If you're intimidated by cooking live lobsters, relax; it's easy to do. Think about lobster prep like cooking corn on the cob—just plunge them into boiling water. Our step-by-step instructions for how to cook lobster is about a 30-minute process, including separating the meat from the shell.
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Knowing how to cook whole lobsters is a handy culinary skill that you'll be able to show off whenever you're cooking for a special occasion. Lobster might seem like an intimidating dish to cook, but we'll walk you through each step of how to cook live lobster so you can serve up a restaurant-worthy meal. Follow our guide below to learn everything you'll need to know about how to cook whole lobster, including how to buy lobster, how to separate the meat from the shell, and how long to cook lobster.

Step 1: Prep and Boil Lobsters

For two 1- to 1½-pound lobsters, bring 8 quarts of salted water (use about ½ cup of salt) to a boil in a 20-quart or larger pot, such as a canning pot, with a lid. The size of the cooking pot ($21, Target) is key because the lobsters need to fit completely inside with the lid closed.

  • Grasp each lobster just behind the head and rinse under cold running water.
  • Quickly plunge lobsters headfirst into the boiling water and cover the pot.
  • Boil for 15 minutes (start timing right away even though it takes a few minutes for the water to return to boiling), adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain a steady boil. For larger lobsters, increase boiling time. Drain lobsters and remove any bands on the large claws.

Test Kitchen Tip: Lobsters turn bright red and the tails turn under when they are done. You can also pull off a small leg or long antennae—they should come off easily when the lobster is done.

Get Our Easy Boiled Lobster Recipe
cutting lobster tail membrane
Credit: Kritsada Panichgul

Step 2: Removing the Meat

When the lobsters are cool enough to handle, place each lobster on its back. Remove the tail by twisting the tail and body in opposite directions.

Use kitchen scissors ($20, Williams Sonoma) to cut the membrane from the tail to expose the meat. Remove and discard the black vein running through the tail. Remove meat from tail.

removing lobster claw
cracking lobster claw
Left: Credit: Kritsada Panichgul
Right: Credit: Kritsada Panichgul

Twist the claws where they join the body to remove them. Break open the claws with a nutcracker ($5, Crate & Barrel).

Related: Want to learn how to cook lobster tail? Follow our step-by-step guide!

removing lobster meat claw
Credit: Kritsada Panichgul

Pull the claw meat from the shell with a gentle tug. Crack the shell on the remaining part of the body, and remove the meat with a small fork ($22, Bed Bath & Beyond). Serve the lobster meat with clarified butter or beurre blanc (white wine butter sauce).

Test Kitchen Tip: Some people eat the green tomalley (liver) and the coral roe (bright orange eggs found inside female lobsters), but others might want to discard them.

How to Buy Fresh Lobster

Lobster is one of those rare foods that you cook from a live state. Make sure the lobsters you buy are from a trusted source and are still alive and moving when you purchase them. If you pick up a live lobster, the tail will curl under the body. The most popular lobsters in the United States are Maine lobsters, which are known for their sweet meat and taste great in lobster recipes. Although available year-round, lobsters tend to be less expensive in spring and summer months. Live lobsters have a mottled appearance with a greenish-blue-brown cast. Buy lobsters the day you plan to fix them, and store them in seawater or wrapped in a wet cloth over ice in the refrigerator until cooking time.

If you're heading to the fish market and wondering what size lobster to get, plan on one 1- to 1½-pound lobster per person. This will yield about 4 to 6 ounces of meat per serving. Have leftovers? Turn that delicious meat into lobster rolls by stirring it together with a little mayo, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

Comments (1)

Better Homes & Gardens Member
October 31, 2019
Don’t you KILL THE LOBSTER first???? Put live lobster in the freezer for about an hour, or until there is no movement!!!! Plunging the live lobster in boiling water will toughen the meat, and the dying process will also “ taint” the meat????