Crab Fries or Old Bay are a favorite Philadelphia snack, almost as popular as the Philly Cheese Steak. They’re a Philly favorite that was created by a local landmark restaurant called Chickie’s and Pete’s. Crab fries are bursting with flavor and so easy to make. These delicious fries are the perfect side dish to go with sandwiches, pizza, Philly cheesesteaks and more.
Chickie’s and Pete’s restaurant started in a corner rowhouse bar back in 1997. Today they have restaurant locations all around Philadelphia and South Jersey. Their crab fries are so popular that they have crab fries stands in sports stadiums and even crab fries stands on the Jersey shore boardwalks. If you get a chance to visit Philadelphia or South Jersey, be sure to try the original crab fries at one of Chickie’s and Pete’s locations. In the meantime, here’s how you can make your own crab fries at home.
Crab Fries are a very simple dish to make, but like all good things the deliciousness is in the details! For this easy recipe there are three important details you’ll want to adhere to in order to make the best tasting crab fries.
- First is the type of french fries you choose for making crab fries at home. Traditional crab fries are made with crinkle cut fries, and that’s what we use to make our fries at home. The crinkle cut fries are best because they hold more seasoning in the crinkles than flat french fries.
- The second important detail for making the best tasting crab fries is what appliance you choose to use to cook the crinkle cut fries. You can certainly use an oven or an air fryer to cook your fries to make them a bit healthier. But, let’s be honest, french fries cooked in oil are the best tasting, and if you’re not eating them that often, just go for it and fry them in oil in a frying pan or in a home fryer or this cool to the touch Cool Daddy deep fryer.
- The third important detail in making your own best tasting crab fries is using the correct seasoning. There are many different brands of crab seasoning or crab boil spices, but the best and only one to use to make authentic tasting crab fries is Old Bay. You can buy Old Bay in the seafood department at most large grocery stores, or get Old Bay here the easy way, delivered right to your front door!
How to Make Crab Fries:
- Oil and a frying pan or deep fryer
- 1 Bag Frozen Crinkle Cut French Fries
- Old Bay Seasoning that you can buy here.
1. Bake or Air Fry or use the preferred method of frying the frozen french fries in oil in a pan or in a Deep Fryer according to package directions until golden and crispy. When baking or air frying you can spray a little oil on the fries before cooking to make them crispier.
2. As soon as the fries are done cooking, place them in a large bowl and sprinkle and toss with Old Bay seasoning. Add as much or as little seasoning as you like, taste test to find your crab fries seasoning preference.
3 Serve while hot with a cheesy dipping sauce and Enjoy!
The History of Crab Fries:
The story begins in the late 1970s where a young Pete Ciarrocchi worked at his parent’s bar in Philadelphia, Chickie’s and Petes. Pete was looking for something to do with the Old Bay-style spices left over from the summer crab haul. He dreamed up the idea to use them on fries and this Philly favorite snack food was born.
Eventually, Ciarrocchi’s “crab fries” made their way from the Northeast Philadelphia bar to South Philly and the sports stadiums located there— and from there, to sports arenas around the nation.
They’ve also landed Pete in court several times over the years.
Ciarrocchi has been willing to go to great lengths to maintain his multimillion dollar reign as Lord of the Crab Fries and here is a recap of his legal adventures, courtesy of billypenn.com:
1998: Crab Fries first trademark
The website for Chickie’s & Pete’s claims Ciarrocchi trademarked his creation all the way back when he was 21 years old, some 40 years ago. However, the first official listing in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office shows up as filed in 1998.
Makes sense, because 1998 was the year C&P expanded to Veteran’s Stadium. Crab fries quickly became one of the best-selling concessions at the Vet. They were also reportedly a favorite snack of the Eagles and their new coach Andy Reid, which helped give the brand widespread name recognition and cred.
2000: A very local lawsuit
The founders of Tony’s Place in Northeast Philly can boast they were the first first of several to get a cease-and-desist letter from Ciarrocchi’s legal team.
On June 29, 2000, Chickie’s & Pete’s ownership brought a suit against Tony’s parent company, Dominic, Inc., with various claims including trademark infringement. The term “crab fries,” the suit alleged, was used on Tony’s menu to describe fries that were close in taste, name and aesthetic to Ciarrocchi’s version.
Though plenty of people in Maryland had been drowning their fries in Old Bay seasoning and cheese sauce for years, the recipe itself ended up being irrelevant.
It’s what the dish was called that was in question, and lawyers for C&P were apparently able to bring enough legal pressure that the suit was settled out of court.
In Oct. 2002, attorneys from both parties shook hands and parted ways after Dominic, Inc. agreed to not use the terms “crab” or “crab fries” in their restaurants’ menus.
2007: From ‘crab fries’ to Crabfries®
As their popularity grew, Ciarrochi realized he needed to go further to protecting his sports munchies crown.
In 2007, CPC Properties, the Delaware-based parent company for his restaurant group, registered a trademark for “Chickie’s & Pete’s Famous Crabfries®.”
Unlike the previous trademark, which was simply for the typed letters that spelled out “crab fries,” this one established a logo for the dish, and also codified its name as a single word.
2008: 5 million orders sold
Expansion continued apace, and in 2008, Chickie’s & Pete’s celebrated their five millionth order of Crab fries® sold.
By the end of 2009, the snack was offered at dozens of locations. Ciarrocchi oversaw a seasoned fry empire that included stand-alone restaurants in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as well as stands at PHL Airport and stadiums across the nation. You could even get Crabfries® in Missouri — something that probably made now-Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid pretty happy.
2011: Maryland chain capitulates
Crabfries® being available in other states made Ciarrocchi’s legal team even more aggressively protective of the trademark.
In 2011, they sued a Westminster, Maryland, restaurant company called J & P Pizza. Per reports, J&P had only used the phrase “Maryland Crab Fries” once, in one rendering of an online menu dated 2007, for one of their eight locations.
Instead of risking complications and an expensive payout, the chain chose to eliminate the “offending” phrase from their menus.
2012: North Carolina spot prevails
Legal wrangling didn’t always turn out in Chickie’s & Pete’s favor:
In August 2012, a federal trademark infringement lawsuit against Crabby Fries in the Outer Banks was dismissed.
Three attorneys defending Crabby Fries had argued throughout the case that the terms “crab” and “fries” were too generic to fuss over, asserting that the name of the restaurant was “only vaguely related” to the trademark.
Supporters of the independent eatery also vocally fought Ciarrocchi’s claim that since he “invented” crab fries, the North Carolina spot should have to change its name — and Crabby Fries eventually prevailed.
2013: Not even a photo
Despite that minor setback, Chickie’s & Pete’s trademark protection efforts continued — this time against an old foe.
Apparently, the owners of Tony’s, Dominic, Inc., hadn’t realized the extent of Ciarrocchi’s defensiveness, and published a menu that had pictures of crabs next to the word “fries.”
In an 85-paragraph federal complaint, the legal eagles at C&P asserted that Dominic, Inc. was culpable of “trademark infringement, false designation of origin, common law service mark infringement, unfair competition, unjust enrichment and trademark dilution.”
In 2013, the judge in the case ruled in Chickie’s & Pete’s favor that the image of a crab next to the word fries was enough to constitute trademark infringment.
2016: Another trademark — for chips
The Crabfries® juggernaut was so powerful that even a federal investigation over Ciarrocchi’s tip skimming and wage violations (which cost the company an $8 million payout) didn’t diminish the brand’s popularity.
It was still attractive enough for Chester County’s Herr Foods to partner with C&P. After filing a new trademark that specifically connected the “crab fries” name with chips, a new Herr’s flavor was born.