The most common way of killing a lobster is to put it into boiling water, however we can read on Wikipedia page that it is one of the methods which cause pain and distress.

The killing methods most likely to cause pain and distress are:

  • Placing crustaceans directly into boiling water

  • Placing crustaceans in slowly heated water to the boiling point

  • Placing marine crustaceans in fresh water

  • ...

Secondly, we can read here about the following study:

Dan Ward, then a grad student at the University of New Hampshire, once hooked an electrode up to a Lobster heart for me and boiled it. The heart beat for 1 minute 53 seconds.

So the question is, what is the most humane way to kill a lobster?

  • 6
    meta question: cooking.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3430/… Yes, this is clearly cooking-related, but not everything cooking-related is within the scope of this site, so it is worth considering.
    – Cascabel
    Dec 14, 2017 at 16:49
  • Related: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/56059/…
    – Cindy
    Dec 15, 2017 at 13:56
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    Heart beating doesn't imply to be able to feel pain. Dec 15, 2017 at 14:00
  • The conclusion from the meta question (possibly with skewed voting) is that this question is on-topic because it's part of the cooking process and answers can be supported with science, not just speculation. Note the post notice, in particular that insufficiently supported answers really may be removed.
    – Cascabel
    Dec 15, 2017 at 16:35

6 Answers 6


Put the lobster in the freezer for about 30 minutes, it will basically be in a sleeping/coma state when you take it out. Then cut into its head lengthwise to destroy its brain before it wakes up.

Some people say that killing the lobster in a less stressful way gives the meat a better texture/flavor. But personally I have not been able to tell any difference.

EDIT: Another solution, though not a clean or popular method for lobster; If you destroy its brain faster than the speed pain travels through nerves, it would be dead before the pain reaches the brain. Could be accomplished by shooting it in the brain with a gun... a common method used to humanely kill many things.

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    It is generally accepted with the low order brain system in a lobster, it does not feel pain at least in the sense that high vertebrates do, but it does respond to stimuli. @Netduke's method is generally considered the method to allow the quickest and least chance of feeling. Do note though that allowing to chill for too long may result in a tougher product. Even 5 minutes in an ice water bath may be enough to put it into the sluggish "sleep" state though. It may well still move, but movement and nerve reflexes in muscles does not really equate to still feeling or pain.
    – dlb
    Dec 14, 2017 at 16:55
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    @dlb Can you please provide a reference to scientific research backing up your claim? Lots of horrible things are "generally accepted" by the humanity.
    – undercat
    Dec 15, 2017 at 3:07
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    @jakekimdsΨ Thanks, from the linked article, "at a legal and moral level, the recently published doubts regarding the awareness of pain in fish do not release anybody from their responsibility of having to justify all uses of fishes in a socially acceptable way and to minimise any form of stress and damage to the fish when interacting with it."
    – undercat
    Dec 15, 2017 at 6:30
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    I used this method before I put the halves on a covered BBQ. I can tell you it is quite unnerving to hear two half lobsters trying to get out of there. Obviously the lobster's body is capable of movement for quite some time after it must, by all reason, be truly dead.
    – oerkelens
    Dec 15, 2017 at 9:28
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    This doesn't take into account the size of the lobsters brain. It's a tiny collection of cells, and you'd really have to remove the head to accurately destroy it. 1mm in the wrong direction with a knife and you would miss it completely. It's not a giant mass like we have. It's more like a few grains of sand.
    – JPhi1618
    Dec 15, 2017 at 21:57

I've not tried it personally, but I've heard good things about using clove oil to anesthetize the lobster (incidentally, the same link that the second quote in the question is pulled from).

The above link details a series of experiments done by Dave Arnold and Nils Noren on 7 different methods of killing lobsters, including the freezing mentioned by Netduke's answer. The article concludes that (when it comes to flavor at least)

Anesthesia [is] (still the best)

I can't speak to the objective difference in humaneness of killing method between this and something like freezing, but I suspect that isn't a question that's answerable.

