Food For Thought: The Crabby Patty’s History

Written by Ed Lincoln, Jr. In the late 19th century crabs were only enjoyed along the east and west coasts of the United States and parts of Canada. Crab dishes weren’t common food for people in the prairies or midwestern states as they were not easily found or shipped to those regions. Although the crabs were easily accessed along the coastal towns they were still not a main attraction when cooking, as the meat was very hard to access. They were often found in the traps of shell fisherman but they were also very dangerous. The pinchers, two front claws of the crab, could pierce skin and often once attached were not easily detached. For this reason they were not as popular in any meals as were other shell fish.crabcake-recipe

Once the art of handling a crab and outsmarting the attack of the front two claws was mastered, crabs became a more easily accessible meal. The meat was favored over other shell fish meat as crabs were abundant in the south and eastern coasts. The most common crab to be consumed was the Blue Crab.

Blue Crabs are most abundant in the estuary of Chesapeake Bay. Because Blue Crabs thrive in this area, they became a main staple in the Maryland region for food. Blue Crabs produce a copious amount of eggs each year which provides the area with an amazing amount of crab to use. Once the handling and catching of crabs were mastered, there was an abundance of crab recipes on the menus of many towns. Crab cakes were first put in print in 1930 in the cookbook by Crosby Gaige called the “New York World’s Fair Cook Book”. This was the first reference for the term “crab cake” but it was thought that crab cakes were a very common and popular food item in the southern states like Louisiana even before this reference was put into print.

Almost everyone in Maryland, or more precisely Baltimore, has a handed down, best, and only recipe for Maryland or Baltimore style crab cakes. Although the preparation and specific ingredients differ the recipes are mostly all the same. The way that crab cakes are made is to combine smaller portions of minced meat with filler and a binding agent like bread or bread crumbs or crackers.

The filler in crab cakes was mostly due to economy at the time and due to the taste. Combining crab meat with bread reduces the strong taste of fish and therefore would be widely accepted by more people. And since the blue crabs were so abundant in the Chesapeake regions they were the best option for people living off the land.

Marietta hosts a number of restaurants offering the delectable dish, all of which I have tried and none seem to fail at delivering a quality product. Simply stated, though, sometimes in cooking the best recipe is the simplest recipe. If you try your hand at preparing crab cakes here is one of the simplest recipes I can offer, and it doesn’t compromise the true flavor or quantity of the crab meat.

Shirley Phillips Crab Cakes

This recipe was developed by Shirley Phillips, co-founder and co-owner of Phillips Foods and Seafood Restaurants. This is the original recipe first used in Phillips Crab House in Ocean City, Maryland, in 1956, and is the same recipe used in all Phillips Seafood Restaurants today.


  • 8 oz. Phillips Crab Meat
  • 1/2 tsp. Phillips Seafood Seasoning
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp. mustard
  • 1 1/2 tsp. melted butter
  • 1/2 tsp. parsley flakes
  • 1/4 c. breadcrumbs finely crushed, or if you have a processor I LOVE using fresh potato rolls for the bread crumbs.

Cooking Instructions • In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except for crab meat. • Gently fold in the crab meat, being careful not to break up the lumps. • Shape into cakes. • Pan fry or bake at 375° for 12-15 minutes or until evenly brown on each side and reaches an internal temperature of 165°.