How to Boil and Eat Lobster

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
  • 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.

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.

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

3 Boil lobsters for 10 to 20 min, depending on size: Note the time at which the water comes to a boil again. From that point, boil the lobsters for 10-20 minutes or longer, depending on the size of the lobster. 10-13 minutes for 1 lb lobster, 12-18 minutes for a 1 1/2 pound lobster, 18-23 minutes for a 2-3 pound lobster. 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.

4 Remove 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

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

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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  • [email protected]

    Omg, Bands gotta come off! Besides taste, no one wants their food poached with bpa’s non-food grade materials.

    NL is with NS on this one!

    Honestly just use a knife to slice them off before cooking . Grab them by the body and they can’t pinch you. Even being pinched as a kid wasn’t brutal… and that was playing with one. Yeah totally grew up where lobster was the discards of a catch

    Seriously not risky. Do it last min and keep your hand gripped where they can’t reach!

  • Elizabeth

    Please , please take the bands off the lobsters before you steam them , you will destroy the taste of your lobsters if you don’t , that’s how we do it here in Nova Scotia!

  • Rick Widgery

    Jeff; Beg to differ, 20 minutes is NOT too long to boil a lobster! At least not a hard shell 2.5 pounder. Yes, maybe the claw tips will be a bit rubbery, but the tomale won’t be black. Same as turkey; target the breast for cooking times and don’t worry too much about the rest. And; NO rubber bands! I’ve cooked well over 1000 lbs of lobster over the years and still find it amazing that supposedly “experienced” lobster cookers often way under cook lobster. 12 minutes is plenty for ~ 1 pound lobsters. Also, very importantly, if not immersed in cold water right after cooking, lobsters will continue to cook for as much as several more minutes, depending on size.

    • Ryan

      Ur right for sure but if they r showing the way how to cook a raw live lobster u have to cut it down the cross from the top of the head straight down with the knife and then put it in boiling water less humain and ten it’ll be cook theroughly

  • Scott

    I agree with most of what is said but suggest cutting the bands before cooking. I find the delicate taste can be tainted by the boiled rubber.
    Boiling or steaming is to ones own taste, I love that salty water that runs out of the claws when you break them off, mmmmnnnn….
    Oh, one more thing, the shells and waste are excellent for the garden, bury about 18 inches deep to keep cats and skunks from digging them up.
    Gonna get some ‘crawlies’ tonight!!

  • tien

    I steam my 7 lbs lobster with sea water/lemond grass (asian grocery market)
    slice the back open and squeeze lemond into it.
    ofcourse dip in melted butter with few drop of tobasco source

  • Jeff

    20 minutes is Way to long to boil a lobster. That’s not an opinion. Otherwise great article. You should update it since its the first thing to come up on google. A 2 1/2 lb lobster is done in 7 1/2 minutes in boiling water. boiling lobster for 20 minutes would be a costly mistake. It may be edible but would definitely be rubbery.

    • Christian

      Have you actually tried to cook at 2.5 pound lobster for 7.5minutes? It’ll barely be dead let alone cooked. Especially if it’s a female. Just wow. Do you mean 7.5min/lb? That’d be closer to correct, for a male at least…

      I’m from Prince Edward Island, Canada and have been cooking and eating lobster since the ’70s.

    • Kevin

      7¹/2 minutes for a 2.5 lbs lobster is not nearly long enough for my taste . If you like it like that that’s fine, but I would say 20 mins is perfect.

  • Chris

    Hi all!

    Looking at cooking Lobster tonight for my wife and I (our anniversary). I purchased 2 x live lobster from my local fishmonger yesterday am (they were an hour out of the sea and virtually running). 24 hours later they are no longer live. I notice everyone is stating cooking live lobster but can’t find anything on not live. Any suggestions from anyone please. Thanks – Chris.

    • Michelle Sayce

      Hi Chris. This is a reply to your question. Don’t cook a dead lobster. It won’t be good. I am a New Englander and have basically grew up on Seafood. When you buy the Lost are you really need to cook it within 1 to 2 hours after buying it. While it’s still alive.

