Fresh Lobster

Live lobster is delicious and easy to prepare at home. Follow these tips to buy, store, and cook these crustaceans.

Fresh lobster can be had in several forms: live, freshly cooked, or frozen. Choose the one that is best for your recipe.

Picking Out Lobster
Live Lobster

  • Invariably, lobster quality is higher 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.
  • Any 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 refrigerate, covered with a damp towel. Don’t keep them in water or cover with ice; you don’t want them to drown.

Freshly Cooked

  • Many fishmongers sell freshly cooked whole lobster. This is a great way to get the lobster if you don’t have the time or inclinations to buy live.
  • Make sure the lobster is freshly cooked. If left in the shell for too long, the quality of the meat can degrade.

Frozen Tails

  • Frozen tails are good choices for quick, fresh lobster.
  • Available in a variety of sizes, these are perfect for throwing on the grill, or chopping into a sauté.
  • Due to the freezing process, these won’t be quite as good as whole lobster, but they can certainly be worth the convenience.

Canned Lobster

  • Not recommended
Boiled Lobster

Photo by Nanby

Boiling, Steaming, Broiling
Though classically cooked by boiling, there are other ways to cook lobster.


  • Use two quarts of water for every pound of lobster.
  • Use enough salt to approximate seawater–about one tablespoon for every quart of water.
  • Put lobsters in the boiling water; when it returns to a boil, time for eight minutes. It will continue cooking in the shell, so when in doubt, removing early is better than overcooking.


  • Use a couple of inches of salted water in a large pot, and cook according to the directions for boiling.
  • Dry flavorings, such as chili powder or Old Bay™ seasoning can be added to the lobster as it steams.

Broiling and Grilling

  • After preparing the lobster for grilling (see sidebar), split it down the middle with a heavy chef’s knife.
  • 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.
Grilled Rock Lobster Tails

Photo by Molly

Cooking live lobster takes some preparation.

  • Keep the rubber bands on the claws if you are boiling or steaming. The bands will survive the cooking, and keep the lobsters from getting a hold of each other or, more importantly, you.
  • As steam escapes the shells, it creates noise. This is the infamous “scream” heard when boiling lobster. You can kill the lobsters with a knife before boiling or steaming, if you prefer.
  • Preparing for the grill involves killing the lobster first. They can either be boiled for 2 minutes, or you can use a knife. Take a sharp, heavy knife, place in the horizontal groove at the head, and cut with quick, downward force. This will sever the “spinal” chord, killing the lobster humanely.

Get Cracking
There is simply no dainty way to crack and eat whole lobster, but it might be possible to avoid an immediate trip to the dry-cleaners.

  • Pre-crack lobster for guests. Cut lengthwise through the underside of the tail with scissors. Don’t cut the meat, just the shell underneath. Also, crack the claws ahead of time, just to save some of the pounding at the table.
  • Bibs. They might seem silly, but they more than make up for themselves when the lobsters start cracking.

Lobster Sizes
Impress your local fish counter 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 are “halves.”
  • To 2 ½ are “selects.”
  • Above 3 ½ pounds are “jumbo.”

Lobster Meat Recipes
Use the shells of fresh lobster to make a stock for lobster bisque or stew.

More Recipes for Lobster Tails