How to Cook Lobster

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How to Cook Lobster

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.


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

  • Anonymous

    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.

  • Anonymous

    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.

  • ann s.

    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…..

  • Donna M.

    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!

  • Robert M.

    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.

  • Rick R.

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

  • Bill W.

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

  • 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.

  • Christine A.

    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.

  • Maureen A.

    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.

  • lynn b.

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


    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.

  • Clayton S.

    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”.

  • dutch s.

    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.

  • Jeff J.

    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.

  • Norm M.

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

  • 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 S.

    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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