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Crabmeat

Published May 2012

How we tested

Like much of the ocean’s bounty, fresh-off-the-boat crabmeat is best—sweet and tender with a touch of salinity. Most of the crabmeat eaten in this country, however, isn’t fresh, but prepackaged Blue Swimming Crab from the South Pacific. Packaged crabmeat often doesn’t cost much less than freshly shucked meat, and even the cheapest brands are shockingly expensive compared with other processed seafood like tuna or salmon—anywhere from $0.90 to almost $2.00 per ounce. The advantage is that, unlike fresh crabmeat, the packaged kind (which comes both refrigerated and canned) is readily available in most supermarkets.

To find a worthy substitute for fresh crabmeat, we sampled five nationally available brands of crabmeat both straight from the package and in our recipe for crab cakes. We ruled out finer, flakier backfin meat (made from pieces that fall apart during extraction from the shell) from the start, choosing to test only more desirable lump and jumbo lump meat.

In both the straight tasting and our crab cakes, we strongly preferred the two refrigerated products—and for good reason. To be shelf-stable, most canned crabmeat is typically pressure-heated at high temperatures (220 to 250 degrees), but the trade-off is drier, chewier meat (our tasters described some of the canned brands as “fibrous” and “cardboard-y”). Manufacturers of canned crabmeat also often add additives such as citric acid to prevent discoloration or offset moisture loss during heat processing, but some don’t do the meat any favors; we found products with added citric acid, like our least two least favorite brands, mushy and spongy. Refrigerated crabmeat, on the other hand, is typically processed at lower temperatures (182 to 190 degrees) and is considerably juicier and more tender—and also pricier. Our favorite boasts “sweet,” “meaty,” and “plump” pieces that most closely resemble fresh crabmeat—a product we think is worth the $1.69-per-ounce splurge every now and then. Our canned Best Buy, processed at a lower temperature than most other shelf-stable products (220 degrees), is an acceptable, slightly more economical ($1.38 per ounce) alternative.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Skippy Peanut Butter

In a contest that hinged on texture, tasters thought this "smooth, "creamy" sample was "swell" and gave it top honors, both plain and baked into cookies. Its rave reviews even compensated for a slightly "weak" nut flavor that didn't come through as well as that of other brands in the pungent satay sauce.

$2.39 for 16.3-oz. jar (15 cents per oz.)*
Recommended

Jif Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The big favorite in satay sauce, this peanut butter's "dark, roasted flavor"—helped by the addition of molasses—stood out particularly well against the other heady ingredients, and it made cookies with "nice sweet-salty balance." Plus, as the top-rated palm oil-based sample, it was "creamy," "thick," and better emulsified than other "natural" contenders.

$2.29 for 18-oz. jar (13 cents per oz.)*

Reese's Peanut Butter

This is what peanut butter should be like, " declared one happy taster, noting specifically this product's "good," "thick" texture and "powerful peanut flavor." In satay sauce, however, some tasters felt that heavier body made for a "pasty" end result.

$2.59 for 18-oz. jar (14 cents per oz.)*

Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The only other palm oil-based peanut butter to make the "recommended" cut, this contender had a "looser" texture than its winning sibling but still won fans for being "super-smooth." Tasters thought it made an especially "well-balanced," "complex" peanut sauce.

$2.39 for 15-oz. jar (16 cents per oz.)*
Recommended with Reservations

Peanut Butter & Co. No-Stir Natural Smooth Operator

Though it says "no-stir" on the label, this "stiff" palm-oil enriched peanut butter was "weeping oil" and came across as "greasy" to some tasters. However, it turned out a respectable batch of cookies—"chewy in the center, crisp and short at the edge"—and made "perfectly good" satay sauce.

$4.49 for 18-oz. jar (25 cents per oz.)*

Maranatha Organic No Stir Peanut Butter

On the one hand, this organic peanut butter produced cookies that were "soft and sturdy" yet "moist," with "knockout peanut flavor." On the other hand, eating it straight from the jar was nearly impossible; its "loose," "liquid-y," and "dribbly" consistency had one taster wonder if it was "peanut soup."

$5.69 for 16-oz. jar (36 cents per oz.)*
Not Recommended

Smart Balance All Natural Rich Roast Peanut Butter

Besides being unpalatably "tacky" and "sludgy," this "natural" peanut butter suffered from an awful "fishy" flavor with a "weird acidic aftertaste" that tasters noted in all three applications. Our best guess as to the culprit? The inclusion of flax seed oil, an unsaturated fat that's highly susceptible to rancidity.

$3.59 for 16-oz. jar (22 cents per oz.)*

Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter

With its only additive a negligible amount of salt, the only truly natural peanut butter in the lineup elicited comments ranging from mild dissatisfaction ("needs enhancement with salt and sugar") to outright disgust ("slithery," "chalky," "inedible"). Cookies were "dry and crumbly" with a "hockey puck" texture, and the satay sauce was "stiff," "gritty," and "gloopy."

$2.69 for 16-oz. jar (17 cents per oz.)*