100 Techniques

Technique #63: Freeze Lobster and Take Its Temp to Cook It Right

Cooking live lobster can be daunting, but we can walk you through the process.

Published Aug. 30, 2023.

This is Technique #63 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master

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With its briny-sweet flavor, firm, meaty texture, and luxe reputation, lobster is arguably the king of shellfish.

Possibly the most distinctive thing about lobsters, however, is that they are the only animals we have to kill ourselves in the kitchen. And that's likely the reason why more home cooks shell out at the grocery store for overcooked, overpriced lobster meat rather than cooking the crustaceans themselves.

What’s the Rush?

Lobsters are sold alive and must be cooked either alive or immediately after killing them for two reasons: First, the instant a lobster dies, enzymes within its body begin to break down the flesh and cause it to deteriorate in quality. Second, dead lobsters are quickly vulnerable to bacterial contamination.

But even those of us who cook lobsters regularly feel a little squeamish about it.

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Why You Should Freeze the Lobster First

The most common method is to plunge them into boiling water, where they continue to move about. Most scientists agree that the lobster’s primitive nervous system, more like that of an insect than a human, prevents it from processing pain the way we do. Still, most cooks find this task unpleasant.

To figure out the best way to render the lobster motionless before cooking it, we experimented with techniques ranging from hypnotization to a gentle soak in clove-scented water to an abrupt plunge of a knife through its head to try and kill it instantly. Ultimately we landed upon a straightforward sedation approach: A 30-minute stay in the freezer in effect anesthetized the lobster, readying it to be either put whole into the lobster pot or split for the grill fire.

Temp Lobster from the Base of Its Tail

Most lobster recipes include complicated charts that tell you how long to cook based on weight, whether it has a hard or soft shell, and, if boiling, how many are being cooked at once. But here’s a foolproof way to tell when any lobster is cooked perfectly: Simply insert an instant-read thermometer into the base of each lobster’s tail. When it reads 140 degrees, the lobster is done.

Step by Step: How to Freeze and Temp Lobster

It’s certainly a daunting task for many home cooks, but freezing, killing and cooking lobster needn’t be the slasher film it’s made out to be. To humanely kill lobster, freeze it for 30 minutes to sedate and anesthetize it before cooking. Here's how to do it.

Step 1: Freeze 

Place lobsters in large bowl and freeze for 30 minutes.

Step 2: Cook Lobster

Cook lobster according to recipe. If boiling, add lobsters to water, arranging with tongs so they are submerged. Cook with lid slightly ajar.

Step 3: Temp from Base of Tail

Holding lobster with tongs, insert thermometer through underside of tail into thickest part; meat should register 140 degrees. Continue to cook if necessary.

Toni Tipton-Martin discusses the history of humane lobster killing in the video above.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Now that you’ve learned how to easily freeze and cook lobster, you’re going to want to put your newfound knowledge to the test. If you’re ready for a lobster dinner, then have a go at a few of our favorite lobster recipes below.


Boiled Lobster

The sandwich is easy. The challenges are dealing with a live lobster and knowing when it’s properly cooked.
Get the Recipe

New England Lobster Rolls Recipe

The lobster roll sandwich is easy. The challenges are dealing with a live lobster and knowing when it’s properly cooked.
Get the Recipe

Grilled Lobsters

If we're going to grill lobster rather than boil it, we want it to be worth it.
Get the Recipe

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