Cooking fresh (meaning live) lobsters promises to launch you into a higher realm as a hostess, whether it's for a romantic meal for two or as the star component of a seafood feast for friends. With live lobster-wrangling under your belt, your culinary skills will become the stuff of legend, the talk of the town... or at the very least, you'll all enjoy a delicious dinner. But before you serve this most memorable meal, you have to cook the lobsters (easy enough), and before you cook them, you need to know what on earth to do with those newly acquired, still-wriggling crustaceans between bringing them home and go-time.
Pack Them Properly
It might seem counterintuitive for sea creatures, but you should never store live lobsters in water, neither salt water nor fresh. This includes melted ice – don't let lobsters sit in any amount of water at all. You should, however, keep them slightly damp by packing wet seaweed, newspaper or cloth, preferably soaked in seawater, around the lobsters. Your friendly local lobster supplier might be able to supply you with the seaweed, and mail-order lobsters are sometimes packaged with it.
Put your live lobsters and the seaweed, cloth or paper inside a sturdy paper bag, cardboard box, bowl or lobster pot. Don't use a plastic bag or airtight container as the lobsters need to breathe. You can also include frozen gel packs to keep the package extra cold. If you have multiple lobsters, pack them closely together to prevent damage to their shells.
To safely handle live lobsters, grasp the large part of the shell just behind the head and hold them so that the head and claws are hanging down. Don't put your fingers under the shell as it has sharp edges, and don't remove the rubber bands from the claws until they're cooked.
Keep Them Cold
It's vital to keep live lobsters cold, ideally around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, at all times. Keep them in the refrigerator, but never the freezer. Freezing temperatures will kill lobsters, and you need to keep them alive until the moment you cook them. (You can, however, freeze cooked lobsters.) Put the container holding your lobsters in the back of the fridge, which is the coldest part.
If you are transporting your live lobsters or don't have continual access to a refrigerator, pack them in the same way and keep them inside a well-insulated cooler. Include ice packs or double-bagged ice.
Cook Them Quickly
You should always cook live lobsters as soon as possible after purchase. Packed properly, they should stay alive for up to 36 hours, sometimes longer, but cooking them within 24 hours is advisable. If your lobsters aren't moving, or are barely moving, it doesn't necessarily mean they have died. Cold temperatures make lobsters sluggish. Very recently deceased lobsters might still be OK – as a test, see if the tail curls tightly under the body when you cook them. If so, the lobsters should be good to eat. Uncooked lobsters that become warm to the touch or smell bad need to be thrown away.
Joanne Thomas has worked as a writer and editor for print and online publications since 2004. As a specialist in all things food and drink, she has penned pieces for Livestrong, Robert Mondavi and Modern Mom, among other names. She found her first jobs in a series of kitchens before moving on to celebrate food via the written word. Thomas resides in California and holds a bachelor’s degree in politics from the University of Bristol, U.K.