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Jul 7, 2009 01:38 PM

Lobsters - boiled vs. steamed

Which is the better method for preparing?

Probably the best lobster I've had is at The Lobster Pound in Ogunquit, ME, where they keep the lobsters in an enormous tank of ocean water. And then, I believe, they boil them in the ocean water.

Short of having ocean water at one's disposal, is it better to steam or to boil?

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    1. Steamed for sure. In salty water. No reason not to use sea salt and get as close to Ogunquit ocean water as you can. Use enough liquid, even if it partly covers the lobster, to retain for use as broth for dipping at the table.

      9 Replies
      1. re: BernalKC

        Short of having ocean water at one's disposal, is it better to steam or to boil?........lobstaman

        Steamed for sure. In salty water........BernalCK

        Here in lies the confusion for most., Steamed and boiled is used interchangeably for most minds. I am by no expert, but I find steaming above the waterline results in less shrinkage and more apt to be less tough from over cooking....however, I find boiling lobsters in salted water or ocean water to have more sea/ocean taste...I guess it's the added salt.

        Ultimately, if cooked properly...or should I say if not overcooked, either way is fine for me. I can't say I have ever dipped any lobster in broth or cooking liquid, but I will say I have dipped always in drawn butter.

        1. re: fourunder

          Without doubt this will ignite a furor but, I have cookbooks from the 1930's--and a few articles from Gourmet from shortly afterward (when it wass finally started) that insist on sea water OR water with a little iodine in it to replicate sea water. then, it is insisted, the lobsters must be started in cold water and the heat brought up slowly to a boil. Anticipating howls, these guys insisted that lobsters cannot feel and are just sent off to sleep. As an alternative, one author just says sever the spinal cord and that's that. The argument is that plunging a lobster--or crawfish, for that matter---into boiling water toughens it.

          1. re: hazelhurst

            I once put lobsters in a pot that was not boiling yet, and from the wild splashing I can assure you they felt something.

            1. re: coll

              ...started in cold water and heat brought up slowly to boil...... is far different than.......

              ...pot that was not boiling yet.....

              1. re: fourunder

                Let's just say I like to get it over with quickly now. I just say "I'm sorry" as I put them in head first.

                1. re: coll

                  I just say "I'm sorry" as I put them in head first.


                  I've been known to say something similar.......

                  "I'm sorry Mary Tyler Moore"

                  1. re: fourunder

                    I actually say "I'm sorry but you have to die". I don't know why, but I do it when I kill bugs too. Like me being sorry makes up for everything.

              2. re: coll

                Well, I've heard of people who put bricks on top of the lid and such like...I've never done it myself, just reporting what learned cooks said a long time ago. I imagine a lobster might thrash anyway in a confined space. maybe there is a scientific-type out there.

                1. re: coll

                  Worse - I once watched a lobsterman snap the tails and then claws off live lobsters before putting them in the pot.

          2. My experience is that boiling in salted water gives a better texture than steaming.

            1. IMO, it doesn't make a bit of difference whether you steam them or boil them, the trick is not to over-cook or under-cook them. "Salt" is sodium chloride; except for iodized salt there is no real difference in salt. It all comes (or came) from the ocean. Either in recent history or in ancient history. There is a difference in the size of the granules (table salt, kosher salt, pickling salt) and some, admittedly, do contain trace minerals but you'll be wasting your money if you spend extra bucks on a special salt. Ocean water's hint of unusual flavor comes from sea weed and minerals in the water, not the salt.
              Be sure you have enough boiling water in your tall pot to fully submerge the lobster.
              Salt the water heavily to about 3% - 3.5% by weight (unless you're using sea water) and bring to a full boil.
              Select a live, active lobster rather than a docile inactive critter.
              It should be heavy for its size
              Use tongs to pick it up and place it (don't drop it) into the water head first and hold it down to prevent it from flapping its tail and splashing boiling water onto you or others.
              When it becomes inactive, allow it to remain at full boil for 5 - 15 minute, depending on size, weight and shell thickness, until it is completely cooked.
              You'll know it's done when you can't flex the tail easily; the tail will be rather stiff and inflexible. If you can easily flex the tail, the lobster is not done.
              There is no set time for cooking a lobster. Their shells are not the same thickness and they differ in weight and muscle mass. After you gain some experience cooking them you'll develop a sense of when a certain shell characteristic/size/weight lobster is done to your liking.

              1 Reply
              1. re: todao

                A friend who used to own a seafood shop told me that when you see the white stuff floating out of the shell, it's done. Take it out right then.

              2. According to the Main Lobster Council....steaming vs. boiling......

                Benefits of Steaming
                In contrast, steaming is more gentle, yielding slightly more tender meat. It preserves a little more flavor and it’s more forgiving on the timing front. It’s harder to overcook a steamed lobster.

                Benefits of Boiling
                Boiling and steaming are the methods of choice when you want to serve diners a whole lobster. Boiling is a little quicker and easier to time precisely, and the meat comes out of the shell more readily than when steamed. For recipes that call for fully cooked and picked lobster meat boiling is the best approach