How to Cook Lobster Tails: Boil, Bake, Broil, and Grill

Lobster tail is the sweetest part of the lobster with the biggest portion of meat. Learn the best ways to cook lobster tails at home. This how-to guide provides the basics for boiling, steaming, baking, and grilling frozen lobster tails.

How to Cook Frozen Lobster Tails

How to Thaw Frozen Lobster Tails

Our cold-water tails ship in the shell fresh frozen and uncooked. After taking your frozen lobster tails out of the freezer it is best to defrost them fully before getting started.

  • Slow-thaw your frozen lobster tails before you plan to cook them.
  • Take your lobster tails out of the freezer the night before and place them in a covered plate in your refrigerator.
  • For quicker results defrost tails in a zip lock bag under cold water (never hot water) in the sink. DO NOT thaw lobster tails in the microwave!
  • Fully defrosted lobster tails will be soft and pliable.

Pro Tip: Your tails may be covered in ice or frost. Don’t worry your tails are NOT freezer burned. The light glazing helps protect and preserve the tails. Once thawed, be sure to give your tails a good rinse before cooking.

What’s the Stuff inside the Lobster Tail?

It is always important to make sure that the lobster tail has been properly cleaned, regardless of the method of cooking. Remove the long, thin vein that runs down the center of the tail (typically done with a pairing knife). This is the lobster’s digestive tract. Although it won’t hurt if eaten, it does not taste good.

Another common finding within your lobster tail can be roe (or eggs) near the top of tail. Make sure to clean thoroughly. Get to know more about the parts of a lobster.

Pro Tip: Is your tail red or pinkish in color? There is no difference in the taste or quality of the meat. It is simply a tail from a female lobster.

What’s the Best Way to Prepare Lobster Tails Before Cooking

Fully defrosted lobster tails can be cooked whole in the shell. The shell protects the meat from high heat cooking methods like boiling, steaming, and grilling. The shell also adds flavor to the tail meat. Lobster tails can also be prepped using the following methods:

  1. Piggyback Lobster Tails
  2. Butterfly Lobster Tails
  3. Fan-Cut Lobster Tails
  4. Split Lobster Tail 
  5. Remove the Tail Meat, Whole  

How to Piggyback a Lobster Tail

Prepping the lobster tail using this technique, the meat will rest on the top of the shell.

  1. Cut the upper shell down the center with scissors or chef knife.
  2. Leave the under-shell and tail fan attached.
  3. Pull apart the shell-halves so you can see the tail meat. Run fingers under meat to loosen it from the shell. Let the meat’s connection to the tail fan remain; it will act as a hinge.
  4. Lift the tail meat up through the split shell to rest on top of the shell. 
  5. Pinch the split shell closed under the meat to its original position. Position the meat on the back of the shell. Voila!
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How to Butterfly a Lobster Tail

The butterfly lobster tails prep allows the tail meat to absorb the complementary smoky tastes from grilling, roasting, broiling, or even baking. Butterfly lobster tails make it easy to marinade in advance, and baste while cooking.

  1. With kitchen shears, cut the upper shell down the center from the big end to where it meets the tail fan, but, leave fan-tail and the bottom shell intact.
  2. With fingers, pull apart and spread the shell halves apart so you can see the tail meat in the shell, but be sure to leave the bottom shell intact.

How to Fan-Cut a Lobster Tail

In this method the tail is cut off under-shell, leaving the tail fan in place. 

  1. Turn the lobster tail on its back. You’ll see the under-shell is protected by a much thinner, flat, and flexible membrane shell compared to the domed hard back-shell.
  2. With kitchen scissors, cut lengthwise from the big end to the fan-tail through the thin under-shell at both edges where it connects to the thick back-shell.
  3. Once cut, pull the under-shell up and snip it free where it connects to the tail-fan. Leave the tail-fan in place.
  4. Loosen the tail meat from inside the back-shell. The lobster meat will look as if nestled in a boat.

How to Split a Lobster Tail

In this method, the lobster tail is split completely in half, lengthways down the middle. The tail and meat will separate in two units, each facing up, each resting in its own split shell.

  1. Turn the lobster tail on its back, with the softer under-shell up.
  2. With a sharp chef’s knife, cut lengthwise through the under-shell and fan-tail, through the tail meat, and through the hard shell. 
  3. Aim to split the tail evenly in two, and completely in half.

