Why is knowing how to eat lobster a useful skill in Boston?

Lobster is a top favorite in Boston seafood restaurants as well as up and down the New England coast.

And Boston, with its waterfront location and nearby commercial fishing piers, gets the freshest, tastiest, and most succulent lobsters right off the boats.

When you know how to eat lobster in its most succulent form - a whole boiled lobster, straight from the shell - you can enjoy it in many Boston seafood restaurants without having to worry about making a huge mess or causing it to fly off your plate and land on another diner's head.  

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Of course, you can always order "safer" lobster dishes, where someone else has removed the lobster meat from its shell.  But why miss the joy of a whole lobster, when taking it apart bit by bit as you savor the tasty crustacean is actually really easy? 

Here's how to do it.

Top photo: Lobster dinner in a restaurant waiting for you to take it apart and eat it

Eating a Whole Boiled or Steamed Lobster Is Actually Easy . . . Once You Know Where to Start

True, seeing a whole lobster on your place, freshly boiled and bright red, can be a little intimidating the first time, to say the least.

But once you learn how to eat lobster, it’s easy!

The lobster will generally arrive with an array of utensils, a little bowl of drawn (in other words, melted) butter, some lemon wedges, and if you're lucky a bib for you.

Don’t be shy . . . put on the bib. You may feel a little silly as you do it, but you’ll feel a lot sillier later if you don’t—and have to leave the restaurant later with lobster juices and melted butter dripping down the front of your clothing.

Easy Directions for How to Eat a Lobster

Note: Our instructions are the local New England lobster, Homarus americanus, which is what most Boston restaurants serve.  They're the kind with two big meaty claws and a big yummy tail - just like the ones in the photo at the top of this page.

Our instructions start with the tail first - but you can just as easily start with the claws.  If you want to do this, start with Phase 2 and then come back to Phase 1 to learn about the tail.

Phase 1:  How to Eat a Lobster Tail

Locate the two most potentially useful instruments: something that looks like a nutcracker, and a very small fork or a sharp pointy stick.   Now, follow these three easy steps to learn how to eat lobster by first extracting the tail meat:

1.  If you’re right-handed, place your left hand over the body of the lobster to hold it down (nothing is worse than causing a lobster to fly across a restaurant). Now, with your right hand, break off the tail by bending it up until it snaps. (If you're left-handed, do this with reverse hands.) Salt water and juices may spurt out - be thankful you’re wearing the bib.

Breaking off the lobster's tail
Breaking off the lobster's tail

2.  Using the nutcracker instrument, break off the flippers at the end and twist the tail slightly. A large chunk of lobster tail meat will normally slide right out.  Sometimes you may need to use the fork or stick to push out the meat.  If you want to discard the intestinal tract, which looks like a dark vein, may an incision with a knife along the center top of the tail and pull it out with the tip of your knife, just as though you were deveining a shrimp.

3.  You can use a fork if you’d like, but most Bostonians are using their hands by this point. Dip the lobster tail meat into the melted butter.   Drizzle on some lemon juice.   And now for the best part!  Pop it into your mouth.  Close your eyes, and savor the blissful taste . . . imagine blue summer skies . . . endless golden beaches . . . the faint sound of waves lapping at the shore.   Melted butter is dripping down your chin and onto your bib but do you care?   No!

Phase 2:  How to Eat Lobster Claws, Knuckles, & Legs

Now, you’re ready to move on learning how to eat lobster claws and legs. These are actually easier than the tail. Just follow three more easy steps:

1.  Again, holding the lobster body with your left hand, take your right hand and bend back the large part or “thumb” of the claw, twisting it at the same time, until you hear it snap. (Of course, switch hands if you’re left-handed.) This should enable you to pull out the claw meat in one delicious piece.   You can use the small fork to do this.  If the small round chunks of knuckle meat haven't come out along with the claw meat, twist the knuckle to separate it from the claw and pull out the meat.  Now, dip the lobster claw and knuckle meat into some melted butter and enjoy eating it.

2.  Move on to the legs—first break them off, and then snap each joint. If you’re in a fancy restaurant, use the little fork to pull out the meat. Otherwise, just suck it out.

3.  Continue moving around the body until you’ve devoured all of the claw and leg meat.

How to eat a lobster - getting out the claw meat
Getting out the claw and knuckle meat

Phase 3:  The Last Delicious Bites

Finally, the body. Three last steps, and you’re done:

1.  Crack open the lobster’s body (you can usually do this just with your hands).  Unhinge, or separate, the shell from the body.

2.  If the lobster is female, you may find red-colored unfertilized lobster roe inside (female lobsters with fertilized roe, which attaches to the outside of their bodies, can't be harvested or sold). Some people like to eat the unfertilized roe and consider it a delicacy; some don’t.

3.  Within the body, you'll also find the liver, or "tomalley" of the lobster.  It turns green when it's cooked (which is how you'll identify it).  Many people consider this the best part of the lobster, although others don't eat it at all because it's . . . well, green.  Your choice!

Here's a simple rule about what not to eat in a lobster:  don’t eat anything that’s brown or black.  Otherwise, everything else inside the lobster is fine to eat.

And that’s it.

Beyond Boiled & Steamed Lobster

Now you know how to eat lobster from the shell – but what if you don’t want to?

No problem!   As you’ll quickly notice, many Boston seafood restaurants prepare lobster in a variety of ways.   Here are just a few:

  • Lobster rolls - A simple mixture of lobster pieces bound together by a touch of mayonnaise and little else, traditionally served in Boston in a toasted and buttered top-loaded hot-dog type bun.   Best tip about how to eat lobster rolls: if the bun is overflowing with lobster, don’t try to pick it up - use a fork!   These are also super-easy to make at home - check out our instructions.
  • Stuffed baked lobster - The meat has been removed, mixed with other seafood such as shrimp and perhaps other things such as breadcrumbs and cheese, put back into the shell, and baked.  This is a traditional New England preparation, although simpler preparations are more popular these days.  
  • Split lobster - The lobster has been split, and usually the meat has been removed and then put back so that you can pull it out easily with your fork. If you order “surf and turf,” the lobster is often served this way, nestled snugly against a juicy steak.

With all these options, you can decide how to eat lobster based on what seems easiest and most appealing to you.   Lobster is always delicious, however it is prepared.

When is the Best Time of the Year to Eat Lobster?

Lots of Boston visitors ask when is the best time to eat lobster? 

Short answer:  In a Boston restaurant, any time of the year is fine. 

Longer answer:   You want to avoid lobsters that have just molted because they're watery and not very meaty.  Because lobsters have hard shells, they have to shed them and form new shells in order to grow - this is the "molting" process. 

However, you don't need to worry about this.  Chefs will not knowingly buy or serve lobsters that have just molted.  How can they tell?  That's easy.  The lobster shells are soft. 

So when is the best time to eat lobster in Boston?  Anytime! 

And now that you know now to tackle a whole lobster, be sure to try this local delicacy when you're in Boston.

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