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From spring asparagus to summer corn, part of the pleasure of each new season is the opportunity to enjoy seasonal ingredients as they enter their flavor peaks.

Autumn ushers in a rich palette of tastes--butternut squash and Brussels sprouts, persimmons and pears--but the season's delicacies aren't only found on dry land. Seafood has seasons too, and when fall arrives the spotlight shines on crab.

But you have to know what to look out for. The fall and summer crab seasons differ in both the varieties of crabs caught and the fishing regions where the action heats up. And of course, each season sports signature preparations for its respective crustaceans.

Here's a handy primer on the crab varieties that star in each season:

Summer Season

  • Blue Crab: Available from April through September, and found along the east coast and the Chesapeake Bay, the blue crab accounts for more than half of the total annual US crab harvest. Sweet and flaky, blue crabs require a lot of work to eat straight out of the shell. (The average crab only yields about 15% of its total weight in edible meat). Blue crab meat is a favorite for use in traditional Maryland crab cakes.
  • Soft-shelled Crab: After a crab molts its hard exoskeleton, there's a brief window in which it can be considered a "soft-shelled" crab. Soft-shelled crabs are usually battered, deep-fried, and eaten whole, and foodies flock to restaurants in late spring and early summer to get their fill of this fleeting delicacy. The most common species of soft-shelled crab in the United States is, you guessed it, the Blue Crab.
Fall/Winter Season

  • King Crab: The unsung star of the Discovery Channel reality TV show Deadliest Catch, the King Crab dwarfs the blue crab in size (some boast leg spans of more than 5 feet) and puts up a mean fight. Found in the Bering Sea, off the cost of Alaska in frigid, tempestuous waters, King Crabs are highly prized for their firm texture and sweet taste. Keep an eye out for them on menus from October onward. The large claws are often served on their own as a main course, along with drawn butter for dipping.
  • Stone Crab: Harvested from October to May, primarily along the Gulf coasts, Stone Crabs are sought for their unequally sized, black-tipped claws. (Their larger crusher claw is strong enough to crack an oyster.) Stone crab claws are tender but very meaty, and well-loved for their delicate, sweet and briny flavor. Whether eaten as an appetizer or entrée, warm or chilled, Stone Crab is best enjoyed early in the season when you'll find the plumpest, sweetest specimens.