How to Boil and Eat Lobster

Learn how to cook lobster with our comprehensive, easy-to-follow guide. Tips for buying, storing, boiling, and eating fresh lobster at home.

Plate of Lobster with Lemon Halves and a Bowl of Butter Sauce

Simply Recipes / Mihaela Kozaric Sebrek

We don't have American lobsters out here in California. (Well we do, but they're shipped in from New England, and frankly they just aren't as good as lobsters bought near the sea shore on the East Coast.)

So whenever I'm in New England in the summer (according to my local friends, summer is the best time for lobsters, they're more plentiful and therefore less expensive) I make a point to have some.

Now, there are many ways to cook lobster, and probably just as many ways to eat them. Boiling is the most straightforward way to cook lobster, though you can easily steam them too.

I like my lobster dipped in hot melted butter, so that's what is presented here. Some people just like a squirt of lemon juice, or dipped in mayonnaise. Some people meticulously extract the meat from every little leg. I skip them and go for the claws, knuckles, and tail.

For me, cooking lobster is something you do for a gathering of friends and family. It's so much fun, so messy, and so good, it's just meant to be shared.

Plate of Lobster with Lemon Halves and a Bowl of Butter Sauce

Simply Recipes / Mihaela Kozaric Sebrek

How to Buy and Store Lobster

When choosing live lobsters from the market, look for the ones that are most lively, don't have any noticeable cracks on their shells, and do have all of their parts (not missing legs or claws). Look for lobsters that are 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds, which is a good size for the average eater.

As soon as you get your lobsters home, put them in the refrigerator to keep them cold. Do not store them in tap water. Store them in a sturdy paper bag in your fridge.

If you have to transfer the lobsters, pick one up by its body, not claw or tail.

Lobsters can live only up to 36 hours after they've been removed from seawater, so buy lobster the day you intend to cook it, and don't wait too long to cook it.

Happy Memories of Cooking Lobster

Years ago, my first job out of college was in Boston; I lived in the North End, above D'Amore's Italian restaurant on Salem Street, right across from a little fish market. I was amazed that I could buy fresh lobster across the street from where I lived, at the fish market, for $4.99 a pound, still a luxury at that time, but within reach. (This summer, 27 years later, I bought lobster for $5.99 a pound, a bargain for this Californian!)

That summer as often as I could I rounded up friends to enjoy a lobster feast. I still have the big aluminum pot I used.

Do you have a favorite lobster memory? Or special tip for buying, storing, cooking, or eating lobsters? Please let us know about it in the comments.

Plate of Lobster with Lemon Halves and a Bowl of Butter Sauce. One Lobster Is Cracked Open

Simply Recipes / Mihaela Kozaric Sebrek

How to Humanely Kill Lobster

This age-old debate is ever-changing and ongoing as more research is done about lobsters and their ability to feel pain. Chefs and home cooks favor different methods, from stroking them on the head to using a knife to freezing.

America's Test Kitchen performed some tests and, while we can't currently be 100% certain what approach is the most humane, they found that freezing lobsters for about 30 minutes before boiling sedates them, basically putting them to sleep. This caused the lobsters to move less upon hitting the boiling water.

We tested freezing lobsters for 20 to 30 minutes before boiling and can confirm that the lobsters were sedated and moved far less. As a bonus, it's easier (and less risky) to remove the rubber bands while they're sedated. Be quick getting them from the freezer to the pot for the best results.

More Fresh and Flavorful Shellfish Favorites

From the Editors Of Simply Recipes

How to Boil and Eat Lobster

Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 12 mins
Total Time 17 mins
Serving 1 to 3 servings
Yield 1 to 3 lobsters

Should you remove the bands that are holding the lobster claws closed? By all means keep the bands on while you are storing the live lobsters. Some people take them off right before dropping them in the pot because they say that the rubber imparts an off taste to the lobster if you leave them on. I'm somewhat of a scaredy-cat (and I value my fingers) so I usually leave them on. If you are cooking lobster for the first time, I recommend keeping the bands on.

If you end up with leftover cooked lobster meat, chop it up, mix in with mayo, and serve with lettuce on a buttered and toasted hot dog bun to make a lobster roll.


  • Live lobsters, 1 per person

  • A large pot of salted water

  • Salt, for seasoning the water

  • Butter

  • Bread for dipping into the lobster-infused butter (optional)


How to Boil Lobster

First consider the size of your pot for boiling the lobsters. An 8-quart pot will easily take one lobster, a 16-quart pot, 2 or 3 lobsters. If you are cooking a lot of lobsters you'll either need to cook them in stages or have more than one pot of water boiling.

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil:

    Fill a large pot 3/4 full of water. Add a tablespoon of salt for every quart of water. The water should be salty like sea water (in fact you can use clean sea water if you have it). Bring the water to a rapid boil.

  2. Lower the lobsters into the pot:

    Grasp the lobster by the body and lower it upside down and head first into the boiling water. Continue to add the live lobsters to the pot in this manner. Cover the pot.

    Put the lobster head first into boiling salted water
    Elise Bauer
  3. Boil lobsters for 7 to 14 mins, depending on size:

    Note the time at which the water comes to a boil again. From that point, boil the lobsters for 7 to 14 minutes or longer, depending on the size of the lobster. 7 to 10 minutes for a 1-pound lobster, 8 to 12 minutes for a 1 1/4-pound lobster, and 10 to 14 minutes for a 1 1/2-pound lobster. Add 2 minutes for every additional 1/2 pound. The lobsters should be a bright vivid red color when done.

    Note that larger lobsters will turn bright red before they are completely finished cooking, so you do want to time your cooking, and not just go on color alone.

