The Best Way to Get a Live Lobster into the Pot

Cooking lobsters alive is essential for food safety and firmer flesh, but it can be an unpleasant task. Here's how to sedate lobsters before placing them in the pot.

To ensure food safety and firmer flesh, lobsters should be cooked alive. The most common method is to plunge them into boiling water, where they will continue to move about for approximately 2 minutes. Though there’s no way to know the extent to which the lobster suffers during this time, 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 putting live lobsters into a pot unpleasant. If we could figure out how to sedate the lobster before cooking—and minimize the time it spent moving in the pot—these could be only positive developments.

First we tried the popular restaurant technique of slicing through the lobster’s head. However, Win Watson of the University of New Hampshire’s Department of Biological Sciences informed us that because a lobster’s nervous system is distributed throughout its body, this method will not instantly kill the crustacean. Sure enough, lobsters dispatched this way continued to thrash vigorously before we put them in the pot—and we continued to see movement for another 2 minutes once they were in the water.

Next we “hypnotized” a lobster by rubbing its shell and standing it on its head, where it remained stock-still for a full hour. Unfortunately, it perked right up once in the pot. Then we tried soaking a lobster in a cold saltwater bath scented with clove oil, a technique recommended by the food science website cookingissues.com. This made the lobster’s movements more languid—but those movements still continued for about 2 minutes. In the end, the simplest approach worked best: a 30-minute stay in the freezer, which rendered the lobster motionless before it went into the pot. After a few flutters, all motion stopped.

Technique: The New Basics of Cooking Lobsters

1. FREEZE FOR 30 MINUTES: Chilling lobsters in the freezer for 30 minutes induces a comalike state that makes it easier and safer to maneuver them into the pot.

2. COOK TAIL TO 140 DEGREES: A tail temperature of 140 ensures perfectly cooked meat.

Recommended Reading