Best way to cook live lobster?

Greetings, I’m looking for some advice on cooking live lobsters. stainz and I are having some friends from Iceland over for dinner tomorrow night and since they can’t get live lobster in Iceland and they are going home in a couple weeks we decided to cook some lobsters up. So tomorrow I’ll be picking-up 4 lobsters around 2.5-3lbs.

Now I have cooked live lobster about a dozen times before, and I just take a big-ass pot add salt and boil them for 12-15 minutes. But the problem I have with doing that is a lot of water gets trapped under their exo-skeleton and they end-up being really messy to eat. One trick I tried was to broil the lobsters for a couple of minutes to dry them out a bit. So for a 2.5-3lbs lobster was I boiling them too long, too short, or just right? One problem I have is the water is boiling, then when I throw the lobsters in it stops boiling and takes a while to get going again. So when do you start the timer? As soon as the lobster goes in, or as soon as the water starts boiling again?

Anyway I saw a show where they steamed the lobsters by putting a few inches of water at the bottom of the pot and then adding lobsters. Has anyone done this? Does a lot of water get trapped inside the lobster? How long should they “steam” for (providing my lobsters are 2.5-3lbs)? Do I need to add salt?

Thanks in advance…


I’ve never cooked a lobster before, but Cook’s Illustrated has given me good advice about everything so I took a look at what they say about lobster.

They recommend steaming whole live lobsters. Seems like that would cut down on the water-in-shell problem you mention.

Bring 1 inch of water to boil in a large pan. Set a rack in the pan, and put the lobsters on the rack. Cover and bring back to a boil. Steam as follows:

1 Pound Lobster:

8-9 Minutes (soft-shell)
10-11 Minutes (hard-shell)

1 1/4 Pound Lobster:

11 to 12 Minutes (soft-shell)
13 to 14 Minutes (hard-shell)

1 1/2 Pound Lobster:

13 to 14 Minutes (soft-shell)
15 to 16 Minutes (hard-shell)

1 3/4 to 2 Pound Lobster:

17 to 18 Minutes (soft-shell)
about 19 Minutes (hard-shell)

sounds to me like you got it about right. Athena’s guide is great! Thanks! The water caught in the shell is just the price you pay. Eating lobster can be an ugly, but most rewarding business.

It should’nt have to be that messy. You do not need to boil the lobsters all the way, the trick is to boil up the water (I put roughly 35 grams of salt per litre), insert the lobster, and let the the whole thing boil up again but no more. Then you just leave the lobster in there (if it is half a kilo, for maybe 12 minutes, if it is 1.5 kilos, around 24 minutes). Sorry for the metric measures. The lobsters come out nice without the messy water inside the shell.

1" may not last 17-18 minutes. If memory serves, Alton Brown used large, washed stones to keep his “cockroaches” out of the water. Fill almost to the top of the rocks, boil, toss them in, listen to their screams.

We use a steamer pot. Bring the water to a boil, put the lobsters in the steamer. This mostly avoids the problem of water being trapped in the shell, although there usually is at least some of the lobster’s own bodily fluids still in there when you remove the lobsters.

I steam them. Large pot with rocks at the bottom ala Alton Brown, few inches of water, bring to boil, throw in the bugs, cover. No need to salt the steaming water - the salt doesn’t get into the steam anyway.

I usually let them go for 10 minutes, then start the antenna test - if a firm but not too strong tug on the antenna breaks the antenna off, they’re done.

Back when I boiled them, I used seawater based on the theory that the concentration of salt in lobster flesh was exactly the same as that of the seawater they lived in, so there was no osmotic pressure forcing water into or removing water from the lobster shell. They were still messy.

Do not boil lobster!

There are only three proper ways to cook a lobster.

Way #1,

Broil the sonuvabitch!

Lay the lobster down on his back. You will see a long line running down the center or his/her thorax. Place a knife in this seam and rotate it suddenly forward so the point of the knife goes into lobster’s skull, killing it mercifully and quickly.

Using the but of your hand or a hammer use the knife to split the lobster down the middle. You only have to split the lobster open, not cut it completely in two. Make the split all the way down to the tail.

Now reverse the knife and smash the claws so that they are nicely cracked.

