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How to Shell a Whole Maine Lobster

Updated on November 15, 2015

Simple Instructions and Important Tips for Shelling a Soft Shell Maine Lobster

A "must do" for many visitors to Vacationland is eating lobster. They envision a steamed whole Maine lobster, a cup of melted butter, and a bib.

When the uninitiated finally get that delicious crustacean placed in front of them, their response varies from pause to panic. 'What the heck am I supposed to do with that thing?' They went searching for live lobster and they wanted whole Maine lobster, they just hadn't thought about how they were going to get it out of the shell once it was cooked. The lobsters don't come with directions, pull tabs, or tear away strips.

Let me help you. In the video above and the step-by-step directions below, I'll show you how to get the tender white meat where you want it; on your plate, not in the shell.

By following my directions and my tips, you'll be able to quickly and easily get the shell off of your cooked lobster.

Tip: Shelling and Eating Lobster is MESSY! That is why they give you bibs.
Proceed at your own risk without one. Butter stains don't come out of nice clothes very easily.

Cooked Maine Lobster
Cooked Maine Lobster | Source

Step #1 Get A Cooked Lobster

This step sounds obvious but, first you have to get a Maine lobster and it has to be cooked.

Hungry travelers often want the authentic Maine experience of a lobster pound. "What is a Lobster Pound?", click to find out! Or, check out "My Favorite Maine Lobster Pounds" to locate that perfect lobster just right for you.

Feeling ambitious, many want to cook the lobster on their own. They may steam it or have their own lobster bake with family and friends. Randomcreative can show you how to do it "Cooking Live Lobsters: How to have a Lobster Party".

Tip: Get a 1 1-1/4 Soft Shell Lobster!
In general, the larger the lobster, the tougher the meat. Yes, there is more meat in larger lobsters but, hard shell lobsters and, to some degree, even larger soft shell ones, can be much harder to crack open.

Lately, the price of a 1 to 1 1/4 pound soft shell lobster in Maine is cheap (about $4.00/pound). If you want more lobster, buy 2 or 3 small ones!

Cooked whole Maine lobster and the tools to help get the shell off.
Cooked whole Maine lobster and the tools to help get the shell off. | Source

Step #2: Get Your Tools Together

To shell a lobster you should have:

  • Cracker
  • Lobster fork
  • Regular fork
  • Plate for the lobster
  • Bowl for waste scraps
  • Paper towels
  • Newspaper covering a nice table.
  • Lobster bib

Tip: For a small soft shell lobster, I often don't need more than my hands, a bowl, and a regular fork.
I occasionally need crackers but, have never needed a knife or other instrument to cut the shell. I have occasionally used a knife to cut up the lobster, but most of the time, lobster is like the other white meat; chicken. Hands are often all that are needed.

Removing the tail from a Maine lobster.
Removing the tail from a Maine lobster. | Source
Removing a claw from a Maine lobster.
Removing a claw from a Maine lobster. | Source

Step #3: Seperate the Tail and the Claws from the Body

It is easy to snap the tail and the claws off of the body. While there may be a small amount of meat in the body and the little walking legs, in my opinion, the effort isn't worth the return. Just throw the body and the attached walking legs away.

The green paste between the body and the tail is the tomalley (digestive gland). For some, the tomalley is a delicacy. But, since it removes some toxins from the lobster, it may not be the healthiest part of the lobster to eat.

Tip: Unless you want a lot of water on the plate with your food, shell the lobster over the bowl for scraps. There is a lot of water inside the lobster shell, particularly soft shell lobsters. Remove the tail and claws over the bowl and NOT your plate. Crack the shells of the claws open over the bowl. Let the water drain into the bowl rather than onto your plate.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Removing the flippers from the tail of the lobsterInserting the handle of the fork into the shell of the tail to remove the meat.Handle of a fork pushing the meat in the tail of the lobster out.
Removing the flippers from the tail of the lobster
Removing the flippers from the tail of the lobster | Source
Inserting the handle of the fork into the shell of the tail to remove the meat.
Inserting the handle of the fork into the shell of the tail to remove the meat. | Source
Handle of a fork pushing the meat in the tail of the lobster out.
Handle of a fork pushing the meat in the tail of the lobster out. | Source

Step #4: Remove the Meat from the Tail

This is much easier than you may expect. First, remove the flippers from the tail. Then, insert the handle of a fork in the hole where the flippers were. Run the handle along the back (dorsal side) inside the shell. As the fork handle is advanced into the shell, the tail meat will be pushed out of the large opening on the other side. The tail meat comes out quickly and intact.

Tip: You may want to clean the tomalle off of the tail meat.

Removing the meat over the sand vein (orangish matterial) in the tail.
Removing the meat over the sand vein (orangish matterial) in the tail. | Source

Step #5: Remove the Sand Vein from the Tail Meat

Just deep to the dorsal surface (back) of the tail meat is a sand vein (the intestine). This is the lobster's waste and it should be removed. You could use a knife to cut down to the sand vein, but I find it just as easy to pull off the strip of meat over it (save the strip of meat, it is edible).

