Ina Garten's Advice For Humanely Cooking Live Lobsters At Home

Sweet, tender, and full of flavor, fresh lobster is the ultimate indulgence. From simply boiling it to grilling it whole, or making lobster rolls, the crustaceans form the basis of some of our favorite dishes. But the key word is fresh, both for the superior quality and to minimize the chance of food poisoning caused by harmful bacteria which are present in the lobster. Which may also raise the question of how best to cook a live lobster — as well as doing so in the most humane way possible.

The traditional way done in Maine is to plunge the lobsters headfirst into a steaming pot of boiling water, while some chefs choose to freeze live lobsters for up to a half-hour to sedate them before cooking. Is this the kindest way? It's not clear whether lobsters feel pain, but the act of boiling live lobsters is actually illegal in several countries, including Austria, New Zealand, and Switzerland.

In her book, "Cook Like A Pro," Ina Garten addresses the topic and reveals that she prefers to ask the seafood shop where she buys her lobsters to kill them for her, when possible. She then cooks the lobsters as soon as she can after bringing them home. But, if you have to do the deed in your own kitchen, Garten has a tip for quickly and humanely dispatching a live lobster using a sharp chef's knife.

How to prepare your live lobster at home

To cook a live lobster at home in the most humane way possible, Ina Garten advises taking the tip of a large chef's knife, and placing it "exactly where the head and tail connect" (via "Cook Like A Pro"). Plunging the knife quickly into the lobster at this precise point will sever its spinal cord, meaning the lobster should not suffer.

Some home cooks believe the most ethical approach to this method is actually to chill the lobster in the refrigerator first, rather than the freezer, for an hour beforehand. Then place it on a cutting board, and plunge the knife through the back of the lobster's head using a single, swift action. Aim for the cross on the lobster's head, and point the blade of the knife toward the tail.

There are also tips on picking the best live lobster to buy: Look for one that smells fresh, and make sure that the tail curls back underneath the body if you stretch it out. You might want to keep the bands in place that bind the claws, otherwise, you could risk injury from the lobster's powerful pincers.

Best ways to serve freshly cooked lobster

One of the easiest ways to cook lobster is to boil it whole. You'll need a large pot, filled to three-quarters of the way full, and bring salted water to a rapid boil (you'll want to use a tablespoon of salt for each quart of water). Then, cover the pot with a lid and let the lobster cook. It can take anywhere between seven and 14 minutes to cook the lobster, depending on its size. The shell will turn a bright red color when it's ready, but you should also use a thermometer to ensure it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the USDA.

Another delicious method is to simply grill whole lobster. Parboiling it first for five minutes will ensure it cooks evenly; then, slice it in half lengthwise, brush with melted lemon butter, and grill for around five minutes on each side. Remove the stomach sac before grilling, and crack the claws with a knife to allow heat to get through to the meat inside.

To serve cooked lobster, twist the claws to remove them from the main body. Separate the knuckle from the claw, crack the shell with a nutcracker (or gently with a hammer if it's tough), and remove the meat. Cut along the knuckle with kitchen shears to pull out the flesh in one piece. Separate the tail, and remove the meat, like peeling a large shrimp. Also be sure to remove the digestive tract (which looks like a vein). Then serve with plenty of melted butter and a heap of napkins and enjoy.