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Crispy Crab Balls with Chipotle Tartar Sauce

Crispy Crab Balls with Chipotle Tartar Sauce are the perfect holiday, game day or party appetizer, but they’re also perfect for any weeknight dinner! Loaded with crab meat, buttery cracker crumbs and spicy Old Bay seasoning, they’re simple to whip up and a guaranteed crowd pleaser!

Make sure to try my Crab Alfredo and my Crab Cake Dip too!

Crispy Crab Balls

Fun fact, I was born in Baltimore, Maryland. We didn’t stay in Maryland very long as a family before moving, but we do go back and visit from time to time, and for every visit we try and plan to have crab. Last time we were there we ordered Crispy Crab Balls on the menu and we all loved them so much! They are crispier than a crab cake, and perfectly bite size, making them a great appetizer. 

After a few attempts at getting them perfect, I think my recipe is spot on. They are crispy on the outside, soft and flavor-packed on the inside, with a spicy chipotle tartar sauce to dip them into.

What’s the Difference Between Crab Cakes and Crab Balls?

Fair question! You might ask yourself what are crab balls/crab bites made from…what makes them different from a crab cake? Well…not a lot except for the size really. Also, crab balls are typically deep fried, and sometimes breaded on the outside for extra crunch. Crab cakes are pan fried or even baked. 

I will note that my recipe for crab balls are pan fried, as I prefer this method to not waste a lot of cooking oil. But there is no hard rule on any of this!

Crab ball with the tarter sauce

What You Will Need/Ingredients:

The ingredient list is really simple. You want the enhance the flavor of the crab meat and also use flavor-packed additions to bind the balls. Here’s what you will need:

  • Crab Meat. I talk about the types of crab meat in more detail below, but I like to use Lump Crabmeat in my crab balls. 
  • Ritz Crackers. Ritz are a buttery, flaky crackers that you crush up and use as a filler in the crab balls. The idea is to enhance the flavor of the crab without overpowering it. You can certianly use another type of cracker, but I recommend a butter cracker without any additional seasoning. 
  • Lemon Juice and Zest. It’s no secret that lemon pairs with seafood, and adding not only the juice but some zest to the mixture makes these extra delicious!
  • Old Bay Seasoning. This is a non-negotiable. Nothing compares the flavor Old Bay adds to crab cakes and crab balls. 
  • Parsley. Adding a little fresh parsley to the balls adds a little color and also a fresh flavor. You can certainly use dried parsley if that’s all you have.
Crab Ball dipper in chipotle sauce

Let’s Talk About Crab Meat:

They say to be truly authentic, you need to use Blue Crab when making crab cakes or balls, but that isn’t always available where I live. Luckily there are a few options to choose from that will work just as well when making these crab balls:

  • Lump Crabmeat: This is easy to find at the supermarket in the seafood section. It’s sturdy and not too flaky, which makes it perfect for this recipe.
  • Jumbo Lump Crabmeat: This is more expensive, and it’s fantastic for making crab cakes, but you don’t need to splurge when you’re making crab balls. Since they are smaller in size, you end up breaking up the big pieces of crab anyway. 
  • Backfin: This is flaky and works well for crab balls. This is a great option as well for this recipe.
  • Special Crabmeat: This is also an option, but has a delicate flavor, which isn’t my first choice for a crab ball, where I want the crab flavor tor really come through!
Crab mixture with spices

How To Make Crab Balls:

The process is super simple, and can be prepped way in advance of frying them.

Prep the Crab Mixture: Mix all the Ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and then form the mixture into balls, about the size of golf balls. 

formed crab balls before going in the oven

Fry: Heat oil in a large skillet and fry the balls in batches until they are golden brown and crispy on all sides. Transfer them to a paper towel lined baking sheet to drain any excess oil. If you’re making these in advance you can keep them in the oven on warm.

Crab balls in a pan being fried

Make the Chipotle Tartar Sauce:  Simply whisk together mayonnaise, adobo sauce, dill relish, lemon juice, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.

whisked chipotle dipping sauce

Other Cooking Methods:

Can You Bake Crab Balls? Sure! You don’t get the same extra crispy exterior, but you can absolutely do it! Bake at 400°F on a parchment paper lined baking sheet for 10 – 15 minutes. 

