Lobsters are one of the tastiest creatures in the sea, and ordering a whole lobster makes any feast festive, be it a posh graduation celebration or a bite at a popular seafood spot on your vacation. However, they’re one of the trickiest to eat once they reach the table. If you don’t know what you’re doing, tackling one of the clawed crustaceans can be intimidating. To discover the best tricks and techniques, we turned to a quartet of experts: executive chef Bill Telepan of Oceana in New York City, David Seigal executive chef of New York City’s Cull & Pistol Oyster Bar, Brian Okada, culinary director of Water Grill Restaurants, which has five locations spread across Texas and California, including Los Angeles, and David Walzog, executive chef of Las Vegas’s Lakeside. Learn all the ins and outs, and lobster like a boss at a restaurant on OpenTable near you.
Reading: how to eat fresh boiled lobster
Understand gender differences
If you’re given the option, order a female. “The tail meat tends to be larger,” says Seigal.
Say yes to the mess
Don’t worry about making a scene. “And don’t feel self-conscious about using your hands,” says Okada. “Just dig in and enjoy.”
Tackle the tail first
If the lobster is served whole, grab the tail with one hand and the body with the other. Twist them in opposite directions - like you’re wringing a towel - which will separate the tail. Then crush the sides of the tail with your hands. There are five fins, called swimmerets, at the bottom. Pop out the middle one and the whole chunk of tail meat will come out easily. “Don’t forget to take out the vein running along it,” says Telepan. “That’s the digestive tract.”
What to know about eggs
If you get a female lobster, you may find spherical eggs (known as roe or coral) in the tail section. They should be red or orange. “If they are black, they are not cooked,” says Telepan. “Send the lobster back because it needs to be cooked further.”
Don’t skip the tomalley
Keep an eye out for green bits on the meat, which are the tomalley (the liver and pancreas). “It’s rich, pungent, and unctuous,” says Walzog. “I recommend you experience it because it’s delicious.”
Handle claws with care
Using either a hammer or lobster cracker, break the claw’s shell until it cracks. Just don’t be too aggressive because “you don’t want to damage the meat,” says Telepan. You can then pull out the meat inside with your fingers or an oyster fork.
Don’t neglect the knuckle
The knuckle of the claw has only a little meat in it, but it’s worth getting. The shell is softer at the joint, making it difficult - but not impossible - to crack. Once you’ve created a gap in the casing, use an oyster fork to dig out the meat.
“Don’t put the claw in your mouth and try to crack it,” warns Seigal. “Or else you may crack a tooth.”
Don’t forget the legs
There are a couple of ways to access the slender slips of meat in the legs. Okada recommends, pulling them off and putting them on the table with the point that connected to the body pointing toward you. Then roll a Tabasco bottle over them toward you, which will squeeze the meat out. If you’re at a fancier joint, where this approach might be out of place, Seigal recommends simply using your teeth to work the meat out.
Discover a secret stash
Snap off the lobster’s antennae where they meet the head and pull off the shell. There will be a little cavity of meat just below it. “It’s akin to the oyster on a chicken,” says Seigal. “You could call it the lobster oyster.”
If there’s melted butter on the side, dunk away. “The meat is buttery as it is, but butter still makes it taste better,” says Telepan.
To find a spot that’s right for you to enjoy lobsters, head over to OpenTable and search for top-rated restaurants by filtering by “seafood” for cuisine type. And we also have monthly diners’ choice lists in each metro that will surface the best seafood restaurants, such as this one in New York.