A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from October 31, 2007
Barbecue Crabs (BBQ Crabs)

Barbecue crabs (or “barbecued crabs") is a specialty of the gulf area of southeast Texas. It is believed that barbecue crabs was first served by Willie Foster at Granger’s at Sabine Pass in the mid-1930s. Sartin’s Seafood restaurants specialize in barbecue crabs.

Barbecue crabs are not barbecued, but have a barbecue-like seasoning applied. Formerly this was Sexton’s Alamo Zestul Seasoning, but now TexJoy Seafood Seasoning is often used.


Bluecrab.info
Barbecue (BBQ) Crabs
History
BBQ crabs were invented at Granger’s in Sabine Pass, TX, during the late 1940’s when one of their cooks seasoned a blue crab with some zestful seasoning and then deep fried it. The rest is history!

Granger’s, a once-popular Sabine Pass roadhouse, was destroyed by fire in 1958. Many years later, Sartin’s Seafood in Sabine Pass resurrected the tradition.

Unlike “Maryland Style” crabs where live blue crabs are first seasoned, steamed whole, then cleaned on-the-fly by the hungry diner, BBQ crabs are cleaned first, seasoned, and then deep fried.

And, contrary to the recipe’s name, barbecue crabs are not barbecued. The name comes from the barbecue-like seasoning used to season them (originally Sexton’s Alamo Zestful Seasoning was used.)

Sartin’s Seafood of Nassau Bay
A Long Family History of Crabs
Every time someone hears that, they can’t help but snicker. Then again, it is this light-hearted, down-home humor that has always made Sartin’s Seafood a cozy place to be. Sartin’s Seafood of Nassau Bay is merely the latest chapter in a decades-old story of triumphs and tribulations. And our story starts back in 1971 in the small town of Sabine Pass.

‘Barbecue’ Crabs
Since the first store in Sabine Pass, Sartin’s Seafood has been synonymous with a true Gulf Coast original, the barbecued crab. However, the Sartin’s weren’t the originators of the recipe. That honor goes to a Sabine Pass predecessor, Granger’s Restaurant. Granger’s started serving up a spicy, deep-fried crab seasoned in Sexton’s Alamo Zestful Seasoning back in the 1940s. Unfortunately, Granger’s burned down in 1958, and the residents of the Sabine River basin were left crab-less.

Enter the Sartin Family. Their little fresh seafood shack in Port Arthur opened in 1974 and began serving a seafood menu on the side. Part of that menu was their take on Granger’s barbecued crab, which was an instant hit. And the success spurred the opening of other locations in Beaumont, Bridge City, Nederland, and a short-lived stint in Crystal Beach.

7 August 1935, Port Arthur News, pg. 11, col. 1 ad:
VISIT LE BLANC’S CAFE, 526 Houston, for tempting barbecued crabs, best in town. 

18 January 1938, Galveston (TX) Daily News, pg. 6, col. 8:
Tourists who flock to Treasure Island for the most splendid surf bathing take back with them lingering memories of the delicious stuffed and barbecued crabs served in the hotels and cafes of Galveston. May it not be that Galvestonians are overlooking one of the choicest of all sea foods in this silent clam.

8 November 1938, Port Arthur (TX) News, pg. 9, col. 8 ad:
COASTAL INN
SERVES THE FINEST
BARBECUED CRABS

18 April 1939, Port Arthur (TX) News, “Coastal Inn Is Becoming More Popular Resort,” pg. 10, col. 2: 
Barbecued crabs are a treat to eat.

25 April 1939, Port Arthur (TX) News, pg. 3, col. 2:
“So, for The News, I’ll draw Tucker holding his tummy, and Bibb explaining to Ann that he’d had one too many barbecued crabs.”

28 September 1939, Corpus Christi (TX) Times, “Jack Brown Gets Out Recipe for Barbecued Crabs,” pg. 2B, col. 7:
Jack Brown specializes in barbecued crabs, protects his recipe by insisting that he throws everything in the kitchen in the sauce, and serves his guests with platter after platter of steaming crabs.

