Cooking Lobster

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! Make sure your prized catch is cooked the right way.

Perfectly cooked lobster is surely one of life’s simplest pleasures. Live Maine Lobsters are a snap to cook. Steaming and boiling are the two most common ways to cook lobsters.

How to Prepare Maine Lobster

But before you can cook your lobsters, you need to be careful handling them. If you have never handled live 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 much debate on whether lobsters feel pain or not, but we believe a quick plunge into hot water will make for a quick death. Be sure to review some of the best methods chefs use to prep and kill lobsters before cooking.

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. You’ll find plenty of lobster cooking tips online, but we find most of the times are way too long. 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.

How Big a Pot Lobster

What Size Lobster Pot?

How big a lobster pot do you need? 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. If you do not have a big pot, cook lobsters in batches, 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. A 19-quart pot will cook about 5 to 6  1- 1/4 lb.live lobsters. The pot does not have to be heavy duty as 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.

Lobster Cooking Tips TImes

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How to Steam Lobsters

Steaming cooks whole lobsters more slowly than boiling, so it reduces the chance of overcooking. It also makes less of a mess! Why steam lobster? Is steaming better than boiling?

  • Yields a more tender lobster than boiling.
  • Lobsters are less diluted with water.
  • Makes less of a mess.
  • Timing is more accurate since the water returns to a boil faster
  • Preserves the ocean fresh taste of lobster.
  • Cooks lobster a little slower with less chance of overcooking.

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.

How to Steam Live Lobsters

Steaming Instructions:

  1. Use a pot large enough to comfortably hold the lobsters and fill 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.)
  2. Add 2 tablespoons of salt for each quart of water. If you have sea salt—even better.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

If the roe inside a female body is blackish and appear gelatin-like, instead of the customary red, it is undercooked. Put the lobster back into the pot until the roe is red. The roe is edible, but can be rinsed out.

Steaming Lobster Times

How Long to Steam Lobsters? (Steaming Chart is for all lobsters, not each)

Lobster Size Steaming Times
1 lb.-1-1/4 lbs. 7-9 minutes
1-1/2 lb. 9-11 minutes
2 lbs. 11-12 minutes
3 lbs. 12-14 minutes
5 lb. 22-24 minutes

Cooking Clams with your lobsters? Place the netted bag of clams on top of the lobsters and steam both at the same time.

How to Boil Lobster

The shell of the lobster flavors the bubbling water, which in turn, flavors the lobster meat!

How to Boil Live Lobster

For cooking a bunch of lobsters, boiling gives you even fast cooking. However, boiling lobster tends to water-log them. Why boil lobsters?

  • Best for cooking 4 or more lobsters at a time.
  • Cooks lobsters more evenly than steaming.
  • High, intense heat cooks the meat quickly, making  it to 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.

Boiling Instructions:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

When a lobster boils it retains a lot of water. Pierce the body and tail with a knife to help drain the water.

Hold the underside of the body away from you, because the lobster have a tendency to flip the jointed tail, splattering water. You can cook more than one lobster in a pot as long as there is enough room and water to cover the lobsters. (If you do not have a big enough pot use two smaller pots or cook your lobsters in batches.)

Boiling  Times for Lobsters

How long to boil lobsters?(Boiling Chart is for all lobsters, not each)

Lobster Size Boiling Times
1 lb. Lobster 5-6 minutes
1 ¼ pound 7-8 minutes
1-1/2 lb. 8-9 minutes
2 lb. lobster 10-12 minutes
3 lb. lobster 12-14 minutes
5-6 lb. lobster18-20 minutes

How to Microwave Lobster?

In a pinch to cook lobsters and don’t have a pot? Yup, you can zap them in the microwave. It actually steams the lobster in its own shell. First things first, humanely dispatch the lobster immediately before microwaving. It may take slightly shorter time than the recommended steaming time but 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. It also stays hotter longer since it cooks in a thick shell and the bag. Needed materials:

  • One-gallon plastic food-safe zippered freezer bag per lobster for 1 ¼
    or 1 ½ pound or a 2-gallon freezer bag for 2 pound lobster
  • Lemon half to spear on the rostrum above the eyes*
  • Rockweed to add flavor or 1/4 cup of water

Cook at the highest setting of the microwave, this will vary.

Microwave Cooking Times

Lobster SizeCooking Times
1 pound 6 minutes
1 ¼ pound 7 minutes
1 ½ pound 8 minutes
1 ¾ pound 9 minutes
2 pound 10 minutes

Options for Microwaving Lobster

  • Raw in shell(usually claws or tails)- follow above instructions (16 ounces per pound)
  • Pre-cooked- in a pinch, you can microwave cooked lobster meat. Simply place in a freezer bag like above, place on a microwave-safe plate, and microwave a pound or two, on MEDIUM heat for one minute, 30 seconds. Others suggest heating in 30 second increments and re-adjusting pieces each time. Use a finger touch to ensure it is warmed to your liking. It should be steamy. Using a thermometer, the internal temperature of a large piece needs to be between 135 and 140 degrees F.
  • Raw out of shell- spread fully thawed meat over the bag area add water and reduce time. Check for 135-140 degrees F with a thermometer.
  • Pre-cooked- in a pinch, you can microwave cooked lobster meat. Simply place in a freezer bag like above, place on a microwave-safe plate, and microwave a pound or two, on MEDIUM heat for one minute, 30 seconds. Others suggest heating in 30 second increments and re-adjusting pieces each time. Use a finger touch to ensure it is warmed to your liking. It should be steamy. Using a thermometer, the internal temperature of a large piece needs to be between 135 and 140 degrees F.

Are Big Lobsters Tough to Cook?

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 sweet as the small size lobsters. That’s if the lobster is not overcooked. It is real 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.

Reheating Cooked Lobster

In the rare occasion you can not eat a fresh cooked lobster on the spot, you may reheat it and enjoy later.  (Also, see our tips for storing live lobster before cooking). It’s best to par-boil or par-steam (partially cook) your lobsters rather than cooking them all the way though. Cooked lobster in the shell will keep refrigerated for up to twenty-four hours. Simply reheat it in the shell in the microwave for about a minute or less, or gently steam in water for about 2-3 minutes (depending on the size).

If you can not reheat your lobsters within 24 hours, its best to pick the meat out of the shell and refrigerate in a covered bowl or zip lock bag. Fresh out-of-the shell meat will keep refrigerated for about 2-3 days. You can enjoy the meat cold in a lobster roll or warm by heating it up in saucepan with a little butter.

Cooking Lobsters at High Altitude

Cooking lobsters at high altitude takes more time since water boils at a much lower temp, 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. In short, increase the cook time, 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 to Tell if My Lobsters are Cooked?

Another common mistake is adding to the cooking time just because you are cooking more than 1-2 lobsters in the pot.

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

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. Insert an instant read 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.

How do you know if your lobster is cooked

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 know 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 your 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— fresh, live lobsters shipped to your front door no matter where you live!

Shop all live lobsters

Quick FAQS on How to Cook Lobsters

How do you cook live lobsters?

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.

I thought lobsters were red in color?

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. Learn more about how lobsters get their colors.

What is the red stuff in the lobster?

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.

What’s that green stuff in the lobster?

The green substance is the liver, also known as tomalley. It can be rinsed out of the cooked lobster.

How can you tell if your lobster is cooked?

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.

What if I cannot cook my lobsters right away?

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 water! Without proper salinity and temperature control the lobsters will die.

Got More Lobster Order Questions?

Be sure to review our customer service page for quick answers to ordering and delivery times.

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