  • Interesting --- Does the clove oil affect the taste of the cooked lobster? Dec 15, 2017 at 7:26
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    @FedericoPoloni According to the article, if you follow the dosage they suggest, it does not. Dec 15, 2017 at 12:58

Less of a practical suggestion but suffocation with a noble gas would not hurt a human and is being considered as a way to kill livestock. For a lobster this should work the same.

https://vimeo.com/83750163 video shows around the 30mins the effects on a human and 40mins for use in farms.

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    @Stephie it's not a case of how quickly they die, the body cannot detect an absence of oxygen, only the presence of carbon dioxide. If you were to be suffocated with a pillow then the lungs would be turn all the oxygen in the body into carbon dioxide trapped in the lungs, if you were able to breath but not take in oxygen then there would be very little carbon dioxide in your lungs. Watch the video.
    – PStag
    Dec 15, 2017 at 11:32
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    @PStag, there is an oxygen drive to human breathing, called the hypoxic drive. It exists, but is very weak compared to the hypercarbic, or CO2 elimination drive. It is part of what makes carbon monoxide poisoning so nasty. CO binds to blood cells a lot like free oxygen, and it kills that drive.
    – Paul TIKI
    Dec 15, 2017 at 14:37
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    Nitrogen works just as well and is much easier to get hold of
    – Chris H
    Dec 15, 2017 at 16:27
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    I was about to recommend this! Either NO2 or CO. You just basically fall asleep. Lots of dentists in the 50's died from nitrous masks. And people die in their sleep from CO from fires all the time. If I started a livestock plant, I would use nitrogen on the cows. This might not be the most practical thing for lobsters or cows, but that's probably why I'm not a farmer or fisherman.
    – Chloe
    Dec 15, 2017 at 19:47
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    Carbon monoxide works by binding to hemoglobin and converting it to carboxyhemoglobin. Lobsters do not have hemoglobin, they have hemocyanin, which has different dissociation curves and allosteric properties. It has the same or slightly weaker affinity for CO compared to O2. I would not recommend doing this unless you want to cause significant suffering. The same issue applies to the weak human hypoxic drive. This will not be the same for the arthropod superfamily. Please do not say "for a lobster this should work the same" after comparing it to a distant cousin on the phylogenetic tree!
    – forest
    Dec 17, 2017 at 6:43

I do not know objectively if this 'causes the least pain and distress', but just putting the point of the knife through the back skull and cutting down the front is fast.

Demonstrated in e.g. this YouTube video

  • 2
    How would you like someone stabbing you in the neck with a knife?
    – Chloe
    Dec 17, 2017 at 18:14
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    @Chloe I don't think I would be in a position to complain, afterwards.
    – user34961
    Dec 17, 2017 at 18:15

Martha Stewart once demonstrated a method of placing vodka in the water, and then putting the lobsters in. I guess they got drunk and then were pleasantly anesthetized when they died!

  • 2
    How long were they in the vodka -- quick dunk, soaking for a couple minutes, other?
    – Erica
    Dec 17, 2017 at 14:17
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    What concentration?
    – user34961
    Dec 17, 2017 at 18:16

I know Mom loves lobster and she swears by Steaming lobster. It was also the preferred method when I worked at a very popular Restaurant Chain.

Mom would start with warm water in the bottom of a pot. Then she put the lobster in on a rack to hold it clear of the water. Then she increased the heat, Pot uncovered, and timed it for something like 10 minutes after water came to a boil (putting the lid on the pot). She claimed the slower rise in heat knocked it out. All I know is the the lobster usually stopped moving when the first bubble formed and it never thrashed violently.

I can't be sure when exactly it died and whether it felt pain, but it seemed way better than just dropping it in boiling water.

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    I'd note only that "[p]lacing crustaceans in slowly heated water to the boiling point" is listed as one of the methods most likely to cause pain and distress in the OP's link and this method seems no different. Dec 15, 2017 at 13:11
  • like I mentioned, the little beastie did not thrash or move about, soooo. I have no other objective measurements to use other that personal experience.
    – Paul TIKI
    Dec 15, 2017 at 14:32
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    This seems like a good way too. At first it didn't sound good, but the lobster isn't touching the water. Think how relaxing and tired a steam room makes you? People have died in steam rooms for staying too long.
    – Chloe
    Dec 15, 2017 at 19:56

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