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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Trader Joe's Maryland Style Crab Cakes

Sonia and I recently visited Baltimore's Inner Harbor to see the National Aquarium. After a day of walking around the bay, watching fish and other sea creatures, we had worked up quite an appetite. Appropriately, we decided on seafood.

Now, Marylanders know their crab cakes. They're so into crab there, they eat potato chips with crab seasoning all over them. And although Sonia suffers from allergies to many seafoods such as clams, oysters, and scallops, she decided to be brave and taste her first crab cake. This was actually her very first taste of real crab or lobster. Ever. She had been avoiding them, thinking them to be in the same class of animals as the aforementioned mollusks. Since I paid some attention in 9th grade biology, I was able to explain that crabs and lobsters are actually crustaceans, and that her allergy may not apply. (Fortunately, it didn't).

We ordered one individual appetizer crab cake from Phillips Seafood. It cost about $7.50! (That was at Happy Hour. They normally cost $15 a piece). It was pretty small. I could have easily downed 3 or 4 of them by myself, but that was all beside the point. We wanted a true gourmet crab cake from people who should know what they're supposed to taste like. And indeed it was very yummy. Absolutely the best crab cake I've ever had.

The following weekend, Russ and Sandy had dinner at our place for our first ever "blog summit" meeting and some good hangin' out. One of our many entree items wound up being Trader Joe's Crab Cakes. They were frozen, came two in a pack and cost something like $4. Trader Joe had his work cut out for him again. How would his crab cakes hold up with the taste of Phillips Seafood's still so fresh in our minds?

Sonia and I were both impressed. The differences in quality, texture and taste from the Phillips crab cakes were negligible. The only thing I could put my finger on was that Trader Joe's variety seemed flatter and slightly less like a pastry. If anything, I'd say TJ's had more crab meat. Also, the Phillips crab cake had a delicious cup of fine tartar sauce backing it up, whereas we had nothing but a little hot sauce with TJ's brand. But they were just fine as they were. Having had only two crab cakes in her entire lifetime, one of which she ate just yards from the shore of the Chesapeake Bay (basically the crab cake capital of the world) and that cost nearly a dollar per bite, Sonia decided Trader Joe's was a very close second, and she scored it a solid 4. I absolutely agree. I could certainly tell a small difference between the two brands, but I've had dozens of crab cakes in my lifetime from various grocers and restaurants, and I too must declare that Trader Joe's was the second best one I've ever had, falling just after the one from Phillips. My score, a 4 out of 5.

Russ and Sandy concurred with our assessment and also thoroughly enjoyed the crab cakes at dinner. Russ described them as "light and flakey, but juicy," and noted that Sandy would "give them an all around 'mmmmmm.'" 4 out of 5 Golden Spoons from each member of the Shelly clan.

That gives us a unanimous 4 out of 5 score. Not too shabby, Trader Joe.

Our collective bottom line: 8 out of 10.


  1. Having recently had a really horrible crapcake in Central Indiana, then having these a few days later, I would have given them a 4.5 ;-)

  2. I love your site. I also love TJ's. I am sure I will be surfing many pages on your site :)

  3. That's good to know. I am glad that you are comparing them to a real Maryland Crab Cake as that gives this post lots of validity:-). I am going to definitely pick some up this weekend! Thanks for the post...

    I just posted about Maryland Crab Cakes here -

  4. Hi Nathan. My name is Elena. My friend/associate Flora and I are fellow Trader Joe's enthusiasts and are currently working on a documentary about the company, with a focus on our local TJ's. We really enjoy your blog and were hoping you might be willing to share with us some of your TJ's-related insights and experiences. Please let us know if you're interested: (Flora's email address)
    Thank you!

  5. Nathan,
    next time you come to the Baltimore area, let me know and I'll stand you a crab cake or two at "real" crab houses.
    (there's a place north of Baltimore - in Harford County - with huge cakes. So good, our relatives from Florida stop there first before coming to our house)

  6. I'm from Baltimore County and can tell you that if you were looking for the real thing, Phillips was not the place to go. Having said that, I love Maryland crab cakes, good ones as well as the ones they serve at Phillips. I'm curious about trying the TJs ones now, but it's hard to imagine that they are high quality.

  7. I love these but I am really bothered by the insane amount of water in them. They are too soft once defrosted and the package is badly designed (can't open it to take them out in one piece -it requires lots of scissors and knife work). Then they are far too mushy in the pan which makes them difficult to turn over in one piece. It is especially apperant when making them on a standard 8" skillet because you really have to shove them to make them fit. I too would have preferred them at a smaller diameter but greater height. In America 9" skillets are not standard. 10" is too big.

    That being said... they are tasty, wholesome delicious. Not too processed and really makes a nice summer meal on salad or succotash.

  8. Yoav, I noticed that when I cooked them with Sonia. We kinda just mushed them back into a circle and then cooked them a bit longer until they held together.

  9. We had these last night, good! I cooked them in the oven because I wasn't in the mood to babysit dinner. Next time I will pan fry them to see if that makes them a little crispier on the outside. The flavor was good though!

  10. 8 out of 10 is a high rating but thus far you give everything a high rating. I would give these a 4.

  11. We did NOT enjoy the texture! Threw the 2nd package out

  12. I love these, too. I put them over a salad with lemon and olive oil, or scramble them into my morning eggs. I've had "real" crab cakes, too, and I don't think these compare, but as I don't have any plans to relocate to Maryland, I also don't really care.

    1. These would be awesome with salad or eggs! Great ideas.

  13. I usually fry these in a little olive oil in a large skillet. If the oil is hot, they get a nice crispiness on the outside and stay together well when flipping them in the skillet. Last time I made them, I placed them on a bed of sauteed spinach, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes. Easy, cheap and delicious.


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