    Unlike with fresh scallops or fish that you can eat raw (think sashimi), you don't want to eat raw or undercooked lobster. Translucent undercooked lobster meat really doesn't taste good. It needs to be opaque through and through. If you cook it too long, the meat will get rubbery, so keep an eye on the time.

    Simple Tip!

    The best way to tell if a lobster is finished cooking is by testing the temperature of the tail. It should read 140°F.

    Elise Bauer
  4. Remove the lobsters from pot to drain:

    Remove the lobsters from the pot with tongs and place on a plate to drain and cool.

How to Eat Lobster

What you'll need: Before you get started, you'll want to assemble some essentials. You'll need a nutcracker, a large bowl to hold the shells, a small dipping bowl for melted butter, and what's missing from the following photograph—a lot of napkins!

How to Eat Lobster
Elise Bauer

Eating lobster is messy, you'll need napkins. There's a good reason they give diners plastic bibs at restaurants when serving lobster.

You may also want to use some kitchen shears and nutpicks in addition to a nutcracker.

After the lobster comes out of the pot, let it cool for a few minutes, otherwise it will be too hot to handle.

Start with the claws: Pull off the rubber bands from the claws, if they are still attached. Twist the claws away from the body at the joints that connect them to the body. Separate the knuckle from the claw.

Pull the claw leg away from the lobster body
Elise Bauer
Separate the lobster claw from the joints
Elise Bauer

Pull back the "jaw" of the claw until it breaks, but do it gently, so that the little bit of meat that is in the small part of the jaw stays attached to the rest of the meat (it's easier than trying to fish it out of the small shell).

Pull off the small end of the claw
Elise Bauer
If you do it gently, the meat will be revealed
Elise Bauer

Use a nut cracker to crack the main claw shell. Depending on the season and the size of your lobster, the shell may be easy or hard to crack with a nutcracker. If necessary you can take a mallet or hammer to it, but do it gently, just enough to break the shell without crushing the meat inside.

Use a nutcracker to break the claw shell
Elise Bauer
Peel away the shell pieces to reveal the meat
Elise Bauer

Pull away the broken shell pieces and pull out the meat inside. Any white stuff attached to the meat is fat, which you can choose to eat or not. Dip into melted butter or not, and eat.

Extract meat from the knuckles: Use kitchen shears (if you have them) to cut the knuckle shell along its length. Pry open the shell where you made the cut and you can pull out all the knuckle meat in one piece.

Use scissors or a nutcracker to break open the lobster joints
Elise Bauer
The lobster meat will be revealed
Elise Bauer

Alternately, you can crack each section of knuckle with a nutcracker and pull the meat out in chunks.

If you have a very large lobster, you can eat the legs. Get to the meat from the legs in a way similar to pulling off the “jaw” of the claw.

Bend the joints of the legs the “wrong” way, which breaks them. You should have a piece of meat attached. Simply bite this off, leaving a thin piece of cartilage attached to the rest of the leg.

Go for the tail: Now on to the lobster tail, where the biggest piece of meat lies. You'll need both hands to get the meat from the tail. Grip the lobster's body with one hand and the tail with the other. Bend the tail back away from the body to separate it from the body.

Grasp the lobster tail with one hand and the body with another
Elise Bauer
Pull back and twist to remove the tail from the body
Elise Bauer

You will see one, and maybe two, odd things inside. You’ll see the greenish “tomalley,” which is the lobster’s liver. You can choose to eat it or not. Some people spread it on toast or add it to lobster soups or sauces.

If the lobster is a female, you may also see the bright red “coral,” which is the roe of the lobster. You may also choose to eat this or not. The coral can be spread on toast as well, or used to add flavor to lobster bisque.

The tail will now look like a really big shrimp. Grab the flippers at the end of the tail and bend them backwards gently. If you do it right, you’ll get the meat from the inside of one or more flippers.

Grasp the end of the lobster tail with one hand, and the rest of the tail with the other
Elise Bauer
Pull back the end of the lobster tail to separate it from the rest of the tail
Elise Bauer

This is uncommonly sweet meat, so don’t forget the morsels in the flippers! You can pry them out by working the little joints back and forth, or use shears to cut their thin shells.

With the flippers off the tail, you can now just put your finger through the small opening where the flippers were and push the tail meat out in one piece. If you have an exceptionally large lobster, use kitchen shears to cut a line down the underside of the tail to help remove the meat.

Use your finger to push the lobster meat from the small end of the tail out the big end
Elise Bauer
Pull out the lobster tail meat
Elise Bauer

Remove the digestive tract: Before you eat the tail, pull the top of it off. This will reveal a digestive vein which you will likely want to remove, much like deveining a shrimp. It won't hurt you if you eat it, but it is the digestive tract of the lobster.

Pull back the flap at the big end of the tail to reveal the digestive canal
Elise Bauer
Use your fingertips to remove the digestive canal from the tail
Elise Bauer

There is meat inside the body of the lobster, mostly right around where you pulled off the tail. For lobsters bigger than 2 pounds it is worth it to fish around for these extra morsels.

There you go! Now just dip in melted butter (or not) and eat. If you have crusty bread, it tastes great dipped in the lobster-infused butter as well.

My young friend Alden with a live lobster about to go in the pot. Elise Bauer

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
106 Calories
8g Fat
0g Carbs
8g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 1 to 3
Amount per serving
Calories 106
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 8g 10%
Saturated Fat 5g 25%
Cholesterol 84mg 28%
Sodium 1084mg 47%
Total Carbohydrate 0g 0%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 8g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 125mg 10%
Iron 0mg 1%
Potassium 102mg 2%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.