What About Air Frying Crab Balls? Absolutely. Place the crab bites in the air fryer basket and cook for 8 minutes at 400°F. Work in batches to not overcrowd the pan. 


There are many ways to get creative with this Crab Ball Recipe. From seasonings, to baking method, here’s a short list of ways to make these your own:

  1. Add a splash of Worcestershire sauce to the mixture. This adds a bit of a deeper flavor. 
  2. Use breadcrumbs (regular or panko) instead of crushed crackers. This is an easy swap, although like I said above I really like the crushed Ritz for the buttery flavor they add. Some even used crushed saltine crackers.
  3. Add tablespoon of dijon mustard.This is a common addition to crab cakes/crab balls. I definitely have tried this in the past and really enjoy the flavor.
Crab balls showing off the inside

How To Serve Crab Balls:

These crab bites are the perfect party appetizer, or even a light dinner. Here’s how I like to serve them:

As An Appetizer: Arrange butter lettuce leaves on a platter and place the Crab Balls on top and insert a toothpick into each, so they’re easy to grab. Place some lemon wedges surrounding the balls and a small bowl of the chipotle tartar sauce. 

As A Light Dinner: Serve these on top of a green salad, or in a rice bowl for an easy dinner or lunch.

Surf and Turf Idea: Serve these crab balls alongside a steak for a surf and turf option for a fancy dinner!


Store these airtight in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Freeze airtight for up to 30 days. Thaw in the refrigerator.

To Reheat: Place in an oven preheated to 400° for 5 – 7 minutes. You can also microwave these for 30 seconds, until heated through.

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Crispy crab balls and the dipping sauce

Crispy Crab Balls with Chipotle Tartar Sauce

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  • Author: Cookies & Cups
  • Prep Time: 10 mins
  • Cook Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 25 mins
  • Yield: 20 balls 1x
  • Category: Appetizer
  • Method: Stove
  • Cuisine: American


Crispy Crab Balls with Chipotle Tartar Sauce are the perfect holiday, game day or party appetizer, but they’re also perfect for any weeknight dinner! Loaded with crab meat, buttery cracker crumbs and spicy Old Bay seasoning, they’re simple to whip up and a guaranteed crowd pleaser!



Chipotle tartar sauce

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons adobo sauce (from a can of chipotle in adobo)
  • 2 tablespoons dill relish
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

Crab Balls

  • 1 cup finely crushed Ritz crackers
  • 1 pound crab meat
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • vegetable oil for frying


Chipotle Tartar sauce

  1. In a medium bowl mix together mayonnaise, adobo sauce, relish, lemon juice, and garlic powder. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Crab Balls

  1. In a large bowl combine the crushed Ritz, crab, lemon zest, lemon juice, Old Bay, and parsley. Mix until evenly combined.
  2. Form the mixture into 1 1/2- inch balls.
  3. Fill a large skillet 1/4- inch deep with oil. Heat oil on medium until it reaches 350°F. (Trick – place the tip of the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil. If bubbles form immediately, the oil is ready.) Place the balls in batches into the oil, frying until they are golden brown (about 3 minutes on each side). Transfer the balls to a paper towel lined plate, and repeat with remaining balls.
  4. Serve warm with Chipotle Tartar Sauce.


The Chipotle Mayonnaise can be made up to 5 days in advance. Keep refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to use.


  • Serving Size:
  • Calories: 56
  • Sugar: 0.1 g
  • Sodium: 281.6 mg
  • Fat: 3 g
  • Carbohydrates: 0.7 g
  • Protein: 5.9 g
  • Cholesterol: 16.1 mg

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13 comments on “Crispy Crab Balls with Chipotle Tartar Sauce”

  1. Great recipe. Made them for family and everyone loved them. Unfortunately, I could not get them to stay together. Maybe my mixture was too dry? Any tips?

    1. Sounds like they were a little dry… if that happens again you could add a tablespoon of milk just to help them stick!

    2. I’m making them right now. I agree with needing a binder. I added an egg, and 1 tbs. Mayo, and they binded, well. Will be cooking shortly…i also added a 1 “ cube of Monterrey Jack cheese to the center…can’t wait.!

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