How to Eat Lobster Without Wasting Meat—or Making a Huge Mess

Ready to crack open that crustacean? Learn how to eat lobster the right way—we promise, it doesn't have to be intimidating.

Here in New England, everyone has an opinion on how to eat lobster. Whether you’re cracking and dismantling it whole, enjoying it buttered on a roll or even baked into macaroni and cheese, it’s one of the ultimate summer delicacies. My favorite? A fat lobster tail alongside a juicy steak as part of a surf-and-turf.

Breaking open a freshly steamed lobster (while wearing a bib) is a summer attraction not to be missed—and one with a variety of methods for getting it done. “As a child, eating lobster was an experience with my grandfather,” says Matt King, COO of Boston-based restaurant chain Legal Sea Foods. “As with everything he did, it was extremely methodical, and he took his time to enjoy the process. I don’t take anywhere near as long as he would, but I do believe that eating lobster is about having fun!”

Indeed, once you have a handle on how to eat lobster (or how to eat crawfish, how to eat oysters and how to eat mussels), seafood dinners become much less intimidating and a bit more fun. And while table manners are always appreciated, removing every last edible morsel from a lobster can get messy, so you may need to throw those etiquette rules out with the shells.

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How to eat lobster

How To Eat A Lobster diagram with a real lobster on a paper table cloth labeled with black markerDaniel Grill/getty images

First, source your crustaceans from a local, sustainable fish market. Then, it’s time to cook. Many lobster purists will say that the best way to enjoy a lobster is to keep it as simple as possible. “Steam a lobster or simply boil it in salted water for about 12 to 15 minutes. Then serve it simply with drawn whole butter,” says King. Once you have your cooked lobster, follow these steps.

Your lobster tools

  • Seafood crackers
  • Seafood mallet (optional)
  • Seafood scissors (optional)
  • Thin, sharp knife
  • Lobster pick or fork

1. Start with the tail

Lobster tail on a blue tablevalentyn semenov/Getty Images

The tail is going to have some of the thickest, most tender meat, so that’s where you want to start. To twist off the tail, hold the tail portion in one hand and the body in the other, then twist gently in opposite directions to separate the two, says Cynthia Nims, chef and cookbook author of Shellfish.

Once the tail is separated, it’s easy to open the shell around it either by peeling it back or using seafood scissors to cut it open. Then, use your lobster fork to pull out the hunk of meat, which should come out in one piece. “Personally I like to leave the tail in the shell for last, since it’s the easiest to get to,” shares King. Make sure to remove the vein before eating.

2. Pull off the claws

lobster claws on a blue tablephotovs/Getty Images

You should be able to remove the claws pretty easily with your hands. “Wiggle the thinner tip off to separate it from the larger tip and then pick out any meat stuck inside the thinner tip,” says King.

If you need to, use your seafood crackers on the thinner tips before turning to the larger ones, using the crackers to crack them open and pull out the meat. “On the knuckles of the claw, you can use your lobster pick to scoop or push out the tender pieces of meat stuck inside the knuckles,” King says.

3. Go for the legs

Lobster Legs on a paper table clothDaniel Grill/getty images

Start by pulling the legs from the body. “The legs are thin, but depending on the size of the lobster, they can have a good deal of tasty meat,” King says. “You can use a rolling pin or wine bottle to push the meat out of the legs onto a flat surface. You can also just dip the legs in some drawn butter and suck on the legs to pull the meat out this way.”

4. Tackle the body

Lobster Body Gettyimages 588933349 JveditDaniel Grill/getty images

“In the cavity or body of the shell, you can get a lot of good eats,” King says. There’s the tomalley, which will be light green when cooked. It’s creamy, salty and tasty, although its texture is not for everyone, says King.

And here’s an important food fact: Make sure to avoid the stomach sac, which is up near the eyes, as well as the feathery gills, which you’ll be able to see once the shell is removed. If you’re wary, you can skip the body altogether; there’s plenty of tasty meat in the tail, claws and legs.

5. Serve the lobster

Plate with lobsters on dining tableDaniel Grill/Getty Images

When setting the table, don’t forget the drawn butter. “When you melt the butter, serve it all as some of the milk solids that sit in the bottom add salty flavor,” says King. If you need a little zip, he says, add a lemon. “It gives a nice freshness and cuts through some of the butter.”

Need some more ideas? Try serving the lobster clambake-style with mussels, crabs, scallops, potatoes and corn on the cob.

FAQs about eating lobster

Even with our step-by-step instructions on how to eat lobster, lingering questions may still exist—especially ones you’re afraid to ask out loud (like how to eat soup dumplings or how to eat sushi). Things can be more complicated than they appear, so here are some common inquiries about lobster eating.

What’s the green stuff in my lobster?

That would be the tomalley, which is a combination of the lobster’s liver and pancreas, explains Nims. “Many lobster aficionados consider this to be a delicacy,” she adds. “But if there were contaminants in the lobster’s environment, they could be accumulated in the tomalley, which is why you may see advice to avoid or limit consumption of it.” How’s that for a seafood fact? Some lobster eaters skip it or choose to eat it in moderation. It’s at the eater’s discretion.

What part of the lobster can’t you eat?

While you may choose not to eat the tomalley, it is technically edible. The only parts you should not eat are the stomach sac and the shell.

What are the red things on my lobster tail?

If you have a female lobster, those would be immature eggs, called roe. “They will be bright red when cooked and don’t offer much flavor, but are edible,” King says. They are naturally black, so if the roe is still black and not red when you are ready to eat your lobster, that means it needs to be cooked further.

How do I know if my lobster is bad?

There are many signs that will tell you if a lobster is safe to eat. “The shell of the lobster should be bright red all over, and the meat will be firm to the touch,” says Monica Yang, head chef of culinary development at Red Lobster. The shell should also be hard and sturdy, never mushy or slimy, and the lobster itself should smell fresh and not too fishy.

How hard do I need to squeeze to crack the shells?

You’ll want to use as little force as possible, suggests Nims. “Too much force and you may end up crushing some bits of shell into the meat,” she adds. Crack the shells just enough so that you are able to separate them from the meat.

Do I need to use a fork and knife?

Nope, and you can throw any etiquette apologies out the window. Your hands (and your lobster fork) are your cutlery when it comes to learning how to eat lobster. Furthermore, ask for a bib, says Yang. “Cracking can be fun and a little bit messy!” And we promise it’s not a sign of a bad restaurant if there’s a pile of wet wipes on the table.

Now that you’re a pro on how to eat a lobster, it’s time to learn how to eat with chopsticks.

About the experts

Alyssa Sybertz
Alyssa Sybertz is a wellness and lifestyle writer and editor who covers food, cooking and science for Reader's Digest, Food & Wine, Southern Living, Allrecipes and more. An avid hiker and reader of romance, she is also the author of The OMAD Diet.