Get into Some Hot Water! How to Boil Lobsters

by Charlie ~ May 4th, 2009. Filed under: East Coast Recipes, Maine Lobster Recipes | Print Print

Should you boil or steam lobsters? It depends. Charlie prefers to boil lobsters if he has to cook a bunch of lobsters at a time. Second, boiling lobsters cooks them more evenly and quicker than steaming. But watch out and keep an eye on your cooking times to make sure you do not overcook your lobsters. Finally, boiling lobsters makes it easier to remove the meat out of the shell. The high, intense heat of boiling cooks the meat quickly, causing it to pull away from the shell. If you are just cooking a few lobsters (1-4) see the advantages of steaming lobsters.

How to boil lobsters
Fill a pot (large enough to hold the lobsters) anywhere from one-half to two-thirds full with water. Add 2 tablespoons of salt for each quart of water. (If sea water is available, even better. Skip the salt.) Bring the water to a strong boil over high heat.

Place the live lobsters in one at a time, headfirst, completely submerging them. Pick up the lobster by holding the upper side of the thorax between your thumb and middle finger. Hold the underside of the body away from you, because the lobster have a tendency to flip the jointed tail, splattering water. You can cook more than one lobster in a pot as long as there is enough room and water to cover the lobsters. (If you do not have a big enough pot use two smaller pots or cook your lobsters in batches.) Cover the pot tightly and return to a boil as quickly as possible.

After the water boils start timing, and regulate the heat to prevent water from boiling over (but be sure the water continues to boil). Melt some butter while you wait.

Cooking Times for Lobsters
1 lb. Lobster… 4-5 minutes
1 1/4 lb. lobster… 6-7 minutes
1 1/2 lb. lobster… 7-9 minutes
2 lb. lobster… 10-12 minutes
3 lb. lobster… 12-13 minutes
5-6 lb. lobster… 18-20 minutes

How to Tell if My Lobsters are Cooked?
Lobster is cooked when the shell is entirely red. When properly cooked, lobster meat is a creamy white color all the way through–no translucent areas. Some chefs say when the antennae pull out easily, lobsters are done, but this is not always the case. It is important to note when you take your lobsters out of the pot they will continue to cook. To stop the cooking process, put your lobsters in a bowl of ice.

If you overcook them, your going to be eating tough lobster. If you under-cook your lobster you can always heat them up. The reason many people believe larger lobsters are tough is simply because they overcook them. Many people will mistakenly boil a two and half pound lobster twice as long as a quarter pound lobster. Another common mistake is adding to the cooking time just because you are cooking more than 1-2 lobsters in the pot. Just remember to bring your pot back to a rolling boil and regulate the heat. Happy cracking!

Be Sure to visit East Coast Gourmet for some real feisty live lobsters! Test the waters and get $10 off your first order! Enter code STLB at online checkout.

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21 Responses to Get into Some Hot Water! How to Boil Lobsters

  1. Peter McQuaid

    How big of a pot (quarts) do I need to cook 20 1.5 pound lobsters? Or should I use 2 pots simultaneously?

  2. admin

    Great question! For a stove top your best bet is to use two large pots since the burners are not large enough to accommodate a large kettle. What size pot do you need to cook lobsters? For a couple of lobsters–a 12 quart pasta or soup pot will do the job. For 6-8 lobsters–you will need at least a 19 quart pot.

    For cooking up 20 medium size lobsters, we would suggest two pots at least 24 quarts each or even three smaller pots. Since lobster cooks quickly you can also cook your lobsters in two batches. After the first batch is done just cover your lobster with aluminum foil to keep warm and start your second batch.

    Another option for a large lobster bake is a turkey fryer or even a crawfish pot or seafood steamer with a gas burner.

  3. Geno

    Boiling Lobster The Fisherman Way
    The theory is that the adrenaline produced by a frightened lobster adversely affects the texture and flavor of the meat. Most pallets have not been refined to substantiate this fact that most call a theory. I have seen and tasted evidence of this on a fishing trawler off the coast of Maine. The Russian fisherman Goukousky said, if you want to cover all possible bases, go ahead and place the lobster in the slated water while it is cool(1 tablespoon salt per quart of water). Bring the water to a boil slowly, this will allow the lobster to fall asleep from the temperature chance in the water. Thus allowing you to have a lobster as tender as possible.

