This homemade version of a staple Maryland appetizer, the Crab Pretzel, is a perfect addition for your next gathering. Jumbo, chewy homemade soft pretzels are topped with lump crab dip and melted cheddar cheese - and don't forget the Old Bay!
If you're looking for the ultimate crowd pleasing appetizer, this jumbo crab pretzel is it! And let's be honest, this is not a delicate eat. You'll be scraping up every last bit of crab dip that falls off (and it will fall off) followed by a lick of the fingers.
The crab pretzel is a very common appetizer in Maryland, specifically (and surrounding areas) and is often found at pubs and bars. The dish consists of a soft pretzel topped with lump crab dip and cheddar cheese and baked until hot and bubbly.
The crab dip is creamy, full of flavor (it's that Old Bay seasoning or J.O. spice), and pairs perfectly with the chewy soft pretzel. My version includes some sliced scallions, which adds an extra layer of flavor!
And...don't forget the beer!
The recipe actually makes two large pretzels, as I love to eat the jumbo versions best! I think the larger soft pretzel is a better vessel to hold all of that amazing crab dip, and has the best texture.
However, I provide a few ways to cut the recipe down or adjust to smaller pretzels, if you'd like. See "Recpe Adaptations" secion for details.
Ingredient & Tools Notes
- Soft pretzels. Active dry yeast, brown sugar, flour and unsalted butter.
- Baking soda. You need this for the water bath and is what produces that classic pretzel flavor and helps them develop color!
- Large pot. Enough to hold 8-10 cups of water.
- Large baking sheet. This will need to be lined with parchment paper and sprayed with nonstick spray.
- Spatulas. You NEED two large spatulas, slotted spoons, spiders, etc. to transfer the pretzels from the water bath to the baking sheet. If you do not have two very large spatulas, I'd suggest making four slightly smaller pretzels rather than the to extra large.
Crab Dip Ingredients
- Dairy. Cream cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream, monterey jack cheese, cheddar cheese.
- Lump crab meat. If you're on the actual East coast, try to get this fresh. Otherwise, canned lump crab meat is wonderful.
- Extra flavor. Scallions, mustard powder, worschestershire, Old Bay seasoning or J.O. spice.
Hot tip! Shred your own cheese, rather than using pre-shredded cheese. This will give you the best melt-factor.
What type of crab to use for crab dip
If you have access to fresh blue crab, you should use it! Otherwise, you'll want to use canned lump crab meat, which you can find in the refrigerated seafood section of the grocery store.
You'll see a few varieties of canned crab - special, claw meat, lump, and jumbo lump. This crab dip is made with lump crab meat, which provides those chunky pieces of crab, while also dispersing quite a bit throughout the dip.
While jumbo lump is the most saught after crab, I find it's not the best for crab dip, and especially not to top these pretzels (not to mention it's the most expensive).
However, if you can only find special or claw meat, use it! It will still taste absolutely delicious.
This crab dip recipe has no fillers like breadcrumbs, and is full of crab, cheese, and flavor.
How to make crab pretzels
STEP 1: Make the pretzel dough by activating the yeast, then adding the remining ingredients to the stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment and beat until the dough cleans the sides.
STEP 2: Knead the dough by hand for about 5 minutes until very soft and pliable, then oil the bowl, cover and allow the dough to rest in a warm place until doubled in size.
Hot tip! Take a picture of your dough so you can refer back to track how much it has risen.
STEP 3: While the dough is rising, make the crab dip and store in the fridge until ready to use.
STEP 4: Cut the dough in half and roll each into a 1 inch log, then wrap into a pretzel shape (see next section for how to shape a soft pretzel).
STEP 5: Transfer each pretzel to the water and baking soda bath (be sure it's at least at a simmer) for one minute, then remove to a parchment lined baking pan. Bake the pretzels until they're almost fully baked, and develop a golden brown color.
How to shape a soft pretzel
Watch HOW TO SHAPE A SOFT PRETZEL to see me do it in live time.
To shape a soft pretzel, roll out the dough into a log to whatever length is stated in the recipe instructions. Then, form the log in to a "U" shape, with the bottom facing your body.
Then, grab the top of each piece with the opposite hand (your arms will now be crossed), uncross your arms to cross the dough, then wrap it one more time so there are two twists in the middle of the pretzel.
Bring each end down and lay the pieces on top of the dough and lightly press to seal.
Assembling the pretzels
STEP 6: Top each soft pretzel with crab dip - and I mean heaping mounds (all crab dip will get used). Top with extra grated sharp cheddar cheese.
STEP 7: Bake the pretzels for another 3-5 minutes, then crank the oven to high broil for about one minute to get the cheese slightly browned. Watch it carefully and brown it to your preference.
Add additional scallion greens and bit more Old Bay or J.O. seasoning. Serve hot!
To make this recipe as written into two large crab pretzels, you will need two large spatulas to transfer the pretzel from the water bath to the baking sheet. Without these tools, the pretzels will fall apart.
