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How to Cook Lobster

How to Cook Lobster
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Learn how to cook lobster that tastes perfect every time by steaming rather than boiling them. Then read our best tips for preparing and serving lobster at home.

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Instructions to Steam Lobster
Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch



    In June 1979 we brought you the story of Bertha Nunan, owner of the Lobster Hut in Cape Porpoise, Maine, and arguably America's most famous lobster cook. We stepped inside the Hut's cramped kitchen, where Nunan shared with us her secrets for how to cook lobster that's perfect every time. The lobster was great then, and it's great today. 2002 marked the Hut's 49th season, and neither the restaurant nor the 75-year-old Nunan has slowed down. During summer, the Hut serves as much as 700 pounds of lobster a night. It seems a Nunan lobster is something no one's taste buds can forget. To make your own great-tasting crustacean, here again are Nunan's tips on how to cook lobster.

    "When you buy lobsters," she says, "you should know that from winter to summer the lobsters are hard-shelled. They're packed full of meat then, and you need fewer lobsters for a pound of meat if you're making stew. But I prefer them when they're soft-shelled. They're sweeter then."

    "The secret to cooking lobsters is not to murder them. Give them a nice, slow, respectable way out. Don't put them in boiling water, and don't drown them in too much water.

    "Boiling them in a lot of water just boils their flavor out, and too much water waterlogs them. I put in two inches of water, whether I'm cooking two lobsters or 14. I take a salt container and with the spout open I pour it three times around the pot, then, plop! at the end (about three teaspoons). When the water is boiling, put in the lobsters, put the lid on, and steam them for 20 minutes. Not a minute less or a minute more.

    "When they're done, draw up your butter and serve the lobster with a dish of vinegar as well. Now the next step is what a lot of people, and practically all restaurants, ignore. It's why people tell me our lobsters taste the best of any they ever had.

    "I always wash the pot after cooking each lobster. Lobsters are scavengers, and they can get pretty greasy from the bait. Look in the pot the next time you cook them and you'll see a sediment from the shell. So I always put in fresh salted water for every batch of lobsters.

    "I'll never stop being surprised at what some people will do to a lobster. Some folks, to save time, precook their lobsters. When people arrive, they throw them in boiling water for a minute. That's the worst thing you can do. The lobster just fills with water. If you're eating lobster in a restaurant and when you crack it open water spurts everywhere, you can bet they just threw a precooked lobster in boiling water.

    Editor's Note: Bertha Nunan passed away in January 2009, and Nunan's Lobster Hut is now run by younger members of the family.
    Updated Sunday, March 15th, 2015

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    19 Responses to How to Cook Lobster

    1. Colin Stevens September 12, 2002 at 1:04 pm #

      If your going to cook lobster…listen to the pro’s. That gal knows what she is talking about..excellent.

    2. Anonymous October 5, 2002 at 8:03 pm #

      We were from New Hampshire and cooked our lobsters between 12 and 15 minutes. I would think after 20 minutes they would be like leather.

    3. Anonymous January 1, 2003 at 8:12 pm #

      I thought the instructions were clear and concise. I had no problem with it and the lobster was delicious. I’ve had lobsters at Red Lobster and they were watery; now I know why.

    4. ann smith March 8, 2003 at 4:13 pm #

      i found this recipe one night when stuck with lobsters. I had guests and I had no idea what to do. I have used this recipe five times now… and nothing beats it… thanks…..

    5. Donna M. Brady August 19, 2003 at 1:25 pm #

      Back in 1979 when this was first published, I used this method and the lobsters, no matter how many, were perfect! So here it is 24 years later and it is still the best way! Thanks, you brought back good memories too!

    6. Robert Mailloux September 18, 2003 at 6:27 pm #

      I have spent alot of time in Maine and
      New Beford, Massachusetts. I have shared some great recipes for cooking lobsters.
      The best is steaming lobsters in a pit
      full of hot boulders and seaweed
      covered with a tarp. The second best way
      is this recipe.

      • dutch schroeder April 9, 2015 at 12:49 pm #

        I was born and raised on Shelter Island NY and my father used to put on clambakes for different people and that’s the way we used to do it. We called it rockweed not seaweed. It was a full days work.

    7. Rick Richardson May 24, 2004 at 4:53 pm #

      Lobster, Lobster, Lobster!!! Life doesn’t get any better than this.

    8. Bill Walters July 12, 2004 at 10:31 pm #

      Great lobster, but don’t forget Bertha’s blueberry or apple pies! Simply the best.

    9. Lynn Serritella November 6, 2005 at 8:40 am #

      It’s so hard to convince people from away to steam, not boil lobsters, especially when this misinformation gets passed on by so-called expert chefs (food network!) Good to have confirmation from one who really knows.

    10. Christine Allen October 10, 2009 at 5:28 pm #

      I’m feeling blessed! I used this recipe from the 1979 issue of Yankee Magazine for years with wonderful results. During one move or another, I lost the recipe and could only remember the “three times around the pot” with the salt but not the cooking time.
      I am beyond gleeful to have found it again after several attempts to find it on the website.

    11. Maureen Anderson August 8, 2012 at 9:41 am #

      I love lobster and eat it several times during the summer months. But why the vinegar? I don’t know what that is used for.

    12. lynn bryan May 22, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

      What can I do with the water I boiled the lobsters in?

    13. DORIS(RHODE ISLAND) May 22, 2014 at 7:59 pm #

      I’ve done them this way for 50 years and use a big stainless streel roasting pan with a lid to steam them in. I put them in back side down(with long tongs). The steaming time is “right on”.
      I serve lemon wedges with them Perfect every time.

    14. Clayton Saucier September 2, 2014 at 8:27 am #

      Totally agree with cooking method. Just like M. Anderson, what is the vinegar for, and WHAT kind of vinegar?? For butter/lemon, 1/4 a whole lemon, put pulp into a bowl and beat with a fork pick out seed when finished. add to melted butter just before serving. For used water, screen and use as a base for bisque with meat from body if your not a ” Lobster Body Picker”.

    15. Jeff Johnston June 4, 2015 at 2:53 pm #

      No one mentions the broth,I use onions and different flavored beer along with water and salt . I then will run the broth thru cheese cloth and use as a base for clam chowder, as well as sip it from a small tea cup. This broth after steaming lobsters has so much flavor . I always have as taste of the broth before digging into my lobsters.

    16. Norm Melanson June 17, 2015 at 3:24 am #

      Use the rock Kosher salt, cover the bottom of the pot. Never use table salt. Cook 12 to 15 minutes.

    17. Deb Swartz August 5, 2015 at 7:33 am #

      I am not clear from this recipe how many are cooked at one time and what keeps the bottom lobster places in the pot from getting wet?

      • Aimee Seavey August 10, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

        Hi Deb. There isn’t a limit on how many — it will depend on the size of your pot! And the bottom lobster will get wet, but in 2 inches of water, they won’t be “waterlogged.” Thanks!

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