Estimated reading time: 18 minutes
You’ve come this far. You’ve procured the best Maine lobster in the sea, but hold your shell crackers…you ruined it! The cooking part was all wrong! We’ll walk you through every step of making sure your prized catch is cooked perfectly.
Perfectly cooked lobster is surely one of life’s simplest — and most delicious — pleasures. And it’s not hard! Live Maine Lobsters are a snap to cook, with steaming and boiling being the two most common cooking methods.
But before you can cook your lobsters, you need to be careful handling them. If you have never handled lobster before, keep the bands on! Some lobstermen insist on removing the claw bands before cooking. The rubber bands, they say, impart an off taste to the water and to the lobster. Only salty and experienced lobster lovers should remove them before cooking. Whether you’re having lobsters shipped to your door or are picking them up at the local pound, learn the best way to handle live lobsters and keep them fresh before cooking.
How do You Cook a Live Lobster Humanely
Is there a humane way to kill a lobster? What’s the best way to kill a live lobster for cooking? There is endless debate on whether lobsters feel pain or not, but whether the answer is yes or no, we believe it’s our responsibility to give lobsters as pain-free and dignifying death as possible.
The most common method for killing lobsters humanely is setting live lobsters in the freezer for ~15 minutes to help them drift in a numb sleep, then plunging them head-first into boiling water for a quick, kind death. There are a handful of other methods, which you can read about in our article: How to Kill a Lobster Without Feeling Bad About It.
Cooking Live Lobster at Home
Cooking lobster is an art, and if you do not get the timing just right, you might be in for a tough or chewy lobster. Never overcook your lobster. This makes the meat tough and stringy (a huge bummer!). We find most of the cooking time suggestions found on the internet are way too long.
We’ll give you detailed lobster cooking times, but it is important to know how the time of year impacts timing. In the winter, lobsters have a harder shell and therefore require more time to cook. In the summertime lobsters have a softer shell and require less time to cook.
What Size Lobster Pot Should I Use?
How big of a lobster pot do you need? The answer is: BIG.
Whether you steam or boil, pick a pot with lots of room. Do not crowd the lobsters in the pot, as the heat will not circulate evenly around the lobsters — you want even circulation for even cooking.
If you do not have a large pot, we suggest cooking lobsters in batches, or using a couple of pots. If you add the same amount of water in each pot, the lobsters should cook at about the same time. A 4-5 quart soup or pasta pot will work well for a couple of small lobsters. Awill cook about 5 to 6 . The pot does not have to be heavy-duty, because the water will actually boil faster in a lighter gauge metal pot.
Should you steam or boil your lobster? Pulling crustaceans out of a big pot of boiling water can make a mess. With steaming there is less chance of a boil over. Both of these traditional cooking methods have both pros and cons described below.
Confused about what size lobsters to order? Check out our tips for picking the perfect lobster to cook up at home.
How to Cook a Lobster by Steaming
First, is steaming lobster better than boiling? Not necessarily. It all comes down to how you like to cook. Steaming cooks whole lobsters more slowly than boiling, so it reduces the chance of overcooking and offers more control. It also makes less of a mess! Go with steaming if you plan on serving whole lobster at a sit down dinner.
Keep the lid on tight to keep in the steam. A steamer rack is not a necessity; it just keeps the lobsters from getting charred on the bottom of the pot. You can also use a vegetable steamer rack or an upside colander inside the pot.
- Use a pot large enough to comfortably hold the lobsters and fill with water so it comes up sides about two inches. (Feel free to use a steaming rack to place the lobsters on or just add directly to the pot.)
- Add 2 tablespoons of salt for each quart of water. If you have sea salt — even better.
- Bring the water to a rolling boil, and put in lobsters, one at a time. Bring water to a rolling boil over high heat. Place lobsters in the pot (head first), cover tightly, return to a boil as quickly as possible and start counting the time.
- Steam a lobster for 7 minutes per pound, for the first pound. Add 3 minutes per pound for each additional pound thereafter. See chart below for approximate cooking times. Regulate the heat if the froth starts to bubble over.
- Carefully remove lobsters from the pot with tongs. Be careful, they are very hot. Set in a large bowl for five minutes to cool before cracking.