How to Remove the Lobster Tail Meat, Whole

Removing the tail meat raw in one whole piece lends itself to butter poaching or gentle steaming.

  1. Turn the lobster tail on its back, with the softer under-shell up.
  2. With kitchen shears, starting from the big end to the fan-tail, cut a slit on each side of the back of the tail so the entire back membrane piece can be peeled back.
  3. Pull the middle of the underside membrane back like a band-aid.
  4. Pull back and crack both sides of the shell and carefully remove the tail in one whole piece. See our tips for how to crack and eat lobster.

How to Boil Lobster Tails

One of the easiest ways to cook lobster tails is to boil them.

Whole lobster tails or fan-cut lobster tails work best for boiling lobster tails.

For a simple boil cook, place them in boiling water – ensuring that the whole tail is covered – and then wait until the meat is bright white and shells turn red. If the tail is big, it is recommended to boil them to get a more even cook. Other applications also include par-boil or blanch tails (boil for about 2 minutes) and finish cooking on the grill or in the oven.

  1. Bring a medium to large pot (enough room for the water to circulate) of water to a boil.
  2. Drop tails in boiling water, when water reboils, lower and cook for the approximate times below.
  3. After cooking, the meat can be removed from the shell with kitchen shears or split to expose lobster meat.
  4. Serve with our amazing recipe for lemon butter.

How Long to Boil Lobster Tails

L 6-7 oz. lobster tails: Boil for about 5-6 minutes.
XL 8-10 oz. lobster tails: Boil for about 6-8 minutes
XL 16-20 oz. lobster tails: Boil for about 10 minutes
XXL:20-24 oz lobster tails: Boil for about 10-12 minutes

How to Steam Lobster Tails

Whole lobster tails, butterfly or split lobster tails work best for steaming. 

  1. Add 2 inches of water and bring to a boil.
  2. Once boiling, add tails, and cover lid tightly. Optional you can can use a steaming rack.
  3. Bring water to a re-boil and steam for the approximate times below.
  4. Serve with lemon quarters and clarified or melted butter.

How Long to Steam Lobster Tails

L: 6-7 oz.lobster tails: Steam for about 6-8 minutes
XL:8-10 oz.lobster tails: Steam for 8-10 minutes
XXL:16-20 oz.lobster tails: Steam for about 10-12 minutes
XXXL: 20-24 oz.lobster tails: Steam for about 10-12

How to Grill Lobster Tails

For preparing lobster tails for the grill, butterfly or split lobster tails work well.

  1. Cut or split tails down the middle with kitchen shears or a sharp knife.
  2. Rinse tails and remove intestinal vein and lobster’s tomalley.
  3. Brush flesh side of tails with butter or olive oil or your favorite marinade and place on a well-greased grill or rack.
  4. Cook tails on medium heat (not too hot) with the shell side.  Optionally you can flip tail and grill on the flesh side for just a couple of minutes.  Baste again, and finish grilling shell side down.
  5. Grill tails until just opaque in the thickest portion of the tail. Be careful to not overcook or tails will dry out and become rubbery.

It’s OK to char the shell side of the lobster tail, but be extra careful not to char the flesh side. The tail is done when the translucent raw meat turns opaque and the shell turns red.

Grilled Lobster Tails Recipes

Lobster Tail Marinades and Butters: Looking for ideas for what kind of marinate or butter sauce to use with lobster tails? See our tips for lobster tail sauces.

How Long to Grill Lobster Tails

L: 6-7 oz. lobster tails: Grill for about 6-8 minutes.
XL:8-10 oz. lobster tails: Grill for about 8-10 minutes
XXL:16-20 oz lobster tails: Grill for about 10-11 minutes
XXXL: 20-24 oz lobster tails: Grill for about 11-12 minutes

Want to learn how to barbecue a whole lobster? See our recipe for cooking live lobster on the grill.

How to Broil Lobster Tails

Be careful when broiling lobster tails. The high heat of the broiler can dry out your tails in no time. Another option is to bake tails (see below) and finish them in the broiler for just a couple minutes to get a golden brown finish.