    • Kim

      Did you ever get a response? I’m not sure if our lobsters will be alive tomorrow or not. They arrived shipped to my home today. Still in box in frig

  • Darlene

    I LOVE this article! Excellent suggestions! May I, as someone living in Nova Scotia, point out something, tho? Yes, the summer is the cheapest lobster available on the east coast but the BEST lobster is from cold waters. Harvesting in NS is in May-June and these are MUCH higher quality lobsters than what can be fished in New England in the summer. Cost vs. taste. Your best lobsters are from further north and earlier in the year for the best taste (not considering cost). If you are lucky enough to be living in a lobster harvesting area, you definitely notice the difference in taste between the cold water harvested and all of the “others”. LOL – forgive me to be a lobster snob because of my location!

  • lisa

    can someone post a recipe for lobster rolls? I used to eat them with my (now long gone) aunt elsie up in maine when I was a kid. what a blast those summers were eating fried clams, oysters and lobsters and the hush puppies- what a treat having fresh seafood right off the boat and sharing it with family!!!

  • Jim

    First time cooking lobster- used thie helpfully guide and…..success .!!!

  • DAVE


    1st – You never use butter straight out of the package. Butter has strong tasting impurities that will fight the delicate taste of the expensive lobster meat. You must clarify the butter by heating it almost to the boiling point (do not boil) and spooning off the impurities that rise to the top (they will be quite noticable). When no more impurities rise, your butter is ‘4 star restaurant’ clarified. Always request ‘clarified’ butter when ordering lobster, clams and muscles. It is the taste of the seafood that you are paying for, not the taste of packaged butter.

    2nd – Boiling lobster is quite acceptable, but steaming (takes a little more effort) preservers the delicate flavor better and makes the lobster much less messy to eat. Steaming does not allow all the boiling water to penetrate the shells that will only drip out while eating, thus the mess. This is the same with clams / muscles flavor, but, obviously to a lesser extent concerning the water mess. Garlic is sometimes added to the clarified butter to accent shellfish when eating alone, example as a bar snack.

    3RD – To enjoy the delicate seafood taste do not eat in the chowder or main course any strong tasting foods / spices / GARLIC, strong coffee, etc. EXAMPLE. red wine ( best with red meat – rose with chicken, etc. ) which will over power seafood which is best eaten with a white wine or weak tasting drink. Blend your foods with your drinks, etc.. Ask advice from your ‘ head ‘ waiter, this is their job to advice and make your dinner a special occasion. Clarified butter and steaming can also be requested, if not already the policy of the restaurant.

  • India Ennis

    One more thing… after cooking and draining in the sink, I split the tail in the underside with a knife so that the diner has an easier time getting to the meat and i wrap the claws in a kitchen towel and give them a good TWACK with a rolling pin,as I go along I place each one back in the sink and a lot of the cooking water trapped in the bodies drains off so you don’t get that big watery mess on your plate.

  • India Ennis

    I’m sorry but I have to disagree with you on timing. No chef I know would ever cook a lobster this long, ever. I was trained to do 4-5 minutes for a one pound lobster and then go up from there, never really exceeding 7 or 8 minutes because nobody uses anything over 2 pounders because they start to lose their sweetness.. Most cookbooks reference this 10-15 minutes number as a base number as well and my chef buddies and I are baffled by it. In super fine dining the claws and tails are steamed separately as the claw meat takes less time to cook, to make sure they are done just right and it is just a couple of minutes.

  • John S

    NEVER,NEVER, EVER boil a Lobster–it should only be steamed!

    Whatever. ~Elise

  • george mclaughlin

    The best way to get the lobster meat out of the legs is to use a cutting bord and a pie roller. Break the legs away from the lobster and remove the nuckle at the end, put the leg on the cutting bord and with a pie roller start from the small leg end and roll to the upper end. All meat will come out nicely.

    P.S. Add a little vinegar to you butter for a good dipping sauce.

