Use your air fryer to make delicious Maryland-inspired crab cakes, with less oil than pan-frying! These air fryer crab cakes are brimming with lump crab meat, classic seasonings, and just enough “filler” to hold them together. Prep them ahead and have them on the table with less than 20 minutes of cooking time!
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What You’ll Need to Make Air Fryer Crab Cakes
These Maryland-inspired crab cakes aren’t a “bready” recipe; when you cut into them, you’ll find crab, crab, and more crab (the hallmark of a good crab cake, IMHO). To make this recipe, you’ll need:
- Lump Crabmeat. Typically a combination of broken “jumbo lump” pieces and meat from the body of the crab, the “lump” grade makes well-textured, restaurant-quality crab cakes. Be sure to drain the crab meat and pick through it to remove cartilage or stray pieces of shell.
- Whole Egg. Helps to bind the crab cakes.
- Mayonnaise. Adds creaminess, a bit of tang, and works with the egg as a binder. I use Duke’s or Hellmann’s.
- Dijon Mustard. Brings a bit of spice and tang to the crab cake mixture. I most often use Maille or Edmond Fallot.
- Fresh Lemon Juice. Brightens the rich flavors.
- Old Bay Seasoning. A blend of 18 herbs and spices that’s classic to Maryland-style crab cakes.
- Worcestershire Sauce. Adds a touch of umami.
- Hot Sauce. For a little kick! I use just a couple of small dashes of Tabasco or Frank’s RedHot. Adjust the amount to your own heat preferences.
- Flat-Leaf Parsley.
- Finely-Crushed Saltine or Butter (Club) Crackers or Panko Breadcrumbs. For the best crab cakes, add just enough panko or cracker filler to shape and hold the crab cakes together. The crab is the star of the show here!
- Oil Cooking Spray. To help the crab cakes brown and prevent sticking in the air fryer basket. I use olive or canola oil spray.
How to Make Air Fried Crab Cakes
It’s a cinch to make crab cakes in the air fryer. As with baked or pan-fried recipes, start by whisking together the base and seasonings (mayonnaise, Dijon, lemon juice, Old Bay, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, parsley, and salt).
Into this mixture, use a rubber spatula to fold the crab meat and bread crumbs or crushed crackers just until combined and the crab cakes hold together when scooped. For the best texture and appearance, don’t mix so much that the crab meat breaks up entirely or mashes. I’ve always thought that the best crab cakes have chunks of crab!
Scoop the cakes into 6 equal portions, gently pressing the mixture together to hold its shape. I like to use a #14 cookie scoop to help portion the crab cakes evenly.
To air fry the crab cakes, spray them on both sides with cooking spray and add them to the air fryer basket in a single layer, without overcrowding. To develop a similar flavor to pan-fried crab cakes, we also often brush the tops with a little melted butter.
Depending on the size of your air fryer, you might have to cook them in batches. (I’m able to “fry” them in a single batch when I use my Breville Smart Oven Air and 8 Quart Ninja Foodi. Smaller air fryers may require 2 to 3 batches.)
The crab cakes will take about 14-18 minutes, air fried at 375 degrees F. When they’re ready, the cakes will be golden and the centers will read 160 to 165 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer.
In the market for a new air fryer? Check out Good Housekeeping’s picks for the 9 Best Air Fryers of 2021.
Crab Cake Q&A
Q. Can I used canned or frozen crab instead of fresh?
A. For the best results, I like to use fresh crab meat from the seafood market or seafood counter at my local grocery store. You can also use pasteurized lump crab meat, typically packaged in a can or tub and refrigerated. I don’t recommend using shelf-stable canned crab meat in this recipe. The texture and flavor will not be the same.
Frozen lump crab meat can be substituted, but be sure to fully thaw it and take extra care to drain off any excess liquid. You might need to add a little extra panko or crushed crackers when using frozen crab.
Q. How do I prevent the crab cake mixture from sticking to my hands?
A. If you lightly oil your hands or dampen them with a little water, it will stop the mixture from sticking when you shape the cakes.
Q. My crab cakes aren’t a deep golden brown, but they’re cooked through. What did I do wrong?
A. The depth of browning you get may vary by air fryer brand and model. I personally found variations between the 3 air fryer models I used to test this recipe. My taste testers noted that even the batches that came out light golden had good flavor. With this in mind, I prefer not to cook the crab cakes far past 14-18 minutes so they don’t dry out.
Q. Can I air fry smaller crab cakes for hors d’oeuvres?
A. Absolutely! Just be sure to keep a close eye on them and decrease the air frying time accordingly.
Q. Can this recipe be prepped in advance?
A. Yes. You can make the crab cake mixture and refrigerate it in the mixing bowl, covered, for up to 4 hours before shaping the cakes. Or, you can shape the cakes and refrigerate them in a single layer on a covered plate for the same amount of time before air frying.
Serving the Crab Cakes
I like to serve air fried crab cakes hot or warm, with a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a creamy dipping sauce on the side. Some of our favorite sauces to make at home are Tartar Sauce, Remoulade, and Crab Cake Sauce with Smoked Paprika.
This recipe also makes an excellent crab cake sandwich. We like to use a toasted brioche bun or kaiser roll and layer it with greens (usually butter lettuce or baby arugula), sliced tomato, and a dollop of one of the sauces I mentioned earlier.
What to Serve on the Side
Air fryer crab cakes are well-enjoyed as an appetizer or main course. If serving them for dinner, here are some side dish ideas:
- French fries, roasted potatoes, or potato salad
- simple salads (my Arugula and Fennel Salad is a longtime favorite)
- rice pilaf
- potato salad
- corn on the cob or sweet corn succotash
Air Fryer Crab Cakes
- 1 pound lump crab meat (fresh or refrigerated-pasteurized, drained well and picked through for shells/cartilage)*
- 1 large egg
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1-½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1-2 dashes hot sauce (to taste; depending on the brand you're using and your heat preferences)
- 1 to 1-½ teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning (depending on how zesty you like your crab cakes)
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt (omit if using salted crumbs or crackers)
- 1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
- ⅓ to ½ cup finely crushed saltine or butter (Club) crackers or Panko breadcrumbs **
- cooking spray and/or melted unsalted butter
- lemon wedges and your favorite dipping sauce , for serving
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together egg, mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, hot sauce, Old Bay, salt (if using), and parsley.
- Gently fold in the crab meat and bread crumbs or cracker crumbs until just combined. Add just enough crumbs to hold the crab mixture together when shaped.**
- Shape the crab mixture into 6 patties. I like to use a large cookie scoop for even portions. Place on a plate or baking sheet, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Preheat the air fryer to 375 degrees F. Spray both sides of the crab cakes with cooking spray to avoid sticking and help with browning. (We also like to brush the tops of the crab cakes with a little melted butter before cooking for extra flavor.)
- Place the crab cakes in the air fryer basket in a single layer, without overcrowding, and cook for 14-18 minutes, until browned and the centers read 160 to 165 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. (Depending on the size of your air fryer, you might need to cook them in batches. Cooking times may vary by air fryer brand and model, so watch them closely the first time you make them.)
- Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and your favorite crab cake sauce.