If you’ve never cooked your own lobsters, you’ve gotta give it a try. It’s an adventure! And once you do it one time, the intimidation factor will be gone and you’ll feel more comfortable cooking them again. It is quite a process, but well worth it for that quintessential New England lobster experience.

Before we jump into the how-to, I’ll answer a few of the common questions about cooking lobster.

How should I cook my lobster? Should I steam or boil them? Or grill them?

All three options will do the job well. We typically steam the lobsters (we use a steamer basket inside a large lobster pot), because:

  • Steaming is more forgiving and it’s a gentler cooking process. This means you’re less likely to overcook the lobsters.
  • The process of lobster meat plucking is less messy – because there’s less lobster juice inside the shell.
  • It’s a slightly safer method of cooking (less chance of water boiling over).

We also love grilling the lobsters, which gives the meat a great smoky flavor. Grilling a whole lobster will be a post for another day.

Is there a way to properly (and humanely) cook a lobster?

  • The folks at Maine Lobster recommend putting them in the freezer (in the bag they came in) for 20 minutes prior to cooking. This sedates them.
  • Also, this past fall, a Maine lobsterman told us if you put a lobster upside down on their nose, this is also sedating. We did this and it seemed to calm the lobsters down before we steamed them.

How long do lobsters take to cook?

  • Maine Lobster has timing information here. The recommended time is based on the cooking method, size (#lbs) and shell type – hard vs new (some lobsters are new shell – indicating the lobster has just shed their old shell and therefore have a very thin shell, so therefore will take less time to cook). Add 3 additional minutes for hard shell.
  • For 1 ½ lb hard shell lobsters, we steam them for 18-20 minutes (for hard shell lobsters), after the water comes back to a rolling boil (after placing the lobsters in the pot).

How do you know the lobsters are cooked through?

  • An instant read thermometer in the underside of the tail closest to the body should read about 135-140 degrees F.
  • The “head” will separate easily from the tail and the tail meat will be opaque and white – no longer translucent.
  • The green stuff aka the tomalley (liver) will be firmish and green.
  • The firm red stuff is the eggs (roe) of the female lobster. If the lobster is not cooked through the roe will be black and gelatin-like.
  • The small walking legs will pull away from the body easily.
  • The antennae will easily pull out.
  • The lobsters will turn bright red when cooked (from a dark blue-green or greenish brown/black), but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are done.

Now that you’ve learned a few things about cooking them, let’s take you step by step through the process.

How to steam lobster:

  • Place lobsters in the freezer (in the bag you purchased them) for 20 minutes to sedate them.
  • Add a few inches of water to a large pot (pot needs to be large enough to fit the lobsters comfortably (or you may choose to cook them in batches), with lid fitting securely).
  • Add ¼ cup of salt to the water and bring to a rapid boil over high heat. Alternatively, you could use sea water – if you live close to the beach. Insert a steamer basket.
  • Once the water is boiling, remove lobsters from the freezer and place one at a time into the steamer basket. (We remove the rubber bands from the claws, but you don’t need to. If you do remove them, be careful – those claws pinch!).
  • Bring water back to a rapid boil. Steam lobsters for 18-20 minutes, or until cooked through. (1 1/2 lb new/soft shell lobsters should cook in about 15 minutes, so add 3-4 minutes for hard shell). Use the chart from Maine lobster.
  • Remove lobsters from steamer basket carefully with tongs or protective gloves and let rest 5 minutes.
  • To eat the lobster, twist off the tail and claws from the lobster body. Using a lobster cracker and seafood fork, remove meat from the knuckles, claws and tail (and small walking legs as well, if you’d like – I usually don’t bother, especially for lobster rolls). Remove the tamale (green stuff), red eggs and black vein from the tail portion. Rinse the tail, if needed.
  • Serve lobster with melted butter and lemon wedges.

A few pro tips:

  • Not feeling up to cooking your own lobsters? Go lazy man’s lobster style – have your fish market or supermarket steam and crack the lobster for you, if they are able to (some may or may not be able due to COVID19 or the summer holiday rush).
  • Cook the lobsters the same day you buy them. Store them in the fridge in the bag you purchased them until you’re ready for them.
  • Lobster makes your trash VERY stinky. Not saying you need to plan your lobster rolls around trash pickup … but just be forewarned.
  • Have fun with it! Lobster cooking is an adventure, enjoy it!