Lobster sous-vide temperature experiment

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It’s lobster season in the Netherlands (April through June) and we have our very own type of lobster that only lives in the Oosterschelde. DNA testing has shown that Oosterschelde lobster is truly different from other lobsters, and it is said to have a more delicate flavor. I’d like to do a blind tasting to confirm this some time, but this time I had only picked up the Oosterschelde lobster and decided to do some experimenting to find out the optimal temperature for sous-vide cooking.

For sous-vide cooking you want to get the lobster out of the shell as raw as possible. Unfortunately the shell won’t come off when the lobster is still completely raw, especially the claws. So I decided to follow Thomas Keller’s method to get it out of the shell. This means killing the lobster first by thrusting a knife through its brain. I don’t enjoy this step, but if you want to eat the lobster you need to kill it one way or the other, and this is the most ‘humane’ method.

First make the lobster sluggish by freezing it for 15 minutes. Then  insert the knife at the ‘cross’ on top of its head and thrust it down between its eyes. To see how to do this, you can have a look at this video of me killing another lobster.

I then put the lobster in a pot and covered it with 1.5 liters (1.5 quarts) of boiling water, to which I had added 25 ml (1 oz) of white vinegar as per Thomas Keller’s instructions. I left in the tail for 2 minutes and the claws for 7 minutes. Please note that the pot was not on the heat, otherwise the lobster would be cooked completely!

I shelled the lobster and divided the lobster meat into four parts that were individually sealed into vacuum pouches with some butter. The pouches were all cooked for 15 minutes at different temperatures as suggested by Modernist Cuisine.

Two years later I did another experiment to compare a lobster tail cooked at 46ºC/115ºF with a lobster tail cooked at 59.5ºC/139ºF, as the latter is the temperature used by Thomas Keller and quoted by many sources.


Lobster tail sous-vide: best at 46ºC/115ºF

The lobster tail was cooked at 46C/115 F and at 50C/122F. Although both were good, we thought that the tail cooked at 46C/115F was more tender and slightly less ‘rubbery’ than the tail cooked at 50C/122F. Since the tail seemed to be overcooked a bit towards the edges from steeping in boiling water, next time I will try to get it out of the shell with less steeping or even cook it sous-vide in the shell (for a longer time).

The lobster tail cooked at Thomas Keller’s suggested temperature of 59.5ºC/139ºF had the same problem as the one cooked at 50ºC/122ºF: not as tender and juicy as the one cooked at 46ºC/115ºF. More about this in this post.

Lobster claws sous-vide: best at 60ºC/140ºF

The lobster claws were cooked at 54ºC/129ºF and at 60ºC/140ºF. Both were good, but we found the claw cooked at 60ºC/140ºF to be more tender than the claw cooked at 54ºC/129ºF. Even with 7 minutes of steeping, it was difficult to remove the claw meat in once piece. Sous-vide cooking seems to be more beneficial for the lobster tail than for the lobster claws compared to conventional steaming or boiling.

11 thoughts on “Lobster sous-vide temperature experiment

    1. There is a risk of piercing the bag, especially with the claws. You’d also need to cook it for a longer time, again especially the claws as the shell is thicker than that of the tail so the heat will take longer to penetrate.

      The main reason for taking it out of the shell is to enable cooking the lobster meat in butter. By cooking sous-vide, you achieve the same effect as poaching in a butter emulsion (beurre monté) without having to use a large amount of butter. The butter is a major flavor enhancer!


  1. For the tail: I have never steeped them. Use poultry sheers to seperate the bottom shell where it meets the harder top shell (both sides). Then I use my finger to seperate the meat from the top shell. Maybe not feasible for restaurant output timewise, but if you are only doing a few at home, it works out fine.


  2. Another thought, Stefan. The lobster comes beautifully sealed in its own shell. So why not use the water bath to cook it whole at 46 or 50 degrees for an hour? Then the flesh will come away beautifully and you can pour on the butter that you’ve previously infused with a bit of lobster roe…? ! (off to the Hebrides next week, determined to pack Sous Vide Supreme into car) a


    1. It’s not as sealed as you think, as you can know if you’ve watched the water in a pot in which you have just boiled a lobster. But you could definitely seal the lobster in the shell in a vacuum pouch (as long as it is not too pointy). I tried this once and got good results for the tail. The claws had been cooked too short, so an hour would probably be a good idea for a next experiment. Unfortunately lobster is not a very cheap ingredient to experiment with…

      Great idea to bring the SVS for your vacation! I’ve recently took it when we went BBQ’ing somewhere to pre-cook the beef to perfect medium-rare and then finish it on the BBQ.


  3. Hi – I tried a slightly modified version of your experiment tonight and the results were wonderful. I was able to remove the meat from two 10 ounce lobster tails without heating by carefully splitting the top and bottom of the shell with kitchen shears. I sauteed a head of crushed garlic in butter and olive oil with some salt and cayenne pepper and put this into the vacuum pouch with the lobster meat. Since I wasn’t pre-heating the lobster, I used a slightly higher temperature and a slightly longer cooking time – 118F for about 45 minutes. While the lobster was cooking, I sauteed the shells in the remainder of the seasoned garlic butter in the pan and then set them aside. Later, I put the whole lobster tails back into the split shells and gave them a quick broil at 400F for about 3 minutes. I served this with linguine and sauteed mushrooms in a spicy arabiata tomato sauce. The whole thing was fantastic – the lobster was tender and sweet and set off perfectly against the spicy pasta. Thanks for the guidance. It got me off on the right foot! Happy cooking…


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