LobsterFilter: How to pull off a lobster boil for twenty+ people?
July 27, 2009 8:20 AM   Subscribe

On a bit of a whim, my brother who can barely cook a cheese sandwich decided to have about twenty live lobsters shipped out for everyone who is coming to my other brother's bachelor party this Saturday. We're all very much from flyover country (Minnesota), and backyard steaming of lobsters isn't really in our repertoire. How do I help ensure it doesn't turn into a very expensive mess?

For equipment, I have a 30'ish quart pot with a lid, an outdoor propane turkey cooker, assorted bludgeoning instruments, and a few sets of crustacean tools.

The atmosphere is going to beer with beer drinking yard games, so we don't have to have 20+ lobsters all ready at once, but the fewer batches required the better. Most of the stuff I found online talks about steaming one or two bugs at a time. How many 1.25-1.5lb lobsters can I get away with putting in the pot at a time? How long should they steam? I may be able to get one more cooking rig with a pot if would make things go more smoothly.

I suspect it will be the first time eating lobster for a number of of this group, and they probably know as much about lobster as a Mainer might about the difference between walleyes and saugers. The bar isn't set too high, but I'd like to do right by the bugs. Any other lobster boil tips?
posted by hobu to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a good basic tutorial for steaming them.

Anecdotally: I'm from New England and had a grandpa who trapped his own lobsters, and we always just boiled 'em. If that makes it easier on you, it's perfectly acceptable to boil 'em as well. You could probably get a couple more lobsters in each pot that way.

As for how to "do right" by them -- I've heard a tip that if you want to be a little more humane about it, stick them in the freezer for an hour or so right before the Big Boil; that kind of stuns them so the actual being-killed part is painless.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:30 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm a vegetarian so I've never cooked lobster (which makes me extra-helpful!), BUT I did just watch Alton Brown's episode of Good Eats on how to cook lobsters within the last week & it seemed very informative & straightforward -- I would suggest checking out his instructions on the Food Network website or, if possible, seeking out a video of the program.
posted by oh really at 8:32 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

You could also grill them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:33 AM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Basically you will need nut-crackers for the claws. I say this in case the "crustacean tools" run out -- you can just use nut-crackers. In fact all you really need is a nut-cracker and any regular old fork. You should have lots of bowls with melted butter sitting out and dip the lobster bits in melted butter before you eat them.

Not much can go wrong cooking cooking lobsters. I imagine if you throw in too many the water might temporarily stop boiling, and that might be cruel to the lobster, depending on your interpretation of how much consciousness lobsters actually possess. (And put them in head-first for the same reason.) But aside from that, I don't know of any real constraints. I would look up cooking time on google and just abide by that.

Your guests should have a passing knowledge of how to suck the meat out of the legs and how to crack open the tail lengthwise. The order of meat quality, for me, goes from low to high like: legs; tail; claws; so I would eat in that order so as to optimize the experience. But many people prefer tail to claws.
posted by creasy boy at 8:38 AM on July 27, 2009

You don't have to boil or steam them they can also be done on a grill.

I would recommend reading this entire page first, and then following all of Alton's reccommendations.


BTW you can catch walleyes in Maine, saugers not so much but I would just consider them a baby walleye anyways.
posted by koolkat at 8:39 AM on July 27, 2009

Oh yeah, I just noticed you talked about steaming them. Boiling is easy and is what we always did.
posted by creasy boy at 8:39 AM on July 27, 2009

If you want to watch, Alton Brown's 'Crustacean Nation II' is on the 'tubes in parts: this is the first part that pretty much covers prep and beginning steaming, the second linked there has how to finish up.

I've boiled and steamed both, but I like steaming a little more, just because it's a bit easier, less drippy, and well, I like it. The good thing about either is that

As for the freezer, an hour is a bit much, you'd have less 'stunned' and more 'icicled'.
posted by pupdog at 8:41 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oops. That was supposed to be 'the good thing about either is that you can all dig in to the first few bugs while the next are in process'
posted by pupdog at 8:42 AM on July 27, 2009

Best answer: I'm with Grampa Callipygos. The Right Thing to do with lobsters is to boil them in saltwater and eat them with butter. Anything else is overkill. So you're really not looking for a recipe — you're just sorting out the logistics of boiling that many bugs and melting that much butter.

