Crab cakes binding agent

Joined May 11, 2005
It's dungeness crab season here on the west coast and things are good.

I'm attempting to create "my ultimate crab cake recipe" and am having trouble keeping the cakes in one piece in the pan. Working with big dungeness crab the meat is so lumpy it just falls apart if you look at it too hard.

I want to incorporate a binding agent to help, but I don't want to end up with crab burgers.

A few items i've seen suggested is Mayo, egg white, egg yolk, etc.

Any suggestions or best practices I should consider?
Joined Feb 1, 2007
It would help if we knew what you're already doing.

Traditional binders for crab cakes are eggs, mayo, and bread or cracker crumbs. I've seen recipes that used as much as a cup of crumbs to a pound of crabmeat, but that's far to much binder for my taste. I use as little as possible, never more than a half-cup, and, more often, only about 1/3 cup.

But, as you've discovered, the bigger the lumps the harder it is to bind them together. Even so, it's worth the attempt, so that you get to eat crab rather than bread.
Joined Aug 7, 2008
With fresh crab that is larger flesh chunks I use as little binder as possible. Egg works well as does mayo. Hopefully on a product like this you are using home made mayo which of course still includes egg. You may want to consider lightly binding your crab and then coating the outside of the cakes with panko. When you sautee them they should be crisp on the out side and nice and soft inside.
Joined May 29, 2006
The original way was mayo ,mustard, old bay , chopped parsley and a touch of saltine cracker crumbs. some people added an egg yolk. They were broiled not fried although both ways seem acceptable by the public.:chef:
Joined Feb 1, 2007
They were broiled not fried although both ways seem acceptable by the public.

Ed, do you have any documentation on that? It runs counter to the info I have.

Broiling, over frying, is a rather recent innovation. It was first popularized at the Captains Galley, in Crisfield, and the NY Times identified it then as "the best crabcake on the Eastern Shore." IIRC, that was back in the 1980s.

To this day when I mention broiling as an option I mostly get blanked stares---and even categorical statements that crab cakes are never broiled.

Forms of fried crabcakes go back to pre-contact Native Americans along the Chesapeake, which, seems to me, is as original as it gets.
Joined May 29, 2006
This goes way back to when I went to school, My instructor was a man named Sid Aptikar, Sid wrote under Pen Name of Thomas Mario for Hefs Playboy way back when. He also worked for the Bookbinder Rest which was known for their crabcakes he told us they were broiled their as well as fried. Do I state this as fact? No, but possible.
He also injected that they were 3/4 lump and the remainder blue claw and so as not to break were never mixed with a metal spoon just tossed with a wooden one.?
Joined Feb 1, 2007
Sounds reasonable that others were broiling, Ed. But I don't believe it became popular until the low fat/no fat craze of the '80s. I have no doubt that the Captain's Galley was not the first. But they got that shot in the arm from the Times, and broiled crab cakes became associated with that restaurant.

Re: Bookbinders. Whenever I ate there I had the lobster, so don't know how they did their crabcakes. Speaking of Bookbinders, it was rumored that during Prohibition they were one of the handfull of restaurants that secretly prepared Maryland Terrapin Stew the original way---with Sherry. I've never been able to confirm that, however.

Virtually every cookbook I have (some dating back to the early 1800s) though says to fry crabcakes. The major differences seem to be whether to pan fry or deep fry. As to the latter, I usually reserve that for crab balls, but pan fry cakes.

so as not to break were never mixed with a metal spoon just tossed with a wooden one.?

I don't know whether wood or metal makes a difference. But he's certainly right about tossing. When I make crab cakes the crab is the last item to go in the bowl. I then gently toss with my hands for the reason he said: so as to not break up the crab pieces. Mixing the crab too vigourously breaks it up so badly that you might as well have started with backfin to begin with.

I have made them with backfin. You wind up with a dense, crab-burger kind of thing Pierre referred to.


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
I've only pan fried crab cakes myself, but i can see a broil being kinder to holding a fragile one together.

And I don't get why they call bread crumbs a binder. To me, they seem to make it more fragile, inhibiting binding. I can see where they add structure, like gravel in concrete, but not binding.

Maybe I have too much engineering background.
Joined Oct 16, 2009
I made my first Crab Cake shortly after moving to America (1960’s) in a NY Italian restaurant that is no longer around. They were famous for their Maryland/Italian Crab Cakes.

The binder was white bread, saltine crackers and Mayo. They were sautéed in Peanut oil (the ONLY item that we used peanut oil on) and then finished in the Salamander. The main ingredient in these was Blue crab and the binders and other seasonings were light as to not over power the flavor of the crab. Many of the NYC and Boston restaurants prepared them similarly, sautéing / broiling but not pan-frying.

Two years later I moved to FL and the restaurants down there seemed to favor pan-frying, they used more binders and made it like a batter. They used much more cracker crumbs, a small amount liquid (usually milk), mayo and eggs. When cooking we used metal rings that we poured this mixture into to help form it. It seemed to me that most of the restaurants down there used this technique and there was not an emphasis on using Blue crab as there was in NY.

It could be a regional thing as to how they were prepared.
Joined May 11, 2005
I was using 4:1 (crab : panko) ratio with some sauteed shallots and garlic and chopped parsley. + old bay seasoning and S&P.
I managed to get them into the skillet ok, but the flip went to pieces.

Next batch I'll up the ratio to 2:1 and add a little mayo.

It's all one big experiment, but at least the failures still taste great.
Joined May 14, 1999
I've seen Panko used as a binder, saltines used as a binder, finely diced white sandwich bread (soaked in milk) and even Rice Crispie Cereal (soaked in milk first and then fist-wrung) used as a binder. IMO, the cereal had the best effect.

In every case though, I always freeze the raw cake, then dredge in breading mix and pan-sear, finishing in the oven. In this way I do not go overboard with the amount of binding.
Joined Jan 4, 2011
Jody ... Post before your ..."11/17/09".  

Nice resurrection job ... wonderful thread. Really good suggestion.

"Welcome to the TEAM". 
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Joined Feb 22, 2016
we used pullman white bread.  5 slices per 1 lb can.  trimmed the crusts then cut in small pieces, soak in 1/2 &1/2,  squeeze as much liquid out then add the  mayo etc.  we added a bit of dijon mustard also
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