Place butter in the seam that you have split in the tail.

With the claws above the head wrap the lobster tightly in one layer of tin foil twisting it above the claws and below the tail (this will prevent it from curling and ensure even cooking.

Broil for ten minutes in the foil. Remove the foil and broil for another 3 minutes or so. Serve with butter, french fries, onion rings and creamed spinach.

Way #2

You will need a true steamer that does not let the lobster touch the water. If the lobster is in the water, all the lobstery goodness and taste is going into the water. Unless you are going to make a bisque this is an unpardonable sin.

Get your steamer going and then dispatch the lobsters to Valhalla with a sharp knife as described in the first recipe (refrain from splitting them, just scramble their brains.)

Steam the lobsters one at a time for three minutes apiece. You do not want to cook them, you are just basically poaching them. Save the water you are steaming them in.

Once poached, remove all the meat from the shells preserving it as much as possible.

Mix four sticks of Hotel Bar butter (the best) and 1/4 cup of water in a saucepan. Whisk thoroughly and bring to 170 degrees farenheit. Use a thermometer. Boil the remaining shells in the lobster water. Still save the the water.

Place the lobster meat in the whisked butter/water and bring it back to 170 degrees stirring gently. Here you need to be careful. You want to make sure your meat is thoroughly cooked through but not overcooked. The thickness of the lobster meat will determine how long it needs to stay in the butter. Should be about 7-9 minutes for lobster this size.

While this is going on remove your shells from the water. Save your shells and save the water. Place a chopped onion in the water, along with a bit of celery and a dash of salt and old bay seasoning. and boil.

When your lobster is done remove it from the butter. Strain the lobster water and return to a boil. Add half the butter and reduce it to a thick sauce.

While this is going on put the lobster meat back in the shells in a stylistically artistic fashion. drizzle some of your sauce sparingly over the plate and into the shells.

Serve with asparagus.
Way #3

Your’re not worthy.

So, to repeat hubby’s question from the OP, do we start timing from the time the lobsters go into the pot, or the time it comes back up to a boil?

The pot doesn’t have a steamer insert, so we will have to try the rocks method (I know what I’ll be doing tomorrow - washing rocks - yippee!) … it is MUCH too hot here to cook inside, so we’ll be doing this out on the bbq, which rules out the broil method.

Steaming for about fifteen minutes give-or-take for your average-sized lobster is best.

The following is invoved, but if you can do it…mmmm!

Find a pile of rocks. Throw hot coals onto the rocks. Throw seaweed over the hot coals. Throw lobsters (and corn) on the seaweed. Cover with more seaweed. Throw a canvas over all that. Let steam for about twenty minutes. I’ve done it this way many times on the beach (such as beaches are in mid-coast and Down East Maine) and it’s wicked good!

Scylla, I used to summer in Maine, and I never met a native who didn’t boil their lobsters. YOU go tell them they don’t know what they are doing.

As to the water in the shell problem, if you split up the lobster before serving, you drain most of it out. Here’s how grandma taught me:

Over the sink, Break off the lobster’s tail, drain the water from the body into the sink (gunk will come out too). Break off the claws where they join the lobster’s body, shake them once or twice to drain them as well. Split the tail lengthwise with a sharp knife. Take the lobster’s body and pull the shell away from the part with the meat in it, just enough so that the body will stand up. Stand the body in the center of the plate, tuck the claws in front of it and the two pieces of tail to each side of the body. Viola’! Everyone gets a plate with their dinner sitting up and looking at them!


However, I’ve heard of another way to do it. A chef named Jasper White has invented a non-boil/non-steam way to cook them (since both make them too watery). He was featured on Julia Child’s “In the Kitchen with Master Chefs” and his technique was replicated on the “America’s Test Kitchen” show on PBS. If I was going to do lobster, it’s how I would do it.

Hang on a second while my dial-up does its duty…well, dagnabbit. The search page says the recipe is free, but it makes you register…

Okay, here’s the Julia Child link to Jasper. There’s evidently a video link, but my personal hamsters aren’t cooperating.

The AMT link requires free registration, but you can go to and search for lobster to find the link to “Flambeed pan-roasted lobster”.

And in Africa they ritually give girls clitirectomies and place hot stones on pubescent girls’ budding breasts to stifle their growth.