Oh, about the butter. You want a dish of it for every three or four people. If you can keep it hot — say by putting it in a little metal dish over some sterno or a candle — then that's ideal, especially if you're not all eating at once. Melt it on the stove, keep the heat down to medium so it doesn't burn or brown, skim off the foam until it stops foaming, and pour it into dishes.

We always boiled the lobsters in seawater. You don't have that around, obviously, but you want the water very salty — as salty as the ocean (or blood, if that's an easier point of reference), not just the dash of salt you throw in before you boil pasta.

If they're room temperature and alive, they'll move around. You'll probably get them with their claws rubber-banded, and you'll probably get them chilled which sedates them, so you really don't need to worry, and the main thing is not to get all OMG A SPINY THING WITH CLAWS. I've never tried freezing them, but a little stay in the refrigerator does calm them down. Also, if it freaks you out too bad, you can kill them with a knife point through the head — they have a distributed nervous system, so their tails will keep flopping for a bit after you stab them, but their legs should go limp right away if you hit the right point. But me, it freaks me out worse to stab them than to boil them alive, so I just boil them.

There isn't any meat in a lobster's head/torso — you get meat in the tail, claws and legs, and MYSTERIOUS GREEN AND RED GOO in the middle. The mysterious goo is tasty if you ask me, but even in New England a lot of people don't much like it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:44 AM on July 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

Thirding (or fourthing?) the Alton Brown lobster episode. He goes into detail on how to "do right" by the bugs.
posted by wfrgms at 8:44 AM on July 27, 2009

1. Fill Pot with water

2. Get water to Boil

3. Drop screaming lobsters into boiling water.

4. When they turn bright red, remove from water

5. Bludgeon said dead lobsters to gain access to wonderful meat

6. Gets yous some butters

7. Bask in wonderful lobster eating glory.

If you can boil water, you can cook lobsters. Easy Peezy.
posted by Gravitus at 8:45 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

assorted bludgeoning instruments

Ha, I lol when I read that. No need to bludgeon them. (They are freaky though.)

I, myself, would boil them b/c it's the classic way to do it.

Be sure to add some salt to your water, and have LOTS of napkins.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 8:46 AM on July 27, 2009

Ha, I lol when I read that. No need to bludgeon them.

Yeah, you're really not smashing them as much as prying them open. The tail pulls apart by hand — hold it with the belly towards you, the left edge in one hand, and the right edge in the other, and pull it open like you're peeling apart the stuck pages of a book. It should split up the middle of the underside of the tail, if that makes sense.

The claw will come apart at each joint if you pull the joint past its range of motion. Bend the arms farther than they bend naturally and they'll come off. Open the claw farther than it opens naturally and it'll separate into two pieces.

Once you've got the claw separated into little claw components, that's when you need the nutcracker. Give each little section one good crack to split the shell, and then pry the shell open on either side of the crack you've made.

The little legs have meat in them that you can get out by pulling them between your teeth, like you were trying to extract peanut butter from a bendy straw. Some people don't bother. That makes more for me.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:55 AM on July 27, 2009

Yeah, other than the fact that they are alive and pinchy, the cooking of lobsters is basically the easiest thing in the world. As for how to eat them, so long as one or two people knows how to eat them the technique will flow through your party like a jet propelled "peanut butter jelly time" clip.

If you can arrange it, get the classic lobster placemats (I don't know anything about this shop, it's just the first Google hit). You could probably pay someone in a local shop to give you a few dozen placemats but I guess there aren't many hole-in-the-wall lobster shacks in Minnesota. Maybe a friendly MeFite will be on Cape Cod or in Maine this weekend and could grab some for you...
posted by dirtdirt at 8:55 AM on July 27, 2009

Oh god, that makes it sound like rocket science. Look, just twist and pry and don't smash 'em with a hammer and you'll be fine. Pretend you're trying to get into one of those awful plastic blister packs with a delicate lobster-flavored toy inside.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:57 AM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Don't forget to have lobster races before the boil.
posted by Gungho at 9:08 AM on July 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Nthing boiling in salt water. Easiest to manage, and pretty tough to screw up.