12 April 1940, Port Arthur (TX) News, pg. 6, col. 3:
The New Orleans scribe along with his photographer, Oscar Valeton, was also taken to Sabine Pass for a feast on barbecued crabs, which brought this comment from Keefe:

You wouldn’t think that a person would have to go from New Orleans to Port Arthur to find out a new way to cook crabs. And yet when Oscar Valeton and I were told that barbecued crabs not only were the best kind of crabs to eat but were obtainable—properly cooked—only in Port Arthur, why we just had to make the Wednesday night supper there.

How the thing is done I couldn’t find out. But barbecued crabs are just about the best way I ever tasted hard crabs cooked. They are a little greasy to handle, as are barbecued pork ribs, but the flavor of the meat, from which nothing is lost by being (Col. 4 --ed.) boiled out in water or cooking oil, is incomparable.

Oscar, who is a catch-as-catch-can trencherman as well as the same sort of cameraman, and who is far from being a novice at bisecting shellfish, went for more than a dozen of the barbecued bodies; I even went for half a dozen, proving how delectable they must have been. Among other things, I allowed myself to be prevailed upon to try some barbecued blue fish. And if it is not the last word in fish cuisine, it is the word just ahead of it.

Taken all in all, the trip to Port Arthur was a marked success—a treat in the size and industry of the city, in the baseball interest of the fans, in the pep being shown by the team itself and its backers and in the very necessary, if at times bothersome, business of eating.


22 August 1941, Port Arthur (TX) News, pg. 15, col. 3 ad:
Barbecue Crabs
Julien Potatoes
Combination Salad
Tartar Sauce
50c
("Dine and Dance at Casanova”—ed.)

26 February 1962, Port Arthur (TX) News, pg. 9, col. 1 ad:
SPECIAL
BARBECUED CRABS
$1.35
(...)
DON THE FISHERMAN
5300 ORANGE HWY.
These orders prepared by the
famous Willie Foster, creator of
Barbecued Crabs and formerly with
the old Grangers at Sabine Pass
for over 23 years.

30 August 1969, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “About Cajun Cooking in Port Arthur Town” by Frank X. Tolbert, section A, pg. 17:
The accent in the institution run by Leo and Willie Hebert is on crayfish dishes, fresh crayfish brought in from Breaux Bridge in season. I had another specialty of the house, barbecued crab claws, which were marvelous although you need a towel after you get through breaking the shell covering the succulent meat, just above the pincers.

Leo Hebert said that barbecued crab claws isn’t “exactly a cajun dish. I think Old Man Granger (he didn’t know Old Man Granger’s first name) originated barbecued crab claws long ago down at Sabine Pass.”

2 August 1970, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Crabs Reward Gulf Visitors,” section B, pg. 7:
GALVESTON (Sp.)—From Brownsville on the southern tip of Texas up to Sabine Pass beachfront waters are paying off handsomely with blue crabs.

These crabs which cook up into real gourmet’s delights are easy and inexpensive to catch.

25 April 1975, Baytown (TX) Sun, “Crabbing: Easy Fun, Good Food” by Buddy Gough, pg. 29, col. 1:
My earliest memories with anything remotely connected with saltwater creatures have to do with crabs.

With the smell of barbecued crabs which hovered over, in and around that great old Granger’s seafood restaurant in Sabine Pass.

Recipes Forums @ iChef
Gregory Scott
Posted: Mar 14, 2002 04:21 PM Msg. 1 of 36
Does anybody have a copycat for Sartin’s BBQ Crab (Sabine Pass, Texas)? Ed’s Crab Shack (chain) BBQ crab is similar.
BBQ crab is
1. NOT tomato based, I’m quite sure.
2. Salt? Brown sugar? other mystery seasonings?
This finger-licking good crab doesn’t get much flavor from the “marination”, except in the body, where the crab meat is exposed when cooking. This is usually crusted light brown with the seasoning. The best way to eat it is mostly with your hands/fingers. Use a cracker as required, but use your fingers a a “seasoning” dispenser as you eat the crab. This style crab is usually served with a trash can and a roll of paper towels for each happy diner.
At Sartins, the hushpuppies, fried shrimp, fried catfish and other such treats are TOO FILLING. The trick is to avoid these tasty treats at this all-you-can eat haven, and stick, as much as you can bear, to the bbq crab.
(...)
Erin
Posted: Aug 14, 2002 03:19 PM Msg. 3 of 36
People amaze me. They’ve got it all wrong and BBQ Crabs are SOOOOO easy. Purchase TexJoy Seafood Seasoning. Clean and split open your crabs. Pour the seasoning on to taste (I like allot on mine). Let it sit for an hour then deep fry the crabs until they float. I used to work for a resteraunt in that area and that’s the recipe. Good Eating!!!
(...)
Todd Painton
Posted: Nov 19, 2002 02:57 PM Msg. 8 of 36
The original recipe for BarBQ crabs.. from Port Arthur Texas circa 1968

