How to Cook Lobster Tails

October 20, 2016

Buttered lobster tails, lobster sushi rolls, lobster mac and cheese—the possibilities are endless when it comes to cooking this delicious seafood.

Considered king of the sea, lobster has long been synonymous with luxury. Though it can be more expensive than other options like shrimp or crab, it can be well worth the splurge sometimes. From taste to nutrition, there are a number of benefits to eating lobster.

But, it can be rather difficult to cook if you have never done so before. Here’s how you to shop for the right kind, get it home, and prepare properly to make sure your dish is as special as the crustacean itself.

Nutritional benefits of lobster tails

When trying to rationalize the splurge on lobster, it may be helpful to know that this seafood can be an incredibly good source of lean protein, and also has a very low saturated fat content. Additional nutritional value comes from:

  • High protein content, which is the essential building block of the human body, used to create tissue and muscle, as well as skin, hair, and nails
  • Excellent source of vitamin B12, an essential vitamin that converts food into energy
  • Good source of zinc, which keeps the immune system in optimal working order
  • High content of selenium, needed for thyroid function and production of DNA
  • Good source of phosphorus, important for the strength of bones and teeth
  • Zero trans fats, which leads to good heart health
  • Low glycemic index, meaning that it won’t affect blood sugar levels

Like most fish, lobster also delivers a good amount of essential omega-3 fatty acids that the body is unable to produce, but needs for brain health and other key body functions.

However, it’s important to note that lobster can be high in sodium and cholesterol so you may want to limit the amount you eat, particularly if you are on a restrictive diet. As well, it’s best not to add loads of butter or salt to the dish, which will tack on even more sodium and cholesterol.

Live lobster vs. lobster tails

One of the first things you’ll have to decide is whether you want to buy a whole, live lobster or just bring home lobster tails. In order to get the freshest possible lobster, the best option is to purchase a live one and take it home the same day you want to cook it. This ensures fresh taste and the best quality on your dinner plate.

However, buying a live lobster does bring some level of trepidation and inconvenience to actually transport it home and prepare it. As well, live lobster will cost more, but you will get more meat for your money.

If opting for live lobster, focus on a healthy specimen that is the right size for your meal. If you’d rather go for lobster tails, there are a few more things to know.

Buying lobster tails

There is one key thing to always remember with lobster tails—cold water usually means better lobster. That’s why Maine is often thought of as the home of the best lobster in the country, fished from the more frigid Atlantic waters.

That’s because cold water means it will take the lobster longer to grow, which means the meat will usually be more tender and taste better. You can always ask your local seafood specialist where their lobster originated from; if they don’t have a clear answer, you can also check the tails yourself—avoid dark spots since those are generally a sign that lobsters have come from a warmer location.

There are a few other basic points to know:

  • Look for tails that are about six to 12 ounces in size. These is the prime size, when the lobster has reached its growth potential and the meat is at its best.
  • Avoid tails that have any kind of gray tone or with meat that looks discolored in any way—this usually means that it’s not fresh.
  • Never buy thawed lobster tails. If you’re not buying live lobster and aren’t located somewhere directly on the sea where lobster is caught, frozen is a better option.
  • If you buy frozen tails, be sure that they’re not boxed up—you want to be able to actually inspect the tails before paying for them.

A note on imitation lobster

If your preference is to buy bagged lobster meat or pre-made goodies like lobster cakes, know that what you are getting may actually be imitation lobster. Imitation lobster is generally a blend of Pollock fish and lobster meat, and often has added preservatives and flavorings. While it may appear to be a more affordable option, there is no replacing the real thing. Always check the packaging to ensure that you’re buying real lobster tails, not imitation lobster meat.

Lobster Tails

Cooking lobster tails

The next step is, of course, to prepare the lobster tails at home. It’s more than just throwing lobster in a pot of boiling water; in fact, there are many ways to prepare lobster tails, each of which provides a different taste and texture in the final result. Play around with each cooking method to find the one that you like best.


Boiling is the most common method of preparation, and probably the easiest. If you have frozen tails, the first step is to place them into a bath of cold water for about a half-hour so they completely thaw. Larger tails may need a longer period of time (and may need additional water).

You’ll know the tails are thawed when they feel somewhat flexible to the touch. At this point, you’ll also want to remove the dark colored line running along the tail, which is the digestive tract, and should be discarded. When ready, follow these next steps:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Next, add seasonings to the water—this step is optional, but if you want your meat to have more flavor, you might opt for minced garlic or garlic powder, or a pre-mixed seasoning packet.
  2. Gently drop the tails into the pot, one at a time.
  3. Allow the water to return to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer.
  4. Let the tails simmer for three to four minutes. You don’t want to overdo the cooking time, which could make the meat more tough and chewy than tender.
  5. Remove one of the tails from the pot of water, and inspect it to make sure it’s ready to eat. To do so, cut into the underside at the part where the meat is the thickest and look for totally white flesh with no gray color. If there is gray, return to the pot and let boil for another minute.


Grilling has also become a very popular method of cooking lobster tails, allowing a more interesting taste while also making it possible to add more dense seasonings as the tails cook. Follow the instructions above for thawing frozen lobster tails, and then get grilling:

  1. Bring a pot of water to a soft boil. Then submerge the tails for just about a minute each to partly boil.
  2. Slide a metal skewer into each tail, lengthwise. This step is optional, but it will help keep the tail from curling while cooking.
  3. Cut through the shell along the middle, lengthwise. Pry open the shell and pour melted butter, lemon juice, and any other seasonings you like right onto the meat.
  4. Place tails cut side up onto the grill, which should be preheated to medium. Only leave on for about two to three minutes to avoid overcooking.


Broiling is another option that makes it easy to enjoy lobster tails at home. Begin with the same thawing process used above, and then follow these steps:

  1. Cut the lobster shell lengthwise with a sharp knife or shears. Some of the meat may end up being cut by doing this, but that’s okay.
  2. Pry open the shell with your hands, starting at the base, and loosen the meat moving ever so slightly along the length of the tail. Then, lift the meat through the opening at top, leaving a portion still attached at the tail.
  3. Brush the meat with butter and add desired seasonings, then broil for four minutes.
  4. After four minutes, remove the tail, again baste with butter and seasonings, and then broil for another three minutes.

The all-important side dishes to pair with lobster tails

As with any other kind of meat-based dishes, sides matter. Here are tasty options to pair with lobster tails that can be as healthy as they are delicious.

Parsnip-Apple Puree

Most steakhouses pair their thick cuts and fresh seafood with a side of potatoes. But if you’re trying to be healthy, you can get the same effect with this recipe that whips up parsnips and green apples with coconut milk, ghee, and a mix of flavorful seasonings.

Grilled Romaine Salad with Avocado Lime Dressing

While you have the grill fired up after searing your lobster, cook your salad as well. Yes, romaine lettuce tastes great when charred—allowing the outer leaves to soften while the base remains crunchy. Prepare an avocado-lime dressing to go with it, and top with boiled eggs and parmesan cheese.

Roasted Broccolini with Nori Salt

A side of broccoli is another chophouse staple. This recipe uses its more slim and mild cousin, broccolini, prepared Japanese style with nori, coconut aminos, and sesame oil.

Photo credits: Alicia Cho

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