And, since you're playing beer-drinking-yard games, a pre-cooking lobster race is a must, in my book.
posted by liquado at 9:09 AM on July 27, 2009

How do I help ensure it doesn't turn into a very expensive mess?

I'm not sure what your budget is, but you may want to think about bringing in a caterer to deal with them, which will save you a lot of worry and let you focus on having fun.
posted by crapmatic at 9:09 AM on July 27, 2009

IANAC, but a search for lobster at hulu turns up a few cooking show clips on cooking lobster.
posted by chndrcks at 9:24 AM on July 27, 2009

crapmatic makes a GREAT point - find a neighbor, culinary school student - anyone with experience and pay them to boil off the bugs while the family enjoys the feast!
posted by jbenben at 9:28 AM on July 27, 2009

The proper course of action here is to fly me in as a technical consultant. Will accept lobster as payment. If for some reason (I can't think of any) this is impractical, I think these people have you covered.
posted by empyrean at 9:31 AM on July 27, 2009

Just want to suggest, nay, insist, that you serve the lobsters with a lemon-butter sauce on the side. Equal amounts of melted butter and lemon juice. Please, please, please do this. It's truly the only way to eat them.
posted by YamwotIam at 9:45 AM on July 27, 2009

You might also consider steaming them over a fire in a washtub with corn. Typically seaweed is added as well, but given your location...this method would most likely allow you to steam them all at once, therefore minimizing your cooking time.
posted by horsemuth at 10:02 AM on July 27, 2009

As an east coaster and lobster lovah, here are some essentials I can think of (and some already stated above):

- Make sure the claws are banded and don't take the rubber bands off until they're finished cooking.
- Have more than one large stock pot on hand.
- Have something to crack the shells with. Nutcrackers work. If I'm serving to other people, I'll usually crack the claw shells with the whack of a sharp kitchen knife or a hammer to make it easier on the diners.
- Have picks to get the meat out of the shells easier (some of the best parts are the stuff you have to work for).
- Bibs, napkins, paper towels. And lots of them.
- Garlic butter. Mmmmm.... (also seconding YamwotIam on the lemon juice and butter).
- Have some sea salt for boiling them in.

Mom's rule is 13 minutes for the first pound and about five minutes for every pound after that (also let it stand for 5-10 when it's done).

I don't think you can have "too many" in a pot, as long as they're properly steamed for the right amount of time. I usually buy females and you know if they're undercooked because the roe will be like a blackish jelly (it's red and waxy if it's properly cooked).

MeMail if you have any questions.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:16 AM on July 27, 2009

I like them boiled. I use scissors in addition to nutcrackers. Lemon wedges and melted butter in small dishes for each person. A big dish on the table for shells, and draining the water off dinner plates. Corn on the cob, a green salad and some crusty bread are the traditional accompaniments, and blueberry pie for dessert. A nice touch is to get some cheap washcloths, dampen thoroughly, and microwave briefly, as warm finger towels. So nice to be able to clean up after a messy lobster wrestling match. I use the lemon wedges to get rid of the lobster aroma on my hands.

How to eat lobster

Newspapers in the bottom of the trash bag because they're really wet, and that water stinks. Get the lobster garbage bagged and out of the house fast.
posted by theora55 at 10:26 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

The trick with the butter is to make clarified butter. It's butter that has been melted and then the milk solids are skimmed off. It will stay liquid longer so you don't have to worry about keeping it heated. Add a bit of lemon juice and zest for tartness.
posted by junesix at 11:01 AM on July 27, 2009

3. Drop screaming lobsters into boiling water.

Thanks a lot, Gravitus. Now I have to go the rest of the day with this in my head. *shudder*
posted by Aquaman at 11:02 AM on July 27, 2009

I'm a big fan of Lobster Bisque myself. So don't throw out those shells and save a little meat for the sauce.
posted by IndigoSkye at 8:40 PM on July 28, 2009

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