Why learn how to steam lobster at home? 

If you've eaten in Boston seafood restaurants, you already know that ordering a whole steamed or boiled lobster can be pricey! 

If you plan to serve the lobster whole with a little warmed butter on the side or prepare a simple dish such as a lobster roll with the meat, why pay more?

And once you master how to this New England seafood favorite yourself, you can enjoy delicious local and Maine lobsters whenever you want without spending a fortune. 

Why steam lobsters instead of boiling them?

Some fans feel that steamed lobsters are more tender than boiled lobster.  Water and juices tend to drain out of boiled lobsters after they're cooked, so steamed lobsters are neater to serve and retain more flavor.

However, steaming does take slightly longer than boiling.  When you're cooking lobsters for a crowd, boiling is the way to go (check out how to boil lobster for directions). 

But if you're preparing no more than 3 or 4 lobsters, steaming is a delicious option.  Once you learn how to steam lobster, you'll find it an easy lobster cooking method.

Find our favorite (and so easy to make) lobster roll recipe

Top Photo:  Lobsters on a planner - Photo credit: Mogens Petersen 

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What You'll Need for Steaming Lobster

Lobsters from a seafood market with bands around the claws
Lobsters from a seafood market with bands around the claws

Please note:  These instructions assume you're planning to steam a New England lobster . . . the kind that you'll see listed in Boston seafood restaurants as "Maine Lobsters."  They're the ones with the delicious big claws. 

So, before you get started, make sure that you have the following things ready:

  • 1 or more live lobsters weighing 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds. (Steaming more than one?  Make sure they're of equal weight as weight determines the cooking time.)  Keep the bands on the claws until you're ready to put them in the steamer
  • A large pot, such as a stock pot
  • A steamer with legs that will fit in the bottom of your pot. (No legs on your steamer?  Find 3 same-size teacups or espresso cups, and place them upside down in the pot.  Rest the steamer on top of them.  The goal is for only steam, not water, to touch the lobsters)
  • Water
  • Scissors (to cut the rubber bands around the claws)
  • A pair of long tongs (the longer the better, to avoid steam burns when you remove the cooked lobsters)
  • clock or other timer
  • Butter (1/4 pound per lobster), olive oil, or mayonnaise for dipping, and/or slices of lemon or lime
  • Small pot for melting butter
  • A tea kettle with extra boiling water for replenishing your large pot during the steaming process

What Size Lobster Pot Do You Need for Steaming Lobsters?

Here's the key thing to know when sizing your lobster pot:  It needs to be big enough to hold the lobsters plus a steamer insert.  You want to water to heat evenly, because there's nothing worse that cracking open a lobster that's not 100% cooked.

A 20-quart pot (5 gallons) with a steamer insert is large enough to cook four or five 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 pound lobsters withough crowding.  To steam more lobsters, either get a bigger pot (such as 60 quarts, or 15 gallons) or steam them in batches - which means that the first batches will be cool by the time the last batch is done.

Need a lobster pot?  Amazon (#ad) offers an excellent selection for fairly cheap prices.

Directions for Steaming Lobsters in 4 Easy Steps

1.  Add 2" - 3" water to the large pot and put in the steamer.  The water should not touch the lobsters - so make sure it doesn't reach the bottom of the steamer.  Heat the water to a rolling boil. 

2.  Pick up the lobster carefully by the back so that its claws can't reach you.  Use your other hand and the scissors to clip the bands around the claws (now you'll be glad you're grasping its back).  Quickly put the lobster in the pot.  If you're cooking additional lobsters, add them as well.  Put the lid on the pot, and check the time.

Unbanded lobster being put into steamer
Unbanded lobster being put into steamer

3. Use these steaming times to determine how long to cook the lobsters.

1 1/4 pound lobster . . . 12 minutes
1 1/2 pound lobster . . . 14 minutes
2 pound lobster . . . 18 minutes

About halfway through the steaming time, remove the pot lid and use your tongs to rearrange the lobsters on the steamer in case some spots were blocked from the steam.  Check the water level and add more if necessary (it's helpful to have a tea kettle of boiling water on the stove in case you need to add more).  Replace the lid. 

While the lobsters steam, put the butter into the small sauce pan over low heat to melt it. 

4.  When the time is up, take off the pot lid and use the tongs to take out the lobsters.  They will be bright red.

If you want to confirm that they're done, pull back the tail until it cracks near the body so that you can see the lobster meat.  The meat should be white and opaque.  If it looks at all translucent, put the lobsters back for another minute or two.  Otherwise, put them on plates to serve.

And that's it - so easy!

Serve with the melted butter, mayo, olive oil, or wedges of lemon or lime.  Brush up on how to eat lobster if necessary.  Enjoy!

Where to Buy Lobsters to Steam

If you live in Boston or along the New England coast, you probably already know the best place to buy lobsters - as close to the dock as possible!

If you're right in Boston, a convenient spot is James Hook Lobster at 15 Northern Ave, near South Station in Downtown Boston, and Yankee Lobster (300 Northern Ave) on the South Boston Waterfront.  In Cambridge, New Deal Fish Market (622 Cambridge St) and Court House Seafood Market (498 Cambridge Street) are both highly regarded.

But if you live elsewhere - or even if you live in Boston but don't have time to get to the docks, or don't want the hassle of driving and parking, or hauling lobsters home on the T - the best way to buy live Maine lobsters (the kind we eat in Boston and elsewhere in New England) is from a company that buys directly from the docks and ships the lobsters overnight to your door, such as Yankee Lobster (617-345-9799) and James Hook (617-423-5501).  James Hook will also deliver their prepared food, including their famous lobster roll, a Boston Cheap Eats favorite.

Shipping costs add up, so having lobster shipped is pricey, especially if you order just a couple, but the total for 4 or more will be about the same, maybe a little less when you consider tax and tip, than you'd pay for a lobster dinner in a restaurant.  Best of all, they arrive fresh - and you can focus on steaming and enjoying!

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