The Safest Way To Place Fresh Lobster Into Boiling Water

From New York establishments with "$$$$" Google Maps listings to New Orleans seafood boils on brown craft paper, it seems like everybody's boiling or steaming lobster – and they make it look so easy. But while boiling lobsters carapace intact has the advantage of preserving the flavor of the meat and making it easier to remove from the shell, it's also done for reasons of safety. 

Crustaceans are cooked alive because the vibrio bacterium loves dead lobster meat. Once your lobster has been dead for just a few hours, vibrio bacteria are on their way, and they don't die immediately upon hitting the water. This is why it's important to start with a rolling boil, and keep your lobsters alive until they're actively cooking. Giving the water time to fully engulf the shell and heat the meat through will minimize the possibility of a foodborne illness. 

Hubert Keller, the executive chef of the now-closed Fleur de Lys in San Francisco, says boiling lobsters tail-first will help you avoid the wrath of a sputtering boil. 

Stay out of the splash zone and go tail-first

If you've forayed into the seafood world before, there's a good chance you've heard that the ideal way to put a lobster in a pot is headfirst. Maine-based seafood purveyor Lobster Anywhere recommends this technique. And in an episode of PBS's "The French Chef," Julia Child explains that putting lobsters into the water headfirst is more humane because it kills them quicker.

But according to chef Hubert Keller, this is a surefire way to get burned. Instead, put that lobster in the pot tail-first. "Otherwise, the tail, which is still moving, will splash you with boiling water," advises Keller, via Food & Wine. As an added safety measure (especially if this is your first time working with live lobster), America's Test Kitchen recommends freezing the lobster for 30 minutes before sticking it in the pot. It'll effectively sedate the lobster into a numbing sleep and make it all but motionless. 

From there, the only limit is your imagination. Whip up a fancy lobster roll or Lobster Newburg, or simply kick back with a seafood Bloody Mary and relish the rewards of all your hard work.