    Great ideas, thank you George! ~Elise

  • Clark Dexter Gloucester, MA 01930

    I have been cooking lobsters for 60 years. The way to tell when they are done, is they float in the boiling water. I have been a chef for almost of me life. If you want to see how to fix baked stuffed lobaters go to utube clark dexter.

  • TYR

    Actually the advice that you don’t want to eat lobster undercooked or raw is misleading. Lobster sashimi is absolutely delicious and has great texture. If done right, the raw slices will still have movement when it’s served to the guest. It can also be prepared as a carpaccio with micro greens and drizzled with something like a soy yuzu dressing. The only thing you must make sure before serving raw lobster is the same as with any other seafood… that everything is fresh and preferably alive before serving.

    I also agree that the head has some of the yummiest eats of the lobster.

    Great job with the site Elise. The recipes are great and the pictures are beautiful.

  • Suzee

    I was one of the lucky kids – my father was a lobsterman when I was young, and we ate ALOT of lobster! We sold them out of tanks in the basement when I was really small, and later just sold them off the boat to which ever market was paying the best that day. A good 100+ pounds every other day after his day job.

    We had lobster bakes back in Portsmouth, NH. We’d use a turkey frier – fill it 1/2 way with water and bring to a boil. Put 8 chix (1 lb lobsters are referred to as chicken lobsters) in the turkey frier basket, and 8 minutes later they were perfect. I know this as it was my father’s job to cook the bugs (another loving name for lobsters :).

    The real secret is to cook the lobster until the antennae easily pop off – grasp the whole lobster by the antennae, and if it falls back in the pot with the antennae still in your hand, it’s ready. Works for any size.

    Oh, and by the way, the white stuff is blood, not fat.

    And the reason lobsters get cheaper in the summer (right around the last week of July) is because they are molting – the softshells come in. You should be paying less money for the soft shells than for the hard shells – a good thing for a tourist to know. It’s just that the new shell is bigger, so there is less meat. A hard shell is usually all beat up, and stuffed with meat. I like the soft shells myself, as I am a cheapo!

    And my favorite tip – while you are making a mess and stinking up the kitchen, cook a few extra. Shuck the meat, chop it into bite sized pieces, and mix it with some really good mayo. Pop it in the fridge. You will be so proud of yourself the next day when you can have a couple of lobster rolls!!

  • Sonia

    We have a monthly seafood farmers market on the other side of the island where I live and I try to go as often as possible to stock up on lobster tails. This is my latest recipe using them
    I also made Lobster & Grits (using a SC recipe for Shrimp & Grits….Lovely!

  • Christine

    Well, I think you’ve just inspired dinner. My husband might write you a letter (maybe even a poem!) of thanks. :)

    Since I like both the tomalley and the roe, I get the husband’s too. I also pick and eat every little bit that I can including the legs so the other reader’s tip above about the rolling pin will certainly come in handy. (So smart!)


  • EAnne Capron

    Sorry, this is from a drought stricken, land locked West Texan. Just heard that lobsters ‘scream’ when put in boiling water. True or false? Probably PITA propaganda!

    False. Sometimes you hear a high pitched sound (I’ve never heard it) which apparently is steam escaping from the shells. ~Elise

  • Marlene

    Elise, Really enjoyed the article, but I have a question about preparing frozen lobster tail. I was given a couple of small tails and don’t know how long to cook them. Could you suggest the best method of preparation, please?

    No idea. I’ve never eaten frozen lobster tail. ~Elise

  • Cajun Chef Ryan

    Elise, this is a very well written and displayed tutorial “how to” on lobster boil and eating! Now I want some lobster, and soon.

    With my Cajun heritage, in addition to the salt in the water we add a little Crab Boil seasoning, it does give the lobster some added flavor. However, I argue this point with purists all the time!

    Bon appetit!

  • David Lebovitz

    A chef I worked with once showed me how if you scratch the area just above the lobsters eyes up and down, which I guess is the forehead, it puts the lobster to sleep before you kill it. (I’ve also read that putting them on their backs for a few minutes does it as well.)