Cooking Clams with your lobsters? Place the netted bag of clams on top of the lobsters and steam both at the same time.
For more detailed instructions and times for steaming lobsters review our complete guide.
How to Cook a Lobster by Boiling
The shell of the lobster flavors the bubbling water, which in turn, flavors the lobster meat!
For cooking a bunch of lobsters, boiling gives you even fast cooking. However, boiling lobster tends to water-log them. If you are shelling lobsters ahead of time, go with boiling. Why boil lobsters?
High, intense heat cooks the meat quickly, making it easier to remove from the shell. So boil your lobsters if you plan to pick the meat to make homemade lobster rolls or other dishes.
- Fill a pot (large enough to hold the lobsters) anywhere from one-half to two-thirds full with water. Use about 1 gallon of water per lobster so it is deep enough to submerge the lobster by at least 3 inches.
- Add 2 tablespoons of salt for each quart of water. (If sea water is available, even better. Skip the salt.) Bring the water to a strong boil over high heat.
- Place the live lobsters in one at a time, headfirst, completely submerging them. Pick up the lobster by holding the upper side of the thorax between your thumb and middle finger. Keep the underside of the body away from you, just in case the lobster flips the tail splashing boiling water all over you.
- Cover the pot tightly and return to a boil as quickly as possible. AFTER the water boils start timing, and regulate the heat to prevent water from boiling over, but be sure to keep the water boiling throughout the cooking time. Melt some butter while you wait.
- Carefully remove lobsters from the pot with tongs. Be careful, they are very hot. Set in a large bowl for five minutes to cool before cracking.
See our complete guide for more details on boiling times and instructions for live lobster.
How do you Cook a Lobster in the Microwave ?
In a pinch to cook lobster and don’t have a pot? Yup, you can zap them in the microwave. It actually steams the lobster in its own shell — not the most elegant way to get the job done, but it works well in a jiffy.
First things first, humanely dispatch the lobster immediately before microwaving. Second, only microwave one lobster at a time!
Does microwaved lobster taste the same? Microwaving a lobster cooks it in its own juices and the shell imparts extra flavor. To the surprise of… well, everyone… it’s actually not a bad way to cook lobster. It also stays hotter longer since it cooks in a thick shell and the bag.
For more indepth instructions on how to cook a lobster in a microwave see our step by step guide.
How to Bake Lobster?
Baking or roasting a whole lobster is an easy, hands-off way to get the job done, and works especially well if you’d like to add a crust or stuffing (though we contend that exceptional lobster needs no stuffing!).
Here’s one of our favorite baked lobster recipes: Baked Lobster with Garlic and Herbs.
Lobster Baking Instructions:
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
- Place the lobster on its back and make a deep, sharp cut through the entire length of the body and tail. Remove the roe and stomach.
- Lay the lobster shell side down on a roasting pan.
- Brush butter or oil over the exposed lobster meat.
- Bake the lobster in the preheated oven for 22 to 27 minutes.
For more details on how to bake whole lobsters in the oven see our complete instructions.
How to Broil Lobster?
Enjoy a more caramelized lobster meat almost like what you’d get in a hot grill — but don’t have a grill? No problem! Broiling lobsters achieves a thin layer of sear atop the lobster, giving it something like a crisp smoky flavor. Broiling is also a great option if you plan on adding a flavorful crust to the top of the meat.
Here’s one of our favorite broiled lobster recipes: Turn the Heat Up: Broiled Lobster Tails with Jalapeno Butter.
For more details on how to broil lobster in the oven see our broiling guide for times and temperature.
Are Big Lobsters Tough When Cooked?
Let’s dispel the longstanding belief that bigger lobsters, over 2 lbs., are tough when cooked. This simply is not true. We’ve cooked plenty of 5-6 pound lobsters and they can be every bit as tender and. That’s if the lobster is not overcooked.
It is very easy to overcook seafood, especially big lobsters. The issue we see again and again is the recommended cooking times are often too long. Overcooked lobster will be tough and chewy no matter if you steam or boil them. When in doubt, use a meat thermometer to help you ensure you’re not overcooking those large lobsters.
