While we love cracking into a whole lobster as much as the next Yankee, sometimes the situation (and the budget) calls for a more modest affair. Cooking lobster tails is a great alternative to cooking the whole lobster, because they’re less expensive and easier to prepare.
Lobster tails are readily available both fresh and frozen, although the latter are more common (and spares you role of executioner). Most lobster tails come from spiny lobsters, also known as rock lobsters. Spiny lobsters have long, spiny antennae, and, most noticeably, lack the large front claws we see on lobsters here in New England. Their tails, however, are just as firm and flavorful.
Cooking Lobster Tails | Expert Advice
Lobster Tail Tips
- Frozen lobster tails (we prefer cold-water to warm-water) should be thawed in the refrigerator overnight (or for 8-10 hours).
- Lobster tails tend to curl as they cook. To avoid this, insert a skewer through the tail before baking or broiling, then remove it before serving.
- Lobster meat turns rubbery and tough when overcooked. Always keep a careful eye when cooking lobster tails, but make sure the meat reaches at least 135 degrees.
- Once prepared, cooked lobster tails can be served immediately, or chilled and used for salads or lobster rolls.
- When cooking lobster tails for a party, plan for one 8-oz. tail per person.
How to Cook Lobster Tails
Cooking lobster tails is the same as cooking the whole lobster — they can be boiled, steamed, baked, broiled, or grilled to suit your taste.
Three of the most popular methods are broiling, grilling, and steaming.
Broiling Lobster Tails
To broil lobster tails, arrange them on a baking sheet, then cut down the tops of the lobster tail-back with kitchen scissors, stopping about an inch from the tail-flap. Gently spread the shell apart, just slightly. At this stage, some folks like to loosen the meat from all the but the base of the tail, and then gently lift the flesh up (not separating it from the base) and allow it to “rest” on the shell where you’ve cut it, but others say that keeping it in the shell helps retain moisture. Season the tail meat with butter and your preferred seasoning, then broil until it is lightly browned and the flesh is opaque. This should take about 15 minutes depending on the size of the tails. Do not let them burn!
Grilling Lobster Tails
Cooking lobster tails need not be restricted to the kitchen stove. To grill, split the tails down the middle with a large chef’s knife, pushing the point into the narrow tail end of the tail and then using the heel of your hand to push down and split the rest (finish the job with kitchen scissors if necessary). Separate the two halves, then gently separate the meat from the shell on each side, leaving only the very bottom attached to the shell. Baste the meat on all sides with melted butter and seasonings to taste, then gently return the meat to the shell. Grill, flesh-side down, over high heat for 2-3 minutes, then flip and grill, flesh-side up and slightly off the main heat, for an additional 8 minutes, or until the meat is tender. For the best flavor, continue to baste as the meat cooks.
Steaming Lobster Tails
To steam lobster tails, first use kitchen scissors to cut own the tops of the lobster tail-backs, stopping about an inch from the tail-flap. Bring water to a boil in a large stockpot (6-8 cups for every 4 tails), then place 4 tails in your steamer of choice and cover the pot. Steam for 8 to 12 minutes (roughly 1 minute per ounce) or until shells turn bright red and the meat is tender. Remove and rinse with cold water, pat dry, and serve.
This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated.
LOBSTER TAIL RECIPES
Lobster Tail Casserole
Crispy Lobster-Tail and Pea-Tendril Salad With Warmed Lobster Vinaigrette
Lobster Eggs Benedict
Grilled Seafood Salad with Summertime Citrus Dressing