  4. gail

    wow! Loved the suggestion to use a turkey fryer!
    We bought one but never have used it. Could you give step by step directions? Do I just put water in the fryer and boil it and then add lobsters? And how many lobsters? I am excited that I could do this!

  5. Jerry B

    Don’t boil a lobster…. steam it!! Here’s how I do it….
    Directions for Steamed Lobsters:

    To steam live lobster: Fill pot so that water comes up sides about two inches. Add 2 tablespoons of salt for each quart of water. If you have sea salt-even better. Bring the water to a rolling boil, add seaweed to keep the lobsters out of the water, and put in lobsters, one at a time. I prefer to use seaweed to a steam rack, ( Feel free to use a steaming rack to place the lobsters on or just add directly to the pot.) Bring water to a rolling boil over high heat. Place lobsters in the pot (head first), cover tightly, return to a boil as quickly as possible and start counting the time.

    Steam a lobster for 8 minutes per pound, for the first pound. Add 3 minutes per pound for each additional pound thereafter. See chart below for approximate cooking times. Regulate the heat if the froth starts to bubble over.

    Steaming Lobster-Cooking Times

    Lobster Weight: Cooking Time
    1-1/4 lbs. 7-8 minutes
    1-1/2 lb. 8-10 minutes
    2 lbs. 11-12 minutes
    2-1/2-3 lb. 12-14 minutes
    5 lb. 20-22 minutes
    Remember to keep the cover on tight!!
    (A couple of bricks will do fine!)
    Lobsters are done when the outer shell is bright red and when the meat is white, not opaque. Again, DO NOT overcook your lobsters. Carefully remove lobsters from the pot with tongs. Be careful, they are very hot. Note: Your lobsters will continue to cook a little after you take them out of the pot. To stop the cooking process, place your steamed lobsters in a bowl of ice before cracking. I like them as they come out of the pot. You can cook corn on the cob along with the lobsters if you wish. Corn is great steamed!
    Now just melt the butter. You can get fancy and whisk in a little lemon juice in your butter. Enjoy!!

  6. PJ

    Don’t do what I did….I bought a 6.3 pounder and he wouldn’t fit all the way down in the pot (24 oz size lobster pot) He was pushing himself back out on those huge claws…( easily 2.5 pound claws!!!! that’s why I bought him) So, he didn’t turn completely red in the 23 minutes I cooked him. I am making a few lobster rolls, if I have to reheat that meat it won’t be a big deal, and New Years Eve lucky charm for those of us from Maine…..is best served with a lobster bisque…so we shall see how my big buddy, Alfonse, turns out. Hopefully the adrenaline rush he got won’t make him taste bad…at $10/ pound that wouldn’t be very lucky~

  7. Kip

    The pot we got with our turkey fryer will hold around 15 1 1/4lb lobsters, perhaps 20 1 1/2lb lobsters. If you steam them and there are a lot of them they tend to get cooked unevenly. I prefer them steamed, but usually boil them when I have a lot.

  8. Helen

    I just cooked my first lobster! I had seen my parents cook them as a child, but the details were a mystery to me…this website was a great help! I particularly liked the design, along with the INFO :) on how to stop cooking the lobster and the details about the sea water in lieu of the salt.
    Thanks again!

  9. ChristineV

    We just had 2, 1 1/2 pound lobsters steamed for 10 minutes – they were the best I’ve EVER had! “Steamed” but a bit of water came just over the steamer. Thanks for this site!

  10. Twyla

    Be careful — lobsters are not necessarily done when they turn red. We’re from Maine and cook out lobsters a while longer than what’s recommended here. We went to one of those seafood buffets in Florida one time that have the lobsters included — all their lobsters were red, but the meat was still translucent and under-cooked.

  11. Summer Dinner | My Family Table

    […] them in lowers the heat), cook for 7-10 minutes depending on size.  (Useful cooking time chart here).  You can also steam them but that’s not how my grandmother did it, so I don’t […]

  12. glenn crawford

    outstanding, here New Mexico not to many lobster men or cooks’ I found the info extremely easy and well written out for us dummies

    glenn

  13. Charlie

    thanks for visiting! You’ll have to send us a recipe for some South Western style lobster tails.

