August is the hottest month in the Carolinas, but sportsmen still have plenty to do. Many plan their days around lower temperatures and humidity early and late, plus the regular appearance of a couple of cooler days around mid-month. It could be fishing, shooting guns or bows, scouting for deer and doves, and in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, climbing into a deer stand to fill a tag.
One outdoor activity that is often overlooked but a great way to connect with ladies and youngsters is crabbing, which usually peaks before the kids return to school and can be a lot of fun — while providing some tasty treats for dinner.
Interested sportsmen can spend a cool morning or find some shade from which to soak chicken necks and fish heads in coastal waters later in the day. Crabs are found in plenty of places, and even youngsters who aren’t the most enthusiastic when preparing for the trip get really involved and have a good time once the tasty crustaceans begin finding the baits. And that usually doesn’t take very long.
Crabs aren’t as dangerous as sharks, but there is something in the possibility of getting nipped that puts a little danger and intrigue into an expedition. While catching a mess for dinner is rarely a problem, they live well in a bucket or cooler with a little water and survive well if you decide to release them. Most folks eat them, but they make good baits for tarpon, cobia and drum.
An umbrella on the shore or a dock with a cover creates a breezeway and an excellent spot for crabbing. You don’t have to hold the line to feel a bite, so you can put the bait over and sit in the shade to wait. The bait is big and durable, so you can let it soak on the bottom for 10 to 15 minutes and collect several crabs before pulling it in.
This is simple fishing, too. A piece of string, some bait, a sinker of some type, a long-handled dip net and a bucket or cooler to keep them in are all that is needed to catch a mess of crabs. The sinker can actually be a sinker, but many folks use old bolts, pieces of bricks and all sorts of things they don’t mind losing if they get snagged. The long-handled dip net is the only equipment that might not be easily collected in a garage or storage building. Some folks like to use crab traps and baskets of various types, but they aren’t required.
Another attraction to being outside in August is that the weather has usually stabilized. It’s hot, but unless a tropical system influencing the weather, most mornings are calm, and a sea breeze begins around noon. Once you acclimate, the weather is usually pretty accommodating for fishermen.
While August days can be hot, the first hint of the cooler evenings of the approaching fall comes this month. This is a good time to get outside and enjoy the cooler evenings, and this is a recipe for then. Most folks would bake or fry this, but I like being outside and cooking on the grill, so that’s my preferred way to do it. I believe if you try it, it will become a favorite of yours also.
Grilled spicy crab balls
I remember lots of fun days as a youngster catching a mess of crabs for dinner. My home town of Southport, N.C., was a fishing village then, and crabs were everywhere. Sure, they tasted good when my dad steamed them, made crab cakes or stuffed flounder, but as a kid, catching them was the best part.
Chicken necks on a string below one of the docks and a long- handled dip net was all we needed to entertain ourselves for a morning or afternoon, and our folks were happy to have the crabs. Later, I realized many coastal waterfowl impoundments held a lot of crabs, and there were days I combined scouting for ducks with walking the dikes and scooping up a mess of crabs. It still brings laughter and happy sounds when I show neighbors and their kids the basics of crabbing. It probably helps that they taste good, too, but catching them is fun.
Steamed or boiled crabs are tasty, but anyone can do that. Besides, some folks are adverse to picking them. This is a recipe that should make eating crabs easy for everyone, and cooking them on the grill makes it fun, too. Yes, they could be baked in the oven — I’ve done that — but it isn’t as much fun. They may also be able to be fried, but I’ve never done that and don’t know how the Ritz crackers would respond to frying — probably fine, but I don’t know.
Making these crab balls with Ritz crackers instead of saltines or bread crumbs gives them a hint of buttery sweetness without having to add butter or sugar or be fried. This is actually pretty healthy, and cooking it on the grill adds a little flavor. You can add a little more flavor by soaking your favorite wood chips in water and adding a few above the burner or in the coals to add some smoke. I don’t think that is necessary as this is plenty good as it is, but it’s an option if you like.
I prefer my food with a little spice. I make this dish with Cha sauce; spread through the mixture well, it adds a smoky and lightly sweet flavor without much heat. I suggested the jalapenos as optional, but I use them. In my opinion, this is just enough jalapenos to add their flavor without being hot. As with most of my recipes, if you like it spicier, add more spice, and if you like it milder, don’t use as much.
I prepared this batch for pictures and was planning on having them for supper. However, the word got out, and they became snacks for a late-afternoon visit from neighbors, with cold sweet tea and a few adult beverages.
Crab balls go well with a variety of dipping sauces, as simple as tartar and cocktail sauces, melted butter, sriracha or a special sauce you make for oysters, clams, crabs and such. The preferred sauces are as varied as the folks eating them and range from mild to wild. This is a good place to use your imagination.
If you like crabs, I’m sure you’ll like these and if you don’t usually like crabs, you’ll probably like these anyway. Do yourself a favor and give them a try. Enjoy.
1/2 pound crab meat
1 large egg
1 tube crushed Ritz crackers
1/4 cup minced sweet onions
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp Old Bay seasoning
1 tbsp Texas Pete Cha sauce
Optional: 2 tbsp minced jalapeno pepper
Put crab meat in a large bowl and sift through it several times until it is free of as many shell fragments as possible. Crush the crackers as fine as possible. You can substitute crushed saltines or bread crumbs, but they aren’t as sweet as Ritz crackers and give a different taste. Beat the egg. Mince the onion and garlic — and jalapeno, if desired. Thoroughly mix egg, mayo, mustard, lemon juice, Worcestershire and Cha sauce.
Gently mix 3/4 of the crushed crackers, crab, onion, garlic, jalapeno and Old Bay with crab. Add the egg, mayo, mustard, lemon juice, Worcestershire and Cha sauce to crab meat mixture. Spray a vegetable grill tray with non-stick cooking spray. If you don’t have a vegetable grill tray, you can substitute a piece of aluminum foil with holes). Preheat grill to 350.
Shape mixture into ping-pong ball size balls. Roll the crab balls in the remaining crushed crackers and place them on the vegetable tray on the grill. Cook for approximately 25 to 30 minutes with the grill top closed. The time will vary with different grills. The balls will begin to brown, but don’t let them get too dark. Serve with a variety of dipping sauces: melted butter, melted garlic butter, seafood cocktail, tartar, sriracha, sriracha/tartar mix, sriracha/mayo mix, etc.
You can serve grilled crab balls as an appetizer rather than a meal, but several make a nice, light meal perfectly suited for the cool of the late afternoon and evening on your deck or patio. A green salad or lettuce wedge is just right to begin and corn-on-the-cob, a baked potato or sweet potato fries go great on the side.