How to Cook Whole Lobster

No need to pay top dollar for lobster at a restaurant when it's so easy to make at home. Follow these tips to buy, prep, and cook whole lobster. For lobster tails, scoot over to How to Cook Lobster Tails.

whole cooked lobster on a newspaper
Photo: Meredith

How to Buy Lobster

You can purchase whole lobster in several forms: live, freshly cooked, or frozen. 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.
Live Lobster with Banded Claws

Lobster Sizes

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.

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.

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.

How to Cook Lobster

What's the best way to cook lobster? Take your pick! You've got a lot of choice when it comes to cooking whole lobster.

Boiled Lobster

Here's how to boil a 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 lobsters = 8 minutes
  • 2-pound lobsters = 15 minutes
  • 3-pound 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 for Boiled Lobster.

boiled whole lobster with lemon and melted butter
Cynthia Ross

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 lobsters = 10 minutes
  • 2-pound lobsters = 18 minutes
  • 3-pound lobster = 25 to 30 minutes

This recipe for Champagne Lobster gives you a good way to steam whole lobster.

lobster tail served with steak and potatoes - your classic surf and turf dinner

Baked Lobster

For this stunning presentation, cooked whole lobsters are open and filled with a savory stuffing. So delicious!

Try this recipe for Lobster Thermidor.

whole cooked and stuffed lobster thermidor
Caroline Kwok

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. If the lobster is very hot, let it cool slightly, or protect your hands with gloves.

Pulling Lobster Apart

1. Twist off the claws.

2. Separate the tail from the body.

Cracking Lobster

3. Cut down the underside with sturdy kitchen scissors to expose the meat.

4. Crack open the claws.

5. Extract the claw meat.

Now you're all set to enjoy your very own lobster-fest at home.


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