  14. Ben

    Charlie,

    Im doing a seafood boil with, clams, mussels, corn, potato, sausage, shrimp, etc. I also have lobster. I know everything has to go in at a cetain time would you throw the lobster in on this pot as well or would you cook seperate? Thanks.

  15. Hayford Peirce

    I’m from Maine and must have eaten a thousand lobsters growing up. Now I live in Tucson but still buy them from time to time and either boil or steam them — just as in San Francisco, there is a big Asian market here that has lobster tanks with live lobsters selling at about half-price of other stores.

    One comment: my Maine family (and I) have *always* cooked our lobsters for longer times than those given above. I guess the only way to settle this argument is buy 6 lobsters of the same size, put them in the pot, cook, then lift them out at, oh, one-minute intervals. I would wager that a 2-lb lobster cooked 18 minutes is gonna be better than one cooked for 10, but, I suppose, I could be wrong.

    Here’s my question, though: I have a great Time-Life cookbook from 1982 called The Good Cook: Shellfish/Techniques and Recipes. It is a gorgeous (smallish) book with wonderful recipes and photographs. All of the series was put together by a whole team of people in London led by the well-known Richard Olney, with, for a while, Jeremiah Tower being one of the team. It’s worth owning the book just to look at the pictures, which are masterpieces of professionalism. The recipes vary from very similar to *very* complicated presentation of la haute cuisine and come from sources such as Paul Bocuse and Fernand Point….

    Chapter 1 is Steaming and Poaching, and the very first recipe is Gentle Simmering for Lobster. They insist that poaching is better than the “old-fashioned” method of boiling. They say that the salted water in the pot should be brought ONLY to 180 degrees (80C) before adding the lobsters. It will then take about 10 minutes for the water to return to “a simmer”. They then say to “simmer” the lobsters for, get this! 25 minutes a POUND. So a 2-pound lobster would simmer for 50 minutes!

    If the entire book had not been prepared by experts, and its recipes so obviously professional and from the most esteemed sources, I would say that this “poaching” approach is obviously nonsense.

    But maybe not?

    What do you think?

  16. Charlie

    thanks for sharing. Butter poached lobster is the French style of cooking. The meat does come out super tender. I like my lobster with a little firmness (but not stringy and tough). The temperature is correct for pouching (160° and not over 180°. Usually the meat is removed from the shell and poached in water and unsalted butter (beurre monte) in a top stove skillet or pan. Poaching times range from 4-7 minutes. Alternatively, you can par boil or steam the lobster meat, remove the meat, — and then poach over low heat.

    Not sure if your recipe is for a whole lobster cooked slow in the pot– never tried it.

  17. Hayford Peirce

    This is definitely for a WHOLE lobster, poached in water for, oh, 50 minutes. I know that the butter-poached version is a recent hit. I’ve read several recipes about this, I dunno if Thomas Keller popularized it or who.

    As I said, I grew up on the Maine coast, and my mother was a sometime friend of Julia Child, and I *never* heard of this water poaching business…. I suppose that I could go to Lee Lee Oriental Supermarket, have them pick a lobster out of the tank, and give it a try. Would have to make certain that I kept the water at 180, though….

  18. Barry

    Dry steaming with a Butterball electric turkey fryer.
    1. Fill the fryer to the ‘max’ line with salted water (about 3 inches)
    2. Bring to boil
    3. Put 2 lobsters in basket
    4. Place basket in the “drain” hook at top, don’t drop near water!
    5. Close cover
    This is a very gentle steaming, at 20 minutes a 2.1lb lobster had some dark stuff near head, but a 1.9lb had none.

    Will try a 2.9lb and 3.1lb tonight. Any suggestion on gentle steam time?

  19. john

    a lobster will turn completely red in 1 minute-way before its cooked.

    any new brunswicker i know uses far more salt than mentioned above. undersalted lobster is a waste of money. if you cool the lobster in water, salt that well also as it gets pulled into the cooling shell. enjoy

  20. Eddie

    Thanks for the cook time and the other instructions! Just cooked two 2 1/2 -3 lbs. lobsters and they came out perfect. Nicely cooked through and through and very tender. We ate them with a salad, white rice with a fried egg on top, and the lobsters just with melted butter. Delicious !! Very appreciative of your article, thank you once again.
    Eddie

  21. Charlie

    Thank you for visiting! Where did your lobsters hail from. Right now the lobster supply is a little tight until the weather warms.

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