The sand vein can be thick or thin, orangish or greenish brown (or both). Sometimes the sand vein comes off with the strip of meat you pull off, sometimes it stays with the rest of the tail meat. Pull the sand vein out making sure to get all of it. Occasionally, a fork or a lobster fork can be used to get the sand vein out or to open up the last portion to get it all.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Grab the mobile portion of the claw.Bend the mobile portion and break it off at the joint.Crack the remainder of the claw shell with your fingers or the crackers.Remover the meat from the cracked claw.Crack the shell of the claw arm with your fingers or the crackers and remove the meat.
Grab the mobile portion of the claw.
Grab the mobile portion of the claw. | Source
Bend the mobile portion and break it off at the joint.
Bend the mobile portion and break it off at the joint. | Source
Crack the remainder of the claw shell with your fingers or the crackers.
Crack the remainder of the claw shell with your fingers or the crackers. | Source
Remover the meat from the cracked claw.
Remover the meat from the cracked claw. | Source
Crack the shell of the claw arm with your fingers or the crackers and remove the meat.
Crack the shell of the claw arm with your fingers or the crackers and remove the meat. | Source

Step #6: Get the Meat out of the Claws

This is a multi-step process, but easy to do.

  • Mr. Obvious says, 'remove the rubber band from each claw'.
  • Detach the arm from the claw.
  • Hold the claw in one hand and grab the moveable portion with your other hand. In a firm, smooth motion, pull the moveable portion down and away from the other portion until the moveable portion comes off at the hinge. The meat of this portion will usually remain attached. If not, be sure to get the meat out of the detached shell.
  • The remainder of the claw can often be cracked open with your fingers. If not, use the cracker to break the shell and get the claw meat out.
  • The arm portion of the claw can also often be cracked with your fingers. Small, sharp, spine-like parts on the shell can make this difficult or even painful to do with your hands. The cracker may have to be used here.

Meat from a soft shell Maine Lobster.  Dip in butter and eat as is or add mayo and put it on a bun to make a lobster roll.
Meat from a soft shell Maine Lobster. Dip in butter and eat as is or add mayo and put it on a bun to make a lobster roll. | Source

Grab the Butter. It is Time to Eat!

The meat is out! It is time to grab the melted butter and enjoy the fruits of your labor. If you don't want to dip it in butter, other options include using the meat in a lobster roll, making a lobster salad, or use it in any number of other great lobster recipes.

© 2012 bankscottage

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    • Charito1962 profile image

      Charito Maranan-Montecillo 23 months ago from Manila, Philippines

      I've heard so much about Maine lobsters, bankscottage, and they look so good! You make the shelling look so easy.

      I can just imagine how good the meat tastes once you dip it in butter. Yummy!

      Thanks for sharing!

    • bankscottage profile image
      Author

      bankscottage 23 months ago from Pennsylvania

      Hi fpherj48. Good to hear from you. Congrats on your Hubbie Award! The lobster debate will rage on. Always boiled. Get the small ones (sweeter and more tender), just eat more of them. Real Mainers eat them without butter. I'm always looking to trade lobster for authentic wings from the original Anchor Bar.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 23 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      banks.....Mmmmm, is that whole Maine Lobster I smell? Can't keep ME away. I'm sure you were expecting me.

      Superb step by step, banks......However, we don't prepare our lobsters by boiling. As I think I explained to you once before (long ago).....we split them open, stuff & bake them. Then just dive in and eat from the shell.

      Anyway you cook a lobster.....present it and THEY WILL COME!!! LOL

    • bankscottage profile image
      Author

      bankscottage 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      bridalletter, thanks for the comment. I was just in Maine over the weekend, but didn't have any lobster. Hope you can get there soon and enjoy some yourself.

    • bridalletter profile image

      Brenda Kyle 4 years ago from Blue Springs, Missouri, USA

      My dream trip and experience, I can't wait to visit Maine! Thank you for sharing, great hub.

    • bankscottage profile image
      Author

      bankscottage 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      beingwell, thanks your comment. Next time, give it a try and shell your own lobster. It really is quite easy. Besides, lobster is a healthy white meat.

    • beingwell profile image

      beingwell 4 years ago from Bangkok

      Nice vid! I always buy shelled lobsters. I didn't know it takes a long while before shelling them. Whew! Voted up and shared!

    • bankscottage profile image
      Author

      bankscottage 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Randomcreative, glad to link to your great lobster party hub.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks for linking to my article! This is a great resource.

    • bankscottage profile image
      Author

      bankscottage 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks for stopping by hockey8mn. I didn't know you liked lobster.

    • hockey8mn profile image

      hockey8mn 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Glad you could unveil the art of removing the meat from the shell in a lobster. I had previously used the "smash it" method. Thank god for Mr. Obvious and the removal of the rubber bands. Voted up and useful.