HOW TO Cook and Eat Fresh Lobster
Updated: Aug 29, 2019
Perfectly cooked lobster is surely one of life’s simplest pleasures, but many of us unsure on how to perfectly boil, steam, or grill whole lobsters. 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. Below are plenty of tips for how to prepare, cook, and then eat amazing lobster at home.
How to Pick and Prepare Lobster before Cooking
Perfectly cooked lobster is delicious, but if not done properly it can be a great expense and ruin your dinner plans.
When you pick out your lobster...
They should look healthy and lively with tails straight and claws up. Live lobsters will be have a brown or black color, which is their natural color. They don't turn bright red until they are cooked. Sometimes lobsters get tired from the cold temperature or traveling, but at the very least the small legs underneath should be moving. If you have a lobster that is not moving, set it on its back for a couple minutes to see if it starts to move.
When storing lobster before cooking...
The two most important things to keep in mind are temperature and moisture. Keep lobster in a refrigerator or walk-in cooler. If you are using a cooler, make sure to use adequately frozen gel packs and keep the temperature ideally at 40 degrees F during storage. Do not put ice on the lobsters or keep them in tap water- fresh water kills lobsters.
When putting a live lobster to sleep...
We know that killing a creature at home can be very uncomfortable for many people. If you follow our recommendations there will be nothing to feel awkward about. This can be a fun experience for the whole family without having to separate someone who may feel uncomfortable about the event. This instruction is purely to educate those that wish to prepare live lobster in a manner that is humane. Before you begin cooking any live lobster, please place the lobsters in the freezer for 20 minutes. This puts a lobster to sleep first and then dies. This is painless and does not incur any suffering on the lobster. After 20 minutes, take the lobster bands off before cooking.
Before you handle any food...
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Clean your kitchen work area and pull back your hair or wear a cap. You want to avoid contaminating your meal with harmful bacteria that could cause food illness. If you wish to butterfly a lobster tail, this would be a the time to separate your tail and cook it separately than the claws. Simply pull the tail apart from the center carapace, or cut with knife. The claws would cook about the same time as the normal cook time of the live lobster.If you plan on butterflying a lobster tail, you will need seafood shears to cut the lobster tail.
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, you may cook lobsters in batches, using a couple of pots. A 4-5 oz. soup pot will work well for a couple small lobsters. A 20-quart pot will cook about 6 of the 1.5 lb lobsters. 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 quarter pound lobster. For timing, use the weight of individual lobsters, not the total weight of all lobsters being cooked
When lobster is fully cooked...
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.
It's better to under-cook than overcook...
If you overcook them, your going to be eating tough lobster. If you under-cook your lobster 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.
Methods for Cooking Lobster
Steaming and boiling are the two most common ways to cook lobsters, but you can also grill and smoke them as well. It's important to never overcook your lobster as it will make the meat tough and stringy. 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 to Boil Fresh Lobster
I strongly recommend boiling lobster. This is the easiest technique, especially for beginners. This best way to boil in that saltwater flavor is adding a 1/4 cup of sea salt in the boiling water. Boiling actually adds weight to the lobster meat. Some methods like grilling would tend to dry out the lobster meat.
To boil fresh lobster:
Fill a large stock pot with water. Allow three quarts of water per 1.5 pounds of lobster. Lobster should be totally submerged in water.
Add 1/4 cup of Sea Salt for each gallon of water. (4 quarts = 1 gallon). This adds significant flavor to the lobsters.
Bring the salt water to a rolling boil. While your water is boiling, remove your lobster from its packaging and place on the counter for a few moments.
Leave the rubber bands on the lobster’s claws when you cook them. Don't take a chance of getting pinched. If the lobster has already been put to sleep, it's OK to take the bands off before cooking.
Wearing silicone gloves, grab the lobster behind the claws with the palm of your hand over its back.
Carefully slide the lobster head-first into the water and cover the pot with the lid.