mix 1 part liquid smoke with 1 part water. Soak the crab bodies in this mixture for about 3-4 minutes.. Some people like a more concentrated mix for more smoke flavor.

remove the crab bodies and then completely cover with Sexton’s Zestful Seasoning.. then fry until the bodies float. I promise this is the best barbq crab made. I have had them all from Joe’s Crab Shack to Mamas to Sartins.

Problem is.. Sexton foods is gone and I cannot find their Zestful Seasoning anywhere. Please if you know where any is.. Ill pay top dollar.. email me. In the mean time I have been using Old Bay Seasoning with is fair at best. I am going to try some TexJoy and see how it compares to Sextons now defunct Zestful Seasoning..

Houston Press
Crab Man
Meet Doug Sartin, onetime heir apparent to a Texas barbecued crab dynasty
By Robb Walsh
Published: July 13, 2006
(...)
The first Sartin’s opened in 1972. “My daddy was a pipe fitter at the Texaco refinery,” said Doug. “He fished for crab and shrimp on the side.” Doug Senior set up wife Jeri in a fish market on the dock at Sabine Pass. But Jeri, who grew up in a family that owned several restaurants, decided that she would rather sell cooked seafood. And anyway, there was nothing else to eat in Sabine Pass. So she started a little restaurant in front of the family’s trailer with four tables inside and four outside, weather permitting. Things took off quickly.

As the business expanded, Jeri hired a fry cook who brought along a recipe for a dish called barbecued crabs. Barbecued crabs were invented at a restaurant called Granger’s, which was popular in Sabine Pass in the ‘40s and ‘50s. It burned down in 1958.

The barbecued crab tradition was continued at a Port Arthur restaurant called Mama’s in the ‘60s. These days, besides Sartin’s, Stingaree Restaurant in Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula also specializes in barbecued crabs. They are also a summer special at Floyd’s, Ragin’ Cajun and a few other seafood restaurants.
(...)
Texas barbecued crabs are much more civilized—at least for the diner. The crab has its top shell and guts removed while it’s still alive. It is then dipped into a barbecue spice blend called Alamo Zestful Seasoning (see “How to Cook a Barbecued Crab"), dropped into a deep fryer and brought to the table piping hot and crusted with caramelized barbecue spices.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (4) Comments • Wednesday, October 31, 2007 • Permalink


I know who the cook was who invented Barbecue Crabs at Granger’s in the early 1930’s. Her recipe is an old family recipe and it is still in our family. Her name was Mildred Roxey Reed Robinson of Sabine Pass, Texas. She died in 1959 and is my mother’s mother.

Posted by Millie Espree  on  12/18  at  12:11 PM

Please email me for info about all things BBQ Crab & my new location in Sulphur, LA!
kelisartin@aol.com

Posted by Kelli Sartin  on  05/18  at  07:02 AM

go to the web site bluecrab.info i have ordered the fiesta brand ill let u know how it is. I used to get some seasoning from tubby
‘s oyster house u put on after frying it was awsome haddn’t found enything like it.

Posted by barbara savant  on  07/17  at  08:19 AM

The Durkee’s Seafood Seasoning spice is as close to the Sexton Seafood Seasoning that I have tasted.  Try it, you won’t regret it.

Clean the crabs and break them in half.  Season well and deep fry in 375 degree oil.  When they float to the top they are done.  Drain and enjoy.

Posted by Thomas  on  08/02  at  08:41 PM

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