from Collier County in the southwestern part of the state.

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The delicacy rose to popularity in 1921, when the New York transplant Joe Weiss added them to his lunch counter menu in Miami Beach. Served chilled with hash browns, coleslaw, and mayonnaise, they were an instant success. That lunch counter has since evolved into Joe’s Stone Crab, a century-old institution and one of the South’s most sought-after reservations. (Can’t get one? They ship claws overnight via Goldbelly.)

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Even with its worldwide acclaim, the stone crab industry is actually quite small; Kelly Kirk, co-owner of Kirk Fish Co. in the small fishing village of Goodland between Marco Island and Everglades City, says there are less than one thousand commercial stone crabbers throughout the state. “When you enjoy stone crabs,” she says, “know that there are fishermen and families who are working to make sure we are preserving the industry.” 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission provides strict guidelines for both commercial and recreational stone crabbers, specifying the harvest season (October 15 through May 1) as well as limiting harvest numbers. Even with these regulations, some misinformation has long been floating around regarding which claw can be harvested each season (left or right.)

“There never has been a regulation on which claw we take,” Kirk clarifies. “What there has always been is a size limitation. Recent changes in 2020 increased the size, so now the claw has to be 2 7/8 inches to make sure the crab is a little bit more mature.”

The claw on your plate will be at least that size, and possibly regrown. Chef Kristin Nemeth, chef de cuisine at Quinn’s On the Beach on Marco Island, shares an easy way to tell if a claw is original or regenerated: Inside, close to the pincher, you will find lines that look like a fingerprint. If the lines are unbroken, it’s an original claw; if instead there’s a series of dots or dashes, it’s a regenerated claw. 

After harvesting, the claws head to a processing center for cooking. They get steamed or boiled, dunked into an ice bath, and stay chilled until ready to eat. The claws are then sent on their way to seafood markets and restaurants throughout Florida and beyond. Stone crab claws are traditionally served chilled with a squeeze of fresh lime juice, which Nemeth prefers. Some connoisseurs like Kirk enjoy them just as they are. Another traditional accompaniment is a tangy sauce, like the one Nemeth shares here. “This well-balanced mustard sauce will dance on the palate, enhancing their natural sweetness without stealing the spotlight,” she says. “Let the flavors harmonize, not compete, for a truly exquisite dining experience.”

Stone Crab Fun Facts

• 98 percent of stone crabs come from Florida waters

• Stone crab claws can exert up to 19,000 pounds of pressure

• Female stone crabs can produce 500,000 to 1 million eggs at a time

• Female stone crabs live longer than males, up to nine years 

• Stone crabs’ primary predator is the octopus


  • Stone Crab Mustard Sauce

    • 2 cups mayonnaise

    • 1¾ cup smooth Dijon mustard

    • ¼ cup whole grain Dijon mustard

    • 5 tbsp. horseradish

    • 3 tbsp. Frank’s RedHot sauce

    • 3 tbsp. lemon juice

    • 3 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce


  1. Combine all ingredients and mix until well incorporated. Serve with chilled stone crab claws.