If you hear a whistling sound when the steam starts escaping from the shells, that’s normal. Some will say this is the lobster screaming which is a myth. Lobsters can’t scream. This is the release of steam from the shell similar to a teapot whistling when the tea starts to boil.
When the water returns to a full boil, set your timer using the cooking time recommendations below. This will aid in making sure you don’t overcook your lobster.
1 lb. lobster = 9 minutes in boiling water
1 ¼ lb. lobster = 10 minutes in boiling water
1 ½ lb. lobster = 11 minutes in boiling water
2 lb. lobster = 12 minutes in boiling water
3 lb. lobster = 15 minutes in boiling water
4 lb. lobster or more = 18 minutes in boiling water
9. After the time goes off, check to make sure your lobsters are a deep red color, which means they are cooked.
10. Using silicone gloves, carefully remove your lobsters from the boiling water and place them on a flat surface lined with paper towels where they can drain. Turn over after a few minutes to ensure all residual water is drained.
11. Let lobster sit for 5 minutes. This will allow the juices to settle and allow the lobster to retain its natural flavor.
If you are boiling lobsters at a higher elevations...
It 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. Basically, increase the cook time not the heat. Add 2 minutes to the lobster cooking times. Also, cover the pot tightly when cooking. To avoid overcooking and under-cooking 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.
How to Steam Fresh Lobster
Steaming lobsters is an age-old Northeastern tradition that true lobster lovers have long enjoyed. Below, we'll show you how to perfectly steam your lobsters right at home.
To steam fresh lobster:
1. Fill a large pot with about two cups of cold, salted water. This should allow about 2 inches of water at the bottom of the pot.
2. Place a steaming insert or high-temperature-resistant colander in the pot. Be sure that the water line is below the steaming insert, otherwise you’ll end up boiling your lobsters.
3. Cover your pot with a secure lid and bring the water to a boil.
4. Leave the rubber bands on the lobster’s claws when you cook them. Don't take a chance of getting pinched. If the lobster has already been put to sleep, it's OK to take the bands off before cooking.
5. Wearing silicone gloves, grab the lobster behind the claws with the palm of your hand over its back.
6. Carefully slide the lobster head-first into the water and cover the pot with the lid.
7. If you hear a whistling sound when the steam starts escaping from the shells, that’s normal. Some will say this is the lobster screaming which is a myth. Lobsters can’t scream. This is the release of steam from the shell similar to a teapot whistling when the tea starts to boil.
8. Be sure that your lobsters are far enough apart to ensure that the steam can move freely between them. Overcrowding your lobsters can result in imperfect cooking.
9. Use the chart below to gauge how long you should steam your lobsters based on their weight.
1 lb. lobster = 10 minutes
1 ¼ lb. lobster = 12 minutes
1 ½ lb. lobster = 14 minutes
1 ¾ lb. lobster = 16 minutes
2 lb. lobster = 18 minutes
2 ½ lb. lobster = 20 minutes
3 lb lobster = 24 minutes
3 1/2 lb lobster = 28 minutes
4 lb lobster = 30 minutes
How to Grill Fresh Lobster:
Grilling really ads that distinct flavor to your lobster that any grilling connoisseur will love. If you love grilling steaks, you will definitely love a grilled lobster. The tricky thing is just like grilling any food, you have to make sure you get all parts of the lobster cooked, which is why some people cut them in half so they don't know to cook longer times on lower heat to thoroughly cook the center. It is common to cut lobsters in half for grilling. But again, just to drive this point home as mentioned before, its better to under-cook than to over-cook, you will really kick yourself when you've scorched the meat. So cook at a shorter time, take a look, if its not done, throw it back on for a few more minutes. Grilling is also a great opportunity to try some butter and spices.
To grill fresh lobster:
1. Prepare a marinade of lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and black pepper.
2. With a sharp knife, sever the head at the base of the neck and cut off both claw arms.
3. Twist off the tail. Discard of the carapace and legs.
4. Cut the soft underside of the tail lengthwise, with scissors. Crack the hard upper shell so you can remove the tail meat. Skewer the tail meat so it lies flat.