  1. Preheat the broiler while prepping the tails.
  2. Split or piggyback tails and place on a cookie sheet or broiler pan with the shell side down.
  3. Brush meat with butter or olive oil, salt, and pepper or your favorite marinade.
  4. Broil 4-5 inches from heat for a little less than a minute per ounce (ie: an 8 oz tail would take about 7-8 minutes). Baste tails halfway through cooking. If your broiling large tails, broil farther away from the heat source by lowering the oven rack. Keep an eye on them!
  5. Garnish with Ritz crackers and add parsley and a dash of paprika for color.

Broiled Lobster Tails Recipes

How to Bake Lobster Tails

  1. Piggyback Lobster Tail: Cut the upper shell down the center of the back with scissors leaving the tail fan intact. Give the tail a good rinse and remove any intestinal vein and goop. Do not remove under-shell. Run fingers between the meat and the shell to loosen from each other. Lift uncooked tail through the slit to rest on top of the shell (you can put a little butter under tail too!)
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place prepared lobster tails on a baking sheet, brush each lobster tail with melted butter (Casco Bay Sea Salt Butter) and bake approximately 15 to 18 minutes (depending on tail weight) or until an instant-read thermometer registers an internal temperature of 140 degrees. Do not overcook.
  3. Remove from oven and serve with melted butter and lemon wedges.

How Long to Bake Lobster Tails

L: 6-7 oz. lobster tails: Bake for about 10-12  minutes.
XL:8-10 oz. lobster tails: Bake for about 12-15 minutes
XXL:16-20 oz. lobster tails: Bake for about 15-18 minutes
XXXL: 20-24 oz. lobster tails: Bake for about 18-20 minutes

How to Poach Lobster Tails

Lobster tail meat poached in a butter bath will yield tender meat.

  1. To poach lobster tails you first parboil or blanch tails (about 2-3 minutes, depending on size) just enough so that the meat can be removed from the shell.
  2. Using kitchen shears or a chef’s knife cut along the top shell of the tail, open remove the tail in one piece. Remove the digestive tract (black vein) and rinse out any green stuff (totally).
  3. Next gently poach the lobster meat in melted butter. This should be done at a gently simmer and never a boil.

See our recipe for butter poached lobster tails.

How to Prevent the Meat from Sticking to the Shell

It can be very frustrating when you paid good money for lobster tails and after you cooked them the meat comes out of the shell in bits and shredded pieces. Typically this occurs when grilling lobster tails. Here are some tips for how to prevent the meat from sticking to the shell:

  • Defrost fully. Always make sure your lobster tails are fully defrosted so the tail meat can cook evenly and prevent the meat from sticking to its shell. Review our tips for thawing frozen lobster tails.
  • Remove the shell. That’s right you can always remove the lobster meat from the shell before cooking (instructions below). The tail meat can also be gently lifted or loosened from the shell with your hands or even with a butter knife and lay back in the shell.
  • Blanch the lobster tail. Parboiling, or blanching, cooks the meat enough so that the meat can be removed from the shell. It’s a good method to use before grilling.
  • Submerge lobster tail in cold water. Plunge cooked lobster tails into ice water to stop the cooking process and to release the meat from the shell.

How Can You Tell Lobster Tails are Cooked?

There is only one way to ruin a good lobster tail and that’s by overcooking it! You can tell if your tails are done if the color of the meat turns from translucent to white or opaque color. Always remember to go by temperature and never by cook time alone. Here are some tips to tell if your lobster tails are done.

Lobster Tails Cooking Temperature
The ultimate test to check if the lobster tail is cooked is to use an instantread thermometer. Photo credit Hooked on BBQ.
  • To test one tail to see if it is done, use a knife to cut through the soft underside of the shell into the thickest part of the tail meat.
  • If it appears completely white with no translucent (grayish) color, then they are ready to serve.
  • If there is still some translucency, cook the the tails for one-minute increments until done.
  • The best indicator if the lobster tail is properly cooked is to check the internal temperature. Insert an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the tail. You’ll want to remove the tails from the heat at an internal temperature of about about 135-140°F.
  • Keep in mind tails will continue to cook after you remove them from the heat source.

To stop the cooking process place tails in a bath of ice water. Cooked lobster meat should be pure white, opaque and elastic. See if you can pull the tail meat out of the shell in one large piece!

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