Reheating Cooked Lobster
If you’re anything like us, it’s easy to cook more lobster than you can eat in one sitting — who can blame you when it looks and smells so good? Thankfully, it is possible to reheat cooked lobster without it losing its rich flavor and tender texture as long as you’ve used the live lobster storage best practices.
Please keep these three food safety concerns in mind:
- Fully-cooked, in-shell lobster only keeps for 24 hours.
- Par-boiled (semi-cooked) lobster can be kept for 2-3 days.
- Out-of-shell lobster meat can be kept for 2-3 days.
- Use a meat thermometer to ensure your lobster returns to 145 degrees F before eating — lobster tastes better when you’re 100% confident it’s safe to enjoy.
Here are the lobster reheating methods we recommend:
- Reheating lobster in the oven. This method isn’t super quick, but it does a good job of preserving your lobster’s fresh flavors. Simply slide your lobster on a roasting pan, drop some butter or oil on the bottom of the pan, and cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees F until a meat thermometer reads 145 degrees F — probably around 10 minutes.
- Reheating lobster in a saucepan. If you have out-of-shell meat, it’s hard to beat a simple stovetop reheat. Simply toss the meat in some extra butter and saute on medium heat until fully cooked.
- Reheating lobster in the microwave. This is probably our least favorite way to reheat lobster because of the toll it takes on the meat’s texture, but if you’re in a hurry, it does work. If your lobster is still in the shell, give it 2-3 minutes of microwave time. If the meat is out-of-shell, it’ll only need 1-2 minutes.
Bonus points for using your reheated lobster in a lobster roll (check out this recipe)!
Cooking Lobsters at High Altitude
Cooking lobsters at high altitude takes more time since water boils at a much lower temperature, and evaporates faster. At high altitude the air has less oxygen and the atmosphere becomes much drier. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), most cookbooks consider 3,000 feet above sea level to be high altitude. At sea level, water boils at 212 °F. With each 500-feet increase in elevation, the boiling point of water is lowered by just under 1 °F. At 7,500 feet, for example, water boils at about 198 °F.
To compensate for the lower boiling point of water, the cooking time must be increased — but not the heat.
How many minutes should you increase the time? Try adding about 2 minutes to our lobster cooking times. Also, cover the pot tightly when cooking. To avoid overcooking and undercooking your lobsters, use an instant read food thermometer to check internal temperature. The FDA recommends most seafood be cooked to an internal temperature of 145ºF. Visit the FDA’s website for more information on cooking lobster at higher elevations.
How do I Tell if My Lobsters are Cooked?
Many people will mistakenly boil a two and half pound lobster twice as long as a one and a quarter pound lobster. For timing, use the weight of individual lobsters, not the total weight of all lobsters being cooked.
Unlike white fish, lobster meat has longer muscle fibers, and does not flake when cooked. Lobster is cooked when the shell is entirely red. When properly cooking lobster, the meat becomes a creamy white color all the way through–no translucent areas. Some chefs say when the antennae pull out easily, lobsters are done, but this is not always the case.
The most foolproof method to check lobster doneness is to use an instant read thermometer.
Insert thermometer in the underside of the tail closest to the body. The internal temperature should read about 135-140 degrees F. It is important to note when you take your lobsters out of the pot they will continue to cook. To stop the cooking process, put your lobsters in a big bowl of ice.
If you overcook them, you will be eating tough lobster. If you under-cook them you can always heat them up. The reason many people believe larger lobsters are tough is simply because they overcook them.
Just remember to bring your pot back to a rolling boil and regulate the heat. The tail is a good indicator of freshness. It will contract and curl when cooked; and the tail meat will be somewhat firm, not mushy. Happy cracking!
How Do you Grill Live Lobsters?
While boiling and steaming are the most well-known ways to cook live lobster, grilling is another great option. See our step-by-step guide for grilling live lobster in your backyard.
And if you’re cooking frozen lobster tails, we’ve got you covered too. Checkout our tips for boiling, steaming, and grilling frozen lobster tails.
Get the Main(e) ingredient —no matter where you live!