5. Marinate the meat for a few hours.
6. Place the claws and tail meat on the grill about 4 to 5 inches above the flame.
7. the tail meat as it cooks with the marinade.
8. Grill for 5-6 minutes.
9. Turn the claw and tail meat over and baste them before cooking another 5 minutes.
10. Grilled lobsters will be bright red when done.
How to Remove Lobster Meat
Here are some tips for how to extract your freshly cooked lobster meat from the tails and claws. Enjoy!
To remove lobster meat from the claws:
Begin by twisting the lobster’s claws from the body and remove the rubber bands.
Crack the claws and knuckles open using a sturdy lobster shell cracker, then push the meat our with a seafood fork or other small tool. Hot water might come out of the claws during this process, so be careful!
To remove lobster meat from the legs:
Using your fingers, separate the legs at the joints.
Extr act the meat from the legs by biting do wn and squeezing the meat out through the joint opening with your teeth.
To remove lobster meat from the tail:
Start by grabbing the lobster’s body in one hand and the tail in the other. Quickly twist the tail and completely separate the tail from the body and rinse off the innards.
Check the lobster tail to ensure it’s cooked. Fully cooked lobster meat will be white and firm, but if you see any gray or translucent areas, then the tail needs to be cooked longer. Return the lobster tail to the boiling water or your steamer pot for one-minute intervals until the meat is fully cooked.
Once the tail is fully cooked, crack the flippers off the end of the tail. If you find red material in the tail, don’t worry – these are lobster eggs, also known as roe or lobster caviar. Some consider lobster roe to be a delicacy, but it’s up to you whether or not you want to eat the roe.
Use your heavy-duty steel lobster shears or kitchen scissors to cut through the top of the tail shell. Many people make two long cuts and remove the middle section, which makes it much easier to get to the meat.
You can choose to either push the meat out using a fork or eat the meat directly out of the opened shell. Either option is perfectly fine.
Remove the black vein which runs the length of the lobster tail.
Sprinkle with lemon juice, dip in melted butter; these are two common ways to add more taste to your lobster.
How to Reheat Cooked Lobster
In the rare occasion you can not eat a fresh cooked lobster on the spot, you may reheat it and enjoy later. 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.
One lb lobster: 520 calories, 8 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 320 mg cholesterol, 800 mg sodium, 12 g carbohydrate (0 sugars, 0 fiber), 75 g protein.
The good news: Lobster is low in Saturated Fat. It is also a good source of Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Protein, Zinc, Copper and Selenium, magnesium, vitamin E, and a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids.The bad news: Lobster is high in Sodium, and very high in Cholesterol.
For wine enthusiasts, you'll want to pair it with White wines, especially those with more mineral and vegetable notes, work better than fruit-oriented wines. Chardonnay with its delicious vanilla notes is an excellent choice to serve with lobster. Viognier, White Burgundy and Sauvignon Blanc are also perfect for pairing. Side Dish pairing, you'll want to pair it with Savory Seafood Stuffing, Italian Herb Bread, Caesar Salad, Smoked Fresh Oysters.
Need DINNER MUSIC?
Check out our Playlists on YouTube for perfectly themed music to set the ambiance of your meal! For this recipe, we recommend:
Playlist: Tales from the Sea
Vegan and vegetarian. Replace lobster with mixture of chopped hearts of palm, red onion. Once steamed, mix with Vegan mayonnaise. For a list of Vegan and vegetarian alternatives and substitutes for these ingredients, check out our post on DIY Vegan Ingredient Alternatives.
Kick the GLUTS and use gluten-free butter. For a list of Gluten-free alternatives and substitutes for these ingredients, check out our post on DIY Gluten-Free Ingredient Alternatives.
Pump up the protein by adding side dish of shrimp, crab meat or scallops.
Beer-Boiled Fresh Lobster. In boiling recipe, replace water and salt with 2 bottles/cans of stout beer.
Garlic-steamed Fresh Lobster. In steaming recipe, add 2 TBSN minced garlic to the water before boiling.
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