Inside Puget Sound Dungeness crab season started this week, giving eaters another chance to curse their pliers-style crackers.
The popular shell openers reliably make a mess of crabs, says seafood marketer Jon Rowley, who's enthusiastically hawking a tool designed to remove leg and claw meat without shredding or tearing it.
"People are going to buy a lot more crab if they can open them," says Rowley, who 15 years ago studied standard objections to crab-eating while developing crab service programs for restaurant's including Elliott's Oyster House. Frustrations related to opening the crabs ranked high among them.
American inventors have been tinkering with crab crackers for more than a century, but Rowley thinks the solution is a weighted bat-style contraption that eaters use to firmly tap a crab's shell. The $20 tool, custom-made on Taylor Shellfish's lathe, looks something like a toilet paper holder rod, although Rowley resists the comparison.
"Well, we don't have to call it that," he says.
Rowley teaches weekly crab-cracking classes at Taylor Shellfish's retail store, coaching his students how to center crab legs on a brick and bring down the mallet with just the right amount of force. "When you get good, you can do it with one whack," he says.
Students are thrilled to learn how to free crab meat without destroying it, Rowley says.
"They're so proud when they can take a segment out intact," he says. "They walk out of here, and they're so happy."
With traditional crackers, Rowley says, "it comes out in shreds, and it's just not pretty. But it's delicious, so people put up with it. We had a woman (in class) who'd been cracking crabs for 40 years. She said she felt like she'd wasted half her life."