How to Buy, Prep, and Cook Lobster
No need to pay top dollar for lobster at a fancy restaurant when it's so easy to make it at home. Follow these tips to buy, prep, and cook lobster like a pro.
Recipe shown: Lobster Tails Steamed in Beer
How to Buy Lobster
You can purchase lobster in several forms: live, freshly cooked, or frozen; as well as whole or in pieces. Here's how to buy what works best for your crustacean creation.
Buying Live Lobster
Lobster quality is at its best if it's alive at purchase and cooked the same day. Many markets and grocery stores have live lobsters available, or there are mail-order businesses that will ship live lobster to your door. Knock, knock! Who's there? Orange. Orange who? Orange you glad you're not a lobster?
- Live lobster should be active in the tank, and curl its tail when lifted out of the water.
- Once home, cook as soon as possible, or cover with a damp towel and refrigerate.
Impress your local fish market with your knowledge of lobster sizing.
- 1 to 1 1/8-pound lobsters are called "chickens."
- Up to 1 ¼ pounds are "quarters."
- Up to 1 ¾ pounds are "halves."
- To 2 ½ pounds are "selects."
- Above 3 ½ pounds are "jumbo."
Want to really geek out at the fish market? Here's how to tell if a lobster is male or female.
Buying Cooked Lobster
Many fishmongers sell freshly cooked whole lobster. This is a good option if you don't have the time or inclination to buy it live and cook it yourself.
- Make sure the lobster is freshly cooked. If left in the shell for too long, the quality of the meat can degrade.
- If you're not going to eat it right away, keep it wrapped and store it in the fridge for up to a day.
Here's a terrific recipe for cooked lobster meat. "This is a decadent lobster bisque that is surprisingly easy to prepare," says LAURA_G123. "Your guests will be impressed and feel pampered. I serve this with salad and hot, buttered French bread."
Buying Frozen Lobster Tails
Frozen tails are good choices if you don't want a whole lobster, or if you're making a recipe that calls for a little lobster meat. Available in a variety of sizes, these are perfect for thawing and cooking in a variety of ways. Due to the freezing process, these won't be quite as good as fresh live lobster, but they can certainly be worth the convenience.
Recipe shown: Lobster Rolls
Buying: There are two kinds of frozen lobster tails on the market: warm-water and cold-water. You want to buy only cold-water lobster tails because the meat is more firm and of higher quality.
Thawing: As tempting as it might be, it's not a good idea to cook lobster while it's still frozen because the meat will become very tough.
- The best way to thaw frozen lobster tails is by letting them thaw slowly in the fridge for 24 hours.
- If you don't have 24 hours to wait, seal the frozen tails in a plastic bag and run them under cold water for 30 to 60 minutes.
- Microwave-thawing is tricky because the meat will toughen up if it starts to cook.
Related: Get smart tips for buying the freshest shellfish.
You've got a lot of choice when it comes to cooking lobster whole or in pieces. Whole lobsters lend themselves well to boiling and steaming, while lobster tails can be boiled, steamed, grilled, broiled, and baked.
Boiled: Whole Lobster
This is the classic presentation seen everywhere from special occasion dinners to casual beach parties.
- Choose a pot big enough to hold the lobsters without crowding them. A large 5-gallon stock pot can hold about 8 pounds of lobster.
- Fill the pot with 2 quarts of water for every pound of lobster.
- Use enough sea salt to approximate seawater: about 1 tablespoon for every quart of water.
Bring the water to a full rolling boil. Put lobsters in the boiling water one at a time and start the timer. Do not cover the pot.
- 1 pound of lobster = 8 minutes
- 2 pounds of lobsters = 15 minutes
- 3 pounds of lobsters = 25 minutes
Don't be distressed if you hear a high-pitched sound as steam escapes from the shell. This is the not-so-grim truth behind the infamous "scream" heard when boiling whole lobster.
Try this recipe: Boiled Lobster
To Kill or Not to Kill?
Wondering whether or not to kill a lobster before cooking it? If you ask us, the answer is always yes, and you want to do it quickly and humanely. Place a cutting board into a rimmed baking pan. Place the lobster belly-up or belly-down on the cutting board. Take a sharp, heavy knife, place it tip-downward in the horizontal groove at the head behind the eyes. With one quick motion, cut down and through the head. This will sever the "spinal" chord, killing the lobster instantly. This video shows you how to do it.
Boiled: Lobster Tails
Make sure frozen lobster tails are completely thawed before cooking.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil.
- Place tails in the boiling water and simmer, uncovered, until the shells turn red and the meat turns opaque and tender. The rule of thumb is to boil them for about 45 seconds per ounce. Small lobster tails could take as little as 2 to 4 minutes; large tails can take 6 minutes or more.
Just like shrimp, lobster will continue to cook in its shell after you remove it from the water, so be sure to pluck them out of the water before they overcook.
Steamed: Whole Lobster
In this method, lobster is cooked slowly in a steamer basket that sits over a simmering, aromatic liquid. The meat tends to turn out more tender and succulent.
- Pour water into a large pot until just below the bottom of the steamer basket.
- Add enough sea salt to approximate seawater: about 1 tablespoon for every quart of water. Dry flavorings, such as chili powder or Old Bay™ seasoning can be added to the lobster as it steams.
Bring water to a rolling boil and place the lobster tails in the steamer basket. Cover the pot and start the timer.
- 1 pound of lobster = 10 minutes
- 2 pounds of lobsters = 18 minutes
- 3 pounds of lobsters = 25-30 minutes
This recipe for Champagne Lobster gives you a good way to steam whole lobster.
Steamed: Lobster Tails
- Follow the instructions for steamed whole lobster.
- The rule of thumb is to steam lobster tails for about 1 minute per ounce.
This video for Steamed Lobster Tails shows you how easy it is to steam lobster tails on your stove top.
Grilled: Lobster Tails
Fire up your grill for this cookout favorite. Remember, smaller lobster tails will take less time to cook.
Recipe shown: Grilled Rock Lobster Tails
- Split the lobster down the middle with a heavy chef's knife to open it up and expose the flesh.
- Use basting sauces, herbs, and spices for extra flavor when grilling or broiling.
- Cook for ten minutes on a hot grill. The shell will turn a charred red as it cooks; if it still seems underdone, tent the lobster with foil to allow it to fully cook off the direct heat.
Broiled: Lobster Tails
For this method, you'll cut open the shells and season the meat before broiling. Watch to video to see how to do it.
Try this recipe: Broiled Lobster Tails
Baked: Lobster Tails
Baked lobster tails are often cut open and seasoned or filled with a savory stuffing.
Try this recipe for Crab-Stuffed Lobster Tail.
How to Crack a Whole Lobster
That whole steamed lobster sure looks appetizing, but how are you going to get at all that meat? Well, put on a bib or an apron and let's get cracking.
1. Twist off the claws.
2. Separate the tail from the body.
3. Cut down the underside with sturdy kitchen scissors to expose the meat.
4. Crack open the claws.
5. Extract the claw meat.
Enjoy your very own lobster-fest!
Get top-rated recipes for lobster, including whole lobster, lobster tails, and lobster meat.