Lobster on a board

The ultimate guide to lobster

Read our expert guide to safely buying, preparing and cooking lobster, including tips on how to deal with a live lobster and our top recipe ideas.

There’s something about lobsters that places them in the higher strata of the fish world, whether it’s their lazily majestic movements, colour-changing shells or succulent flesh. Once the reserve of fancy restaurants, lobsters are now available at local fishmongers and supermarkets. In fact, in time for Christmas in 2014, several budget supermarkets started selling whole frozen lobsters for £6 or under.

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The great thing about frozen lobsters is that the slightly grisly process of tackling a live version is bypassed. Plus, if you choose one that has been cooked, you can get straight to work on removing the flesh without having to bother with finding a huge cooking pot to boil it in. If all this still sounds a little ambitious, read on for our cookery team’s tips for preparing and cooking lobster.

How to pick the best lobster

Black live lobster

If the idea of dealing with a live lobster leaves you cold, buy a fully-cooked whole lobster or lobster tail – you can even buy tails fully picked and dressed. Here, the shells will have turned the bright vermilion colour during cooking – look for one that’s brightly coloured with a tail that’s tightly curled under. This means the lobster was live when it was cooked.

A whole, live lobster will have a dark shell – look for one that smells fresh and is still lively when handled. Test it out by pulling out its tail – it should swiftly retreat back under the body. And beware those powerful pincers – never pick up a lobster whose claws aren’t contained by an elastic band. When freely snapping away, they can do some serious damage.

How to prepare live lobster

Lobster being taken out of pot

If you opted for a live lobster, our food editor Cassie and senior food editor Barney recommend the chill-and-stab approach – as macabre as this sounds, it’s considered by many to be more ethical than sedating the lobster in the freezer.

Chill the lobster in the fridge for around an hour, then place it on a chopping board covered completely with a tea towel. Stroke the lobster along the back then plunge a large, sharp knife through the back of the lobster’s head in one swift movement. Try to hit the small cross in the shell as this is a weak spot, but if it’s not working, insert a knife sharpener and use a hammer or heavy saucepan to apply more force.

How to cook lobster

Once your lobster is ready for cooking, place it in a large pan of cold, salted water and slowly bring it up to boil. At boiling point, lower the heat and simmer the lobster for 15 minutes for the first 450g. Simmer for a further 10 minutes for each 450g thereafter to a maximum of 40 minutes.        

How to grill lobster

Prepare your lobster for grilling by slicing it on a sturdy board, cutting it in half lengthways and opening it up. Remove the stomach sack and soft brown meat if you like, then crack the claws with the back of a knife so the heat can penetrate to the meat inside. Finally, season with a thermidor butter sauce and lemon juice, then pop under the grill.

Watch our video on how to prepare your lobster for grilling:

How to extract the meat from a lobster shell

Extracting meat from lobster

Laythe cooked lobster on a board and twist off the claws. Break them into sections using specialist lobster crackers or a good, solid nutcracker, then pull out the meat – the skill is in keeping the tail meat in one piece.

Twist off the legs, flatten them with the back of a knife then get to work on digging out the flesh using a pick or the end of a teaspoon. To deal with the body, split the lobster in half along its length and separate the two halves. Remove and discard the stomach sac, gills and intestinal thread, although you may want to keep the liver – known as tomalley, it’s considered by some to be a delicacy. Any coral-coloured roe can be put aside to use in a concentrated lobster butter. The empty shells can be used to make stock, too, which is ideal to use as a base for bisque or bouillabaisse.

How to serve lobster

1. Lobster with thermidor butter


Sweet lobster meat and creamy, buttery sauces work together a treat. Serve the lobster hot with melted butter – classic lobster with thermidor butter is served with a herby, slightly piquant butter made with shallot, tarragon, parsley and spices.

2. Grilled lobster tails with lemon & herb butter


For a more modern way to serve lobster, these delicious grilled lobster tails with lemon & herb butter are bound to impress your dinner party guests – it’s served with a more simple butter, which really enhances the natural flavours.

Learn how to grill lobster with our video.

3. Warm lobster & potato salad with truffled mayonnaise


Alternatively, serve the lobster cold with homemade mayonnaise, béarnaise or hollandaise for dipping. Try flavouring your sauces too – this lobster salad with warm potatoes comes dressed with a truffle mayo.

Warm lobster & potato salad with truffled mayonnaise

4. Lobster rolls


For a real luxe take on the street-food scene, try New England-style lobster rolls with spiced mayonnaise, celery, gherkins and – if you really want to keep things real – a pile of crisps on the side.

5. Barbecued surf & turf


If you want to put your barbecue to good use this summer, try an indulgent barbecued surf & turf with seasonal lobster and T-bone steak. This quick cooking method really lends itself to the delicate flavour of the meat.

Discover more lobster guides

How to grill lobster
How to prepare cooked lobster
Our best lobster recipes

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Are you a fan of lobster? Have you ever dealt with a live one? We’d love to hear your experiences and serving suggestions. We have plenty more fish recipe inspiration to explore, too.