Retro Baltimore

The McDonald's crab cake wasn't delicious, but it was cheap

Twenty-five years ago, McDonald's made Maryland history when they rolled out a new item on their menu: a crab cake sandwich. The Golden Arches served up their take on the crustacean patties at different test locations along the Eastern Shore and two in Baltimore beginning in spring 1992. They later expanded to sell at all 91 Mickey D's in the Baltimore area.

"More cake than crab but they are fast and they are cheap," ran a Sun headline that year accompanying food critic Rob Kasper's lukewarm review of the McDonald's as well as the Wendy's version of the Maryland staple. While they were a far cry from the traditional Maryland crab cake – "lump crab meat held together by little more than willpower," he wrote – at $2.99, or around $5.21 in today's currency, it was hard to summon a more vociferous complaint.


However, for other Marylanders, the new menu item seemed to signal the onset of the apocalypse.

"It's all over, forget it; this is a sad, sad state of affairs," one customer told The Washington Post.


The horrors mounted the following year, when McDonald's announced they would be using mostly crab sourced in India rather than the more expensive Maryland blue crab. And yet they had the nerve to still call it a "Maryland-style crab."

A state employee suggested that the McDonald's version could bring shame across the crab cake industry. "If the crab cake tastes really lousy, people who are eating crab for the first time may never try it again. That's not good for the industry," William F. Sieling of the Department of Agriculture told The Sun in 1993.

The cakes were reintroduced in the early aughts, around the appearance of the McGriddle. In 2003, Dan Rodricks urged his readers not to try it – not because it was McDonald's, but because he believed then that a moratorium on crabbing in Maryland was necessary in order to save the state's crab supplies.

When called on the phone this week, a McDonald's employee in Kent Island sounded perplexed when asked if her restaurant sold crab cakes.

"Not at McDonald's," she said.

The company did announce a snow crab sandwich on select menus earlier this year – but customers will have to head to California to try it.