    Some say this reduces the trauma when they’re boiled. He did it to the lobsters were had and indeed, they did seem to nod off. So for the squeemish, this might help.

    • Abby

      ok that is just cute, whether or not it’s true. “Roll it off it’s tummy and give it a good scratch until the antenna moves back and forth like a puppy leg”…. heh

  • Robert

    Your story brings back memories of living in Bath, ME. At the time the Bath Iron Works was building destroyers and container ships and I was a civilian contractor at the yard. Each year they would have a clambake on the beach for the employees. It was the usual, clams, lobsters, shrimp and crabs. They had these huge pots for cooking over open fires on the beach. They would fill the pots with sea water and sea weed and then cook the shellfish. I have never been able to re-create the taste of the lobster from those pots. Most were a pound to a pound and a half. I remember one year eating 5 of them over the afternoon!
    There is just one thing, do not forget to remove the rubber bands from the claws. They will taint the water and ruin the lobster!

  • Sarah

    Many of the lobster tutorials I’ve seen suggest killing the lobster first before boiling or steaming it, and the chefs consider this a more humane method of cooking them. Basically, you put the tip of a knife in the “cross” on the top of the body behind the eyes, and in one quick motion slice downwards through the head, splitting it in two. This will also allow you to remove the rubber bands with less chance of getting hurt, and so long as you cook the lobsters right away there is no deterioration in the quality of the meat.

  • nathan

    Dont throw away the legs, ever.
    I break them off,put one in my mouth down to the last little endjoint, and clamp my teeth on it.
    Then I just pull it out of my mouth thru my clamped teeth and the meat inside accumulates between the inside of my teeth and the open end of the leg until the leg is outside my mouth and the meat inside.

    Its one of the best parts of a boiled or steamed lobster–(but baked or broiled the leg is too dried.)

  • Frubby

    Boiling lobster is quite simple, Get the pot boiling very rapidly after adding about 1/4 cup sea salt to a 12-15 qt pot. A general rule for cooking time is 12 minutes per pound for the first pound and then 4 minutes per pound thereafter. Example, for a 1-1/2 pound lobster is 14 minutes. If your lobster starts to flap and jerk when you pick them up, hold them with their heads toward the ground, and gently rub the back part of your finger along the back of their head (from the eyes to about 2 inches back) and they will instantly relax and draw their claws back in. Then plunge them into the pot of boiling water. I’ve been cooking Maritime (Canada) lobster for 20 years and have never had a tough piece of meat yet!

  • mzmartha

    Like the messenger before me, I have been around for a while My late father-in-law and a partner owned The Fisherman’s Net in NYC in the 1940’s and later he owned The Sportsman’s Tavern in Cooperstown, NY. He gave me a good tip for eating lobster, i.e., put a few drops (or more) of Worcestershire Sauce in the drawn butter.

    I visit Simply Recipes daily and appreciate your recipes, Elise. I love to eat a wide variety of food and find that your recipes cover that territory very nicely….Thank you!

  • Erin

    I recently read an article that suggested putting the lobsters in the freezer for 15-20 min before cooking. Supposedly, this is supposed to make cooking less “traumatic” for the lobsters, resulting in a better tasting lobster. I haven’t had the chance to try this yet – have you ever tried this, Elise? Did you notice a difference?

    I have done this, and the lobsters do seem more sedated on the way in. In general I keep them in their bag in the refrigerator before cooking them. If you put them in the freezer, they are colder going into the water, so the water will take just a little more time returning to a boil. ~Elise

  • Bill Zimmerman

    For the best flavor in a boiled lobster, try to use a bucket with real ocean sea water. It is really the best way to cook the lobster. Boiling the water will rid it of any impurities. Most fresh drinking water has been treated with chlorine which may alter the taste of the lobster.

    Some people put seaweed in the pot too. I had some dried seaweed from a Japanese dish in the pantry which I added to the pot for flavor. ~Elise

  • Carrie

    I like to light a scented Yankee Candle in the kitchen when I start the water to boiling. Boiling lobsters are STINKY and the candle helps eliminate that tremendously.