The Ultimate FAQ on How to Cook Lobster
As big as you can get it. You want to avoid crowding the lobsters in the pot to allow for even circulation of heat.
Boiling can cause a bit of a mess, and with steaming there is less boil overs. Generally, boiling helps cooks more evenly, and is best if you’re doing more than 4 lobsters. Refer to our infographic in the article for a deep dive into the pros and cons of each.
For lobsters between 1 and 1.25 lbs, we recommend 7-9 minutes. For lobsters between 2-3 lbs, we recommend 11-14 minutes.
For 1-1.5 lbs, you will need to microwave it for between 7-8 minutes. Place it in the zipper bag with 1.25 cups of water.
It’s all dependent on weight. If you are cooking lobsters from 1-1.5 lbs, we commend 6-9 minutes. Refer to our table in the article for a deep dive.
Yes, and it’s actually a great way to cook it because it imparts a unique flavor and keeps the meat warmer for longer. You will need a big freezer bag, and lemon and salt to flavor the lobster.
The best way to tell is by using an instead read thermometer and it should read between 135-140 degrees F. You usually tell a Lobster is cooked when the shell is full red. The meat will become a creamy white color all the way through with no translucency.
To humanely cook a live lobster, we recommend putting into the freezer to gently numb it, and then put it into a pot of boiling water to quickly kill it.
It’s easy, we provide a detailed lobster cooking and handling guide with every order. You will also find instructions for lobster tails, steamers, mussels, shrimp, scallops, steaks and more.
Lobsters come in just about every color but red. The shade varies a little from lobster to lobster, but they are a dark blue-green or a greenish brown-black color uncooked. On rare occasions, one is landed that is orange, yellow, or blue. The lobster’s color is caused by pigments in the shell. When the lobster is cooked, all of the color pigments are masked except the red background color. Learn more about how lobsters get their colors.
The answer to your question is probably “yes,” unless of course, the supermarket is in Belfast, ME, and your home is in Berkeley, CA!
Lobster meat does not take long to spoil after the lobster dies. As long as there isn’t an unusual odor, cooking and eating the lobster is probably OK. However, there are a couple of things to watch for to be certain. If the Lobster is safe, the tail will be curled tightly after cooking, and the meat inside will be firm. If either of these conditions is not present, don’t take the risk!
The hard red substance is the roe or the eggs of the female lobster. It is also called the coral because of the deep red color. The roe will be black and will appear gelatin-like if your lobster is under-cooked. It is edible but can also be rinsed out. Learn more about what’s inside a lobster.
The green substance is the liver, also known as tomalley. It can be rinsed out of the cooked lobster.
The best shellfish takes very little time to cook. Cooking a lobster for too long will make it tough and rubbery. Lobster meat should be white, opaque, not translucent. Walking legs will pull out easily from the body. Tomalley (liver) will be green and firm. Roe from a female (lobster eggs) will be bright red and firm. When in doubt, use a meat thermometer.
If you need to hold them until later in the day it is best to keep them in their packaging and refrigerate them. If you cannot fit your cooler in the refrigerator, put your lobsters in a paper bag on a drip tray or dish to catch any water that may leak, and don’t seal them in a plastic bag. Please do not put them in the water! Without proper salinity and temperature control, the lobsters will die. Read more on the best way to store live lobsters.
Our strong advice about removing the bands before cooking is:
Don’t do it. The cooking time for lobsters is short enough that the binder won’t burn or melt. The bands are easily removed after cooking.
Lobster needs to always be cooked to the safe temperature of 145 degrees F, including when you’re reheating the lobster. At this temperature, any not-so-friendly bacteria are killed (note: only works for fresh lobster — if the lobster’s been dead for long, or cooked more than 2-3 days ago, no amount of heat can fix that).
This is the lobster’s blood or cooked/congealed hemolymph proteins.
You can eat nearly the entire lobster, in fact you can even eat the shell. Ground shell is used in French Bisque to thicken the soup and make it more flavored.
The part we recommend you skip is the black digestible track in the tail – this is the black line that runs through the tail. In addition the sac right behind the eyes which includes the brain, stomach, and other organs (Unless you’re into that kinda stuff!).