Mistakes everyone makes when cooking lobster

When I first began to truly learn my way around the kitchen, I was utterly terrified by the notion of cooking live lobster — until I discovered it's actually not so hard! Sure, boiling seafood that's still moving seems like a culinary task best left to professional chefs, but you might be surprised to learn you're completely capable of cooking perfect lobster right in your own home without breaking a sweat.

Read on if you're nervous about boiling lobsters because it's your first time or you just want to be able to get better results from the effort. Once you've got the process down pat, you can treat yourself and your friends to decadent lobster meat whenever you like. While cooking fresh lobster isn't difficult per se, it does require some practice. The good news is that you can streamline your practice period by avoiding some common pitfalls.

Using frozen lobsters

Whether it's a regular Tuesday night or you're planning to cook a fancy lobster meal for a special occasion, you don't want to buy frozen lobsters. They'll never taste as flavorful or be as tender and delectable as fresh lobster meat. You want to get your dinner off on the right foot by opting for the freshest lobsters available near you. While it may seem daunting to cook live lobsters if you've never done it before, you'll master the art in no time. Just give it a go! The payoff will be well worth the effort.

Choosing the wrong lobsters

Even though your intuition might tell you the bigger lobster is inherently better, don't opt for the largest ones available. Larger lobsters with hard shells tend to have tougher meat, making it hard to produce that naturally sweet flavor and tender texture you're striving for. Instead, choose soft-shelled live lobsters that are moderate in size, coming in under 2 pounds. When you're choosing live lobsters, be sure that they're somewhat lively. You should be able to observe lots of movement, like lifting claws, moving legs, and flapping tails. By taking extra care to choose the best lobsters at the market, you're setting yourself up for success at the outset.

Not buying enough lobster

Lobster meat is considered a delicacy for good reason. When perfectly cooked, it can be impossibly delicious. As such, you want to make sure you buy enough to feed everyone at the table. There's nothing worse than not having enough. As a general guideline, plan to purchase 1-1½ pounds of lobster for each person, which should yield 4-8 ounces of meat per serving. No one should leave feeling hungry!

Undercooking lobster

I get it. Often times with seafood, we're so wrapped up with trying not to overcook that we tend to undercook. While you might be able to get away with some of this when it comes to fish since most varieties will finish cooking off the heat, it's best to avoid undercooking lobsters. Be sure to cook the critters all the way through. Otherwise you'll be met with the unpleasant surprise of gummy, viscous meat that you won't be able to serve at all.

Overcooking lobster

While undercooking lobster is a huge no-no, overcooking produces less-than-stellar results as well. Unlike undercooked, gluey lobster meat, taking it too far the other way toughens lobster meat significantly, rendering it still edible but not particularly tasty. Since you're aiming for best practices, be sure that your lobster shells have turned bright red and the meat inside is completely opaque before eating.

Throwing away the lobster innards

Let's talk about lobster guts. Yes, the innards seem gross, but they're actually quite tasty. The soft green stuff you find inside of a fully cooked lobster is called the tomalley. It is part of the lobster's digestive tract and is considered one of the best parts due to its concentrated flavor. (It's perfectly safe to eat, though you should use caution during a shellfish ban.) You can use it to make a rich and savory sauce to go with your lobster meat or incorporate it with butter and whip up stellar croutons. Whatever you do, don't throw it away!

Tossing the lobster shell in the garbage

In the same way that I save chicken bones to make stock for another day, I save lobster shells to make seafood stock. The shells are rich in flavor and since lobsters aren't exactly cheap, you want to get your money's worth. Whether you end up using the shells to whip up some homemade stock or simmering them with some oil for the most decadent vinaigrette ever, you certainly don't want to relegate your shells to the garbage bin. They are anything but.

Masking the lobster flavor with too many other ingredients

Lobster is famously prized for its rich meat and delicately sweet flavor. Please don't hide any of that goodness beneath a mountain of other ingredients and other seasonings. As a rule of thumb, keep lobster dishes simple whether you're making bouillabaisse or classic lobster rolls. Aim to complement lobster's unique flavor, but be sure you let it shine through since it's the star of the show.

Not salting the water enough before boiling lobster

You need to salt your water before boiling lobsters. Period. If you go to coastal restaurants with access to ocean water, you'll discover that they boil their lobsters and other seafood in ocean water because the water's concentrated salinity enhances the flavors. Short of scooping water from the sea, you can generously salt your boiling water to achieve the same effect.

Overcrowding the lobsters in the pot

Lobsters need space in the pot to cook properly. Take out the biggest pot you have access to. If you try to cram too many lobsters into a pot that can't accommodate them, the water temp naturally drops after you bring it to the initial roiling boil. As a result, the lobsters will need more time to cook, increasing the chances that they'll become overcooked. If you have limited big pot access, try working in batches.

Not using the right tools to extract the lobster meat

To get all the meat from the lobster, it's crucial that you have the right tools on hand since just a knife won't do. You'll need kitchen scissors, a nutcracker, and a small fork. Start with the lobster lying on its back and remove the tail. You can do that by simply twisting the body and the tail in opposite directions. Easy, right? Now use your trusty kitchen scissors to cut the membrane from the tail. Next, discard the blackish vein that runs along the tail and extract the meat. You can remove the claws by twisting them off. To open the claws, place each in the nutcracker and clamp down. Once the shell is cracked, you can pull out the meat. Finally, you want to crack the shell of the body and use your small fork to remove the remaining meat. Voila!

Get thee to a seafood market and pick up some live ones! You're ready.