They know not what they do. Ignorance on a cultural level is a truly sad thing.

In the olden days when lobster were considered trash fish they used to scoop the giant crustaceans by the netful and dump them on in fields as fertilizer.

It is basic cooking physics. When you boil a lobster (or most anything else for that matter) a good percentage of its flavor leaches into the water. This is the theory behind soup. You’ve had soup, yes?

Boiling a lobster is a bad way to prepare it if you care about flavor.

Along with the flavor.

I really don’t want to talk smack about your grandma. I’m sure she’s a fantastic lady, but that’s a sinful thing to do to a lobster. That water and “gunk” contains much of the flavor of your lobster. By boiling that “gunk” you’ve turned it into a liquid mush. Cook it my way and it firms up and stay in place. When you eat the lobster it is not contaminated by the weakened watery gunk.

I would assume that it depends on how long you are heating the food. No?

If I boil a chicken breast for 15 minutes, did I just leach out most of its flavor?

What is a “good percentage” to you?

After all, you have to “cook” the sumbitch for at least a minute or two? Or do you eat stuff raw?

It’s really not that bad. I’ve had lobster prepared every which way, and boiling, while inferior, doesn’t damage the flavor nearly as much as you’re suggesting. If someone lacks a steamer, or doesn’t feel like throwing stones in their boiler, boiling the lobster for ten or fifteen minutes in water isn’t that big of a deal. With three or four lobsters in a big pot, the actual volume of water isn’t that large anyway.

Given the “flavor” found in most chickens, and expecially in the low-fat breasts, your probably adding some in.

Okay so I am going to steam these lobsters. If they are 2.5lbs, how long should they steam for?

I’m thinking 20-22 minutes.

Does that sound right?


If they’re around 2 lbs, 15 or 20 minutes of good hot steam ought to do it. You could probably go a bit over with no untoward effects. I wouldn’t push it much past 25 min., though, as the meat can get a bit tough when overcooked.

Among other things.

Depending. Skin on or off? Sliced cubed or whole? How thick is the breast? Short answer?

Yes. You will leach out most of the flavor. Chicken meat by itself doesn’t have much flavor and what’s there is pretty subtle. Most of the flavor of the meat will come from the fats in it which will liquefy.

After fifteen minutes of boiling you will end up with a pale piece of (ironically) dried out overcooked flesh, and a bowl of yummy chicken broth with a skim of yellow fat on the top.

The broth will have the taste (add a little salt, and mix in a small amount of water mixed with corn starch. This will capture and distribute the yummy chicken fat through the broth.)

33.79% or higher as measured by a freshly calibrated Krups (or equivalent brand) Leachmaster professional dystepic flavor anomiter. :rolleyes:

After all, you have to “cook” the sumbitch for at least a minute or two? Or do you eat stuff raw?

I eat some things raw. The bottom line is that if you are dealing with high quality or expensive ingredients you want to get the most experience for that money. Lobster has a very subtle yet rich taste that gets easily lost into the water if you boil it.

Boil a lobster and taste the water afterwards. That was all in the lobster before you boiled it.

If I’m going to eat a lobster I want all that lobstery goodness in my mout where it belongs. Why leave it in the pot?

But hey, you’re free to do what you want.

You can’t do it that way. There are too many variables such as the heat your stovetop is putting out, volume of steam, tightness of your steamer, how much water is used.

You’re just going to have to cook them until they are done and no longer than that. If you have a kickass stovetop putting out the big BTUs and a tight little steamer, it’s probably gonna be more like ten minutes per lobster if you cook them one at a time (which I strongly recommend. The larger volume of cold material in your steamer the lower the ambient temperature in there the longer the cooking time, the tougher the end result.)

You can test doneness by cracking one of the smaller legs. The meat in the small (walking legs) cooks a lot faster than any other part, so look for this to be getting overdone, and your lobster to be a bright red. Remember, when you take the lobster out of the steamer, it will continue to cook for another two-three minutes.
*You should consider adding a little vinegar into your steaming water. Fish and shellfish in general can sometimes have a little bit of a fishy odor. The vinegar does a nice job of killing that offensive odor without affecting the meat inside negatively.