How to Boil Lobster

Cooking How-To, How-To
on June 29, 2011

Let’s get one thing clear right now: I’m a sissy. Although I’ve eaten lobsters all my life, I always let someone else do the dirty work of putting the poor thing in the boiling water. Not only did I not want to do it, I didn’t even want to think about it. But when my husband and I left Manhattan for the wilds of Cape Cod, I got a new perspective on lobster.

Massachusetts residents can, for the bargain price of $40, buy a ten-pot lobster permit. Lobsters? There for the taking? We were so in.

Turning Manhattanites into lobstermen is a non-trivial exercise. First, you need a boat. Then, you have to buy 10 traps—we got ours secondhand traps from a commercial lobsterman. After that, you have to attach the line and buoys, and bait the traps. A little expensive and time consuming, but straightforward enough. The real trick is figuring out where the lobsters are. And you can Google it til the cows come home, but the only way to find out is to ask someone who understands lobsters.

So, City Slicker eagerly approaches grizzled Veteran Lobsterman: “Excuse me, sir, where should I put my lobster pots?”  Grizzled Veteran Lobsterman might have some colorful suggestions.

As it happened, the people who knew lobsters were happy to help. We followed their general directions, were encouraged by the presence of other lobsterers in the area, and dropped our pots in about 50 feet of water. Three days later, we came back to haul them up.

Hauling them up is a lot harder than dropping them in. But the effort of pulling a fifty-pound lobster pot up through 50 feet of water, hand over hand, is rewarded when you catch a glimpse of an actual, genuine lobster, there in the pot. A lobster you caught yourself.  A lobster that’s going to be your dinner.

And, if you catch it yourself, you somehow feel compelled to cook it yourself. Or at least I did. So I gave my sissy self a talking-to and picked up the first lobster I would ever cook. I thanked it for giving its life for our meal, dropped it in to the boiling water, and covered the pot.

Which brings me to the one and only thing you can screw up when boiling a lobster: taking it out at the wrong time. You’d think, for such a simple operation, there would be reliable instructions, but boiling times are all over the map. Some people say boil a one-pound lobster for five minutes. Others go as high as fifteen.

Last season, we caught 28 lobsters ranging in weight from one pound to three, so we had plenty of opportunity to experiment. The result, aside from the many excellent meals, is the absolutely, positively, definitive way to boil lobsters.

This is how you cook a lobster. First, buy a boat. No, just kidding. First, bring a very large pot of sea water or salted tap water (use four ounces of salt for each gallon of water to mimic the salinity of sea water) to a full, rolling boil. There should be enough water to easily cover as many lobsters as you plan to cook. Put the lobster(s) in, head first. Then boil eight minutes for the first pound and four minutes for each pound after that—perfect lobster, every time.

—By Tamar Haspel