Intimidating though it may seem, our complete guide will walk you through everything you need to know about buying and preparing lobster at home—and saving a little money along the way.
When it comes to fine dining, it doesn’t get much more indulgent than lobster—with its luxurious meat and even more luxurious price tag. However, enjoying lobster doesn’t have to be a stuffy affair, or totally break the bank… if you’re willing to brave the lobster making process yourself.
After all, lobster is one of the bigger financial investments you can make in the kitchen, adding an extra layer of can’t-mess-this-up intimidation. While this crustacean is a pricy protein no matter how it’s purchased, making it at home will save you some major bucks in comparison to what you’ll shell out—pun intended—for the same dish at a restaurant.
Whether you’re a fan of lobster boiled whole and cracked open at the table, or want to make some upscale lobster-inclusive dishes for a special occasion, these tips will help you nail the craft of lobster cooking at home—and save you some serious coin in the process.
Buying and Prepping
Though the first image of lobster that comes to mind is likely a whole specimen, served with fresh lemon and plenty of melted butter, there are many forms in which you can buy and cook this tough-shelled crustacean. Lobster can be purchased frozen, freshly cooked, broken up into parts, or alive and kicking—if you live in close enough proximity to the sea.
For the freshest lobster possible, live lobsters purchased, stored in a very cold refrigerator, and cooked within the same day will result in the best meat. However, if you’re squeamish over the idea of handling a live animal, many fishmongers also offer freshly cooked whole lobsters, which are ideally eaten shortly after purchasing, but can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a day.
If digging into a whole lobster isn’t your thing—or you’re working with a more limited budget— lobster tails, both fresh and frozen, can be purchased from many markets and online retailers like Lobster Anywhere, which ships everything from whole live lobsters to tails straight to your door. Tails are a great option if you’re planning to prepare a recipe that requires chunks of lobster meat, such as Lobster Mac and Cheese or Lobster Rolls, and you’d rather not have to put in the elbow grease required to crack open the shell.
When working with frozen lobster tails, be sure to thaw them completely in a sealed bag in the refrigerator before cooking or serving, as attempting to cook a tail that is still frozen will result in extremely tough meat.
While the best tails will come directly from a fishmonger, for those looking to get a lobster taste on a budget, stores like Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and even Amazon often have frozen tails in stock for a slightly lower cost. When shopping for tails, keep an eye out for cold-weather lobster tails, which will have higher quality meat than the warm-water alternative.
This traditional lobster cooking method will result in the classic effect of serving whole lobsters tabletop, still glistening from their hot bath. Boiling has long been the primary method of cooking lobster, as the meat cooks quicker and more consistently than other methods, resulting in tender, fall-off-the-shell lobster if timed properly.
To perfect the lobster boiling method, you’ll want to start with a large stockpot that gives your crustaceans ample breathing room. While you are free to cook multiple lobsters at once, you definitely don’t want to crowd the creatures in the pot. Include 2 quarts of water and 2 tablespoons of sea salt for every pound of lobster, and bring your water to a full boil before adding in the lobster. Allow the shellfish to boil uncovered for about 8 minutes per pound of lobster, until the shell is bright red and the meat is no longer translucent.
When boiling lobster tails, add your thawed tails to a pot of salted water and cook for between 2-6 minutes each, depending on the size of the tail. You’ll know the lobster is nearly ready when the meat is tender to the touch and opaque in color. The tails will continue to cook slightly after they leave the water, so be careful to remove them as soon as the tail appears to be nearly done to avoid overcooking.
Once your shellfish is fully cooked and ready to chow down on, use this handy guide to learn how to properly crack and eat your whole lobster.
This cousin to boiling offers a similar clean, classic lobster taste, but requires some extra time and attention. Though slightly more time consuming, steaming is the best way to guarantee your lobster meat reaches a perfect tenderness and doesn’t become overcooked and chewy.
Fill a large stockpot fitted with a steamer basket with enough water to reach just below the steamer, and add 1 tablespoon of salt per quart of water. Once the water has reached a boil, add your lobster to the steamer basket and cover the pot, steaming for about 10 minutes per pound of lobster. Another benefit of this method is the ability to add flavorings like Old Bay to the lobster as it cooks, infusing the meat with flavor. Ingredients like onion and garlic can also be added directly to the boiling water for a subtle hint of flavor.
When steaming lobster tails, allow the lobster to steam approximately 1 minute per ounce, removing the tails once the meat has become completely tender and opaque.
Baking and Broiling
The major benefit of this method of lobster preparation is the ability to add other ingredients to your lobster before cooking, customizing the flavors to fit your cravings. Split the lobsters in half down the center using a heavy-duty chefs knife, and gently cut out the meat, resting it on top of the shells. Place the lobster shell-side down on a baking sheet and brush melted butter onto the meat, topping with the additional spices, herbs, and fillings of your choice. Add the lobster to a 425-degree oven for 10-12 minutes, until the color of the meat has become opaque, and the internal temperature of the meat reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
In order to broil your meat, follow the same prep method, placing the lobster under the preheated boiler for 5-10 minutes until the meat is completely cooked through and the tails become golden brown. For an even fancier twist on baked lobster, try this recipe for Crab-Stuffed Lobster with Citrus Vinaigrette.
This rustic method allows cooks to get more creative with their seasonings and flavors, and benefits from the subtle smoky flavor of the grill. Start by slicing the lobster in half down the center so that the meat is exposed. Marinade the lobster meat with your favorite spices, sauces, and herbs before adding the shells to a hot grill.
Cook each lobster for approximately 10 minutes on the grill, keeping in mind that cooking time will vary based on the size of the crustacean. Periodically check the lobster meat to make sure it isn’t becoming overcooked, and wait until the shell becomes a bright red before removing the shellfish from the heat.
While we’re all for a traditional lobster boil, served whole with shell crackers, melted butter, and some simple sides, there are plenty of ways to utilize your newly honed lobster cooking skills. Throw a lobster themed brunch complete with a Lobster Frittata, silky Lobster Scramble, and Fried Lobster Tails with Sweet Corn Waffles. Or host an upscale Italian feast featuring Lobster Cacio e Pepe, Creamy Lobster Papardelle, Lobster Risotto, and Warm Lobster Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette.
Feel free to think totally outside the box with unique recipes like the Lobster Roll Pizza pictured above, Lobster and Corn Quesadillas, Popcorn Lobster, Lobster Nicoise Salad, Lobster Nachos, Lobster Gazpacho, Lobster “Martinis” with Citrus Salsa, and Lobster Salad Napoleons. However you decide to cook or serve it, mastering the art of homemade lobster will have your dinner guests—and your bank account—singing your praises.