If you don't have the spatulas, or would simply like to make smaller pretzels, this recipe can easily be made into four soft pretzels, instead. This can be more manageable for some.
Follow all the same instructions to make the pretzels, however, decrease the inital bake time by half.
Storing and Freezing
It's best to store the baked pretzel and crab dip separately, however, it can be stored fully baked, as well.
Store a fully baked crab pretzel covered in the fridge for three days, reheating in a 375℉ for 5-7 minutes. The crab pretzel can also be microwaved until hot.
If you have any leftover crab dip, store it covered in the fridge for 3 days.
FAQs & Tips
Can you heat crab dip in the microwave?
Yes, definitely. If you have any leftover crab dip, it can be reheated in the microwave until hot.Can I use store-bought pretzels?
Sure! While I don't think they'll taste as chewy or nice as freshly baked pretzels, you can use store-bought frozen soft pretzels in a pinch. Look for slightly larger ones, if you can find them.How do you reheat crab pretzels?
The best way to reheat the crab pretzels is in a 375℉ for 5-7 minutes. However, you can also microwave the crab pretzels until hot.How long does a crab pretzel last in the fridge?
The crab pretzel can store in the fridge for three days, but should not be kept for longer.
More savory recipes to try
- Spinach Feta Pinwheels
- Reuben Hand Pies
- Prosciutto Asparagus Puff Pastry Bundles
- 1 cup warm water 8oz (110℉)
- 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast one packet (21g)
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar 13g
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter melted (15g)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 - 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 360-420g
- 8 cups water 64oz
- 1/2 cup baking soda 144g
- 8 oz full-fat cream cheese room temperature
- 3 tablespoons mayonnaise 45g
- 3 tablespoons sour cream 45g
- 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar divided (half for dip, half for tops), ~5oz
- 1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese ~3oz
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions white and light green parts, save the dark green parts for garnish
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning or J.O. spice
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 pound lump crab meat fresh or canned
- Add the warm water, yeast and sugar in a stand mixer bowl, stir, then let sit for 5 minutes to activate the yeast. It should get foamy. If it doesn’t foam up, start again (and check the water temperature and yeast expiration date).
- Add the salt and melted butter, then add the dough hook and start mixing on low.
- With the mixer runner, add the flour about ½ cup at a time until 3 cups have been added and the dough pulls away from the sides. Increase the speed slightly once halfway through. If needed, add the remaining flour a spoonful at a time until the dough feels slightly tacky, but not sticky and coming off on your fingers.
- Turn out the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for 3-5 minutes until the dough turn smooth, soft, and very easy to work with.
- Place the dough into a well oiled bowl, turn it to coat, and cover with plastic wrap or a dish towel. Rise in a warm place for about one hour, or until doubled in size.
- While the dough rises, prepare the crab dip (see next section).
- Once the dough is almost doubled, preheat the oven to 425℉/218℃ and bring the pot of water to a boil. Also line a large baking pan with parchment paper (then spray with nonstick spray), or a silicon baking mat.
- Once the dough has risen, split the dough into two pieces, then roll out each piece to about 24" long and 1 thick.
- Shape into a pretzel form (shape into a U, cross the tops and twist twice, then bring the ends down).
- Add the baking soda to the simmering water, then transfer one pretzel at a time to the water bath for 30 seconds. Use two large spatulas to remove each to the baking pan.
- Top each pretzel with coarse sea salt (optional), then bake for 15-17 minutes until golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven.
- Split the crab mixture and place half on top of each pretzel, then top with the remaining cheddar cheese.
- Bake for an additional 3 minutes, then turn the broiler to high and broil until the cheese gets slightly browned and bubbly.
- Top with scallion greens and extra Old bay. Enjoy hot - slice or pull off pieces (and scoop up any that falls off)!
- Beat the softened cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment until creamy.
- Add the mayonnaise, sour cream, half of the cheddar cheese, Monterey Jack cheese, scallions, mustard, old bay, worschestershire, and salt and mix to combine.
- Carefully fold in the crab meat with a rubber spatula, trying not to break up the crab. Trasnfer to the fridge until ready to use.
- Take a picture of the dough when you start the rise so you have a reference of when it's doubled in size!
- See the post-write-up for visuals of how to form the pretzel shape.
- It can be slightly tricky transferring the pretzels. When moving to the water bath, hook your fingers around both sides of the bottom and quickly lift and place them into the water. To remove from the water bath, use two of your largest spatulas (or a large spider), being sure you have even surface distribution so the pretzels don't break.
- This recipe can also be made into 4 slightly smaller pretzels. I would suggest this if you don't have large enough spatulas to do the transfer. Reduce the pretzel bake time to 8-10 minutes.
- You could also half the recipe to make one large pretzel or two smaller pretzels.
- Store the pretzels covered in the fridge for 3 days. Reheat in the microwave or in the oven (375℉ for 5-7 minutes).