    It does help to do it with the windows open and a good breeze, indeed. ~Elise

  • Julia Harrison

    Since moving to Maine, I’ve found that in my neck of the woods almost everyone steams their lobster, as do I. Just a couple of inches of boiling water, drop them in and time 10 to 12 min. after boiling has resumed. If you take apart the joint where the legs were torn off, there is some mighty sweet meat in there too. The green stuff and roe are particularly good in a stuffing. It takes a long time to eat lobster!

    Steamed lobsters are great too! I used to steam them when I lived in Boston, you could fit more in a pot that way. ~Elise

  • Judy

    My very best lobster experience was two years ago while vacationing in Nova Scotia and we went over to Brier Island. While there we went to where they store the lobsters for shipping and were able to buy a two pound lobster each, at $12 a lobster. The lady who owned the lodge where we were staying cooked the lobster for us and instructed us how to eat it. It tasted so different from lobster gotten at a seafood restaurant. The meat was so soft and tender and much sweeter. We just put the legs in our mouth and pulled they slowly through our teeth and were rewarded with very a very sweet treat. Our hostess got the biggest kick out of watching two greenhorns eat their first ‘natural’ lobster, fresh from the sea. An experience I will always remember and treasure.

    This is why I usually only get lobster at the shore when I’m visiting the east coast in the summer. It’s so much better than the lobsters that have been sitting around in a tank for weeks. ~Elise

  • Glenn Sullivan

    I used to ignore the legs like you… then I watched “Good Eats.”

    When eating lobster, I almost always have something cylindrical at the table… in the form of a beer or wine bottle. But if you have neither, grab your favorite rolling pin.

    Snip the “body” knuckle off of the legs with your kitchen shears, and lay them out on a cutting board. Then, like a tube of toothpaste, roll from the tip of the leg up, and the meat comes out in one whole piece!

    You can get enough from one lobster to make a mini lobster salad roll in the morning!

  • melodie

    I love lobster. I grew up in Gaspesie so lobster was caught just a few miles away. Every beginning of summer and fall, we have lobster parties. They can be quite messy. Anyway, I just wanted to add that I have never boiled a lobster for more than 10 minutes. A one pound lobster, to be perfect I find, is 7-8 minutes, after the water has started to boil again after diving the beast in the water. If you boil it more than 10 minutes, the meat becomes quite tough. Some chefs even boil it for only 4 or 5 minutes if they know they are going to finish the lobster meat in a sauce for pasta or something. If the lobster is bright red and if the little claws detach easily, it is ready.

  • Robert Sarcione

    My biggest gripe with your method is the boiling of the lobster. You are losing all the best of the lobster by boiling. The lobster should be steamed in a large pot with about 1″ of salt water or salted water with a steam rack on the pot bottom to keep the lobster out of the water. By steaming you not only get more tender meat but it preserves the natural juices already in the shell for a tastier more succulent experience. Try it, you’ll like it. My mouth is starting to water, I think it’s about time to visit the northeast that I left so long ago.

    I love steamed lobster too. You can fit more lobsters into the pot that way, though they struggle more and you have to hold down the lid for a while. ~Elise

  • jeff

    I’d recommend removing the rubber bands before boiling. If left on, the rubber bands will add a bad flavor to the water that will be imparted to the lobster.

    Good luck with that. If you’re not careful, the claws can cut off a finger. I’ve never noticed an off flavor from keeping the bands on. ~Elise

  • Nicole

    My family is less wasteful and we eat the head (ewww! gross – whatever). It’s the best part, in my opinion, and has plenty more flavor and 90% of the lobster fat – the saltiest yummiest part. Best story? Went out to eat with two families – one was Asian, one was not. The non-Asians wouldn’t touch their lobster heads – so we got to eat double the lobster meat (triple if you count our tails and heads we were already eating)! Heaven.

    • Lu

      I agree if you are talking about the body. What we called the head, was the part left in the shell after pulling out the body “ribs “. We also eat the meat from the head, not much but very good.