How to Cook Lobster Tails

updated Feb 12, 2024

We found the four best ways to cook lobster tails for succulent, flavorful meat.

Serves4

Prep10 minutes

Cook6 minutes to 20 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Lobster tails may seem like a fancy meal that should be relegated to a special night out, but they’re actually quite simple to cook at home. The tails come frozen and ready to cook, and their meaty texture and sweet flavor pair well with just melted butter and a squeeze of lemon. Of course, you can also chop up the meat to make a killer lobster roll , lobster ravioli, or lobster risotto instead.

Depending on your kitchen equipment and how much time you have, there are a myriad of ways you can cook lobster tails. Here’s a guide to some of the most popular methods to cook lobster tails, so you can choose your own cooking adventure.

Quick Overview

Tips for Cooking Lobster Tails

  • Buy tails that are the same size. Try to get tails that are about the same size so the cooking time is consistent.
  • Thaw the lobster tails. Most lobster tails come frozen, so make sure you safely thaw it in the refrigerator overnight before cooking.
  • Butterfly them if you can. I like to butterfly the lobster tails first so that they cook evenly and are much easier to eat.
  • Use an ice bath if not eating immediately. If you’re not eating the tails immediately or plan to use them cold, plunge them into an ice water bath for a few minutes right after cooking to stop any carryover cooking. Dry them off, then take the meat out and refrigerate until ready to use.
  • Trust Martha. If you cook the tails whole, Martha Stewart has a wonderful tip on how to use a fork to get the tail meat out of the shell in one fell swoop!
Credit: Photo: Paola + Murray; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

How to Buy Lobster Tails

While we love to eat whole lobsters al fresco in the summertime, it can get a bit messy (but fun!). Lobster tails are much easier to serve. When shopping for lobster tails, there are two types you’ll find. Note that lobster tails can come in all different sizes, but if you’re planning on serving one per person as a main course, go for six to eight ounces each.

  • Maine lobsters are what you likely think of first (and they look like the ones you’ll find in seafood boils). They’re my personal favorite, as they have a sweeter flavor — but they can be more expensive and difficult to find.
  • Spiny or rock lobsters have no claws and are easier to find.

The 4 Best Ways to Cook Lobster Tails

Here are the four most common ways to cook lobster tail, along with the pros and cons about each method. Our recipe below will show you how to do each.

1. Boiling

  • Pros: It’s the quickest cooking method (although you need time to bring the water up to a boil) and requires no prep.
  • Cons: Boiling uses a lot of water and meat can cook unevenly.

2. Steaming

  • Pros: Steaming uses less water than boiling and happens fairly quickly. You can also steam whole or butterflied lobster tails.
  • Cons: You may need to work in a few batches.

3. Baking

  • Pros: Baking is a hands-off cooking method that yields evenly cooked and flavorful meat. Plus, it requires very little water. (This is my favorite method.)
  • Cons: You’ll need to butterfly the lobster tails first, and cook time is the longest.

4. Grilling

  • Pros: No water is needed, and you can baste the lobster tails with butter or sauce while they’re grilling.
  • Cons: You’ll need to butterfly the lobster tails first. Grilling takes longer than boiling or steaming.

Do You Season Lobster Water? 

If you are boiling the lobster tails, you should season the water so that the meat gets salted as it cooks. If you are steaming or baking the lobster tails, you don’t need to add salt to the water, as the meat doesn’t actually come in contact with the water.

How Do You Know When Lobster Is Done?

Lobster is done when it is no longer opaque or an instant-read thermometer registers 135°F to 140°F in the thickest part. Unfortunately, overcooked lobster is really chewy and rubbery, so do your best to get it just cooked. Also know that if you don’t serve the lobster right away, it will go up a few degrees in temperature due to carryover cooking, so you can stop cooking it if the internal temperature is at the lower end of the temperature range.

How To Cook Lobster Tails

We found the four best ways to cook lobster tails for succulent, flavorful meat.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 6 minutes to 20 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 to 4

    (6 to 8-ounce) lobster tails, thawed if frozen

  • 4

    wooden skewers, if boiling or steaming whole

  • Salt, if boiling

  • Melted butter and lemon wedges, for serving (optional)

For grilling:

  • Vegetable or olive oil

Instructions

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  1. Thaw the lobster tails. If the lobster tails are frozen, place on a plate or baking sheet and refrigerate overnight to thaw. Butterfly the tails for the most even cooking if baking or grilling. Leave the tails whole if boiling. For steaming, you can butterfly or leave the tails whole.

Butterfly the tails if needed:

  1. Cut the lobster tails. Pat the lobster tails dry and arrange hard shell-side up on a cutting board. Using kitchen shears and starting from the thicker end, cut lengthwise through the top shell on each tail, stopping when you get to the end of the tail.

  2. Loosen the meat from the shell. Using your fingers, gently pry the meat away from the top shell on either side by working your thumb between the shell and the meat. Gently pry the meat up and away from the bottom shell. All the meat should come out of the shell easily at this point. Place the meat back in the shell.

  3. Split the meat. Using a chef’s knife or the kitchen shears, cut the tail meat in half lengthwise from where the shell was split, stopping when you get the bottom shell (do not cut through the bottom shell). Open the tail up like a book, and gently press down to flatten if needed (cover with a towel before flattening if the shell is sharp).

Cooking Method #1: Boiling

  1. Do not butterfly the tails before cooking. Starting at the fleshy end of each tail, insert a wooden skewer through the tail meat as close to the shell as possible until you reach the other end of the tail so that it will not curl up when cooking. Break off any extra skewer.

  2. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the lobster tails and boil uncovered until opaque all the way through and the internal temperature registers 135 to 140ºF, 6 to 8 minutes. Using tongs, remove the tails from the water.

Cooking Method #2: Steaming

  1. Butterfly or leave the tails whole. If leaving whole, starting at the fleshy end of each tail, insert a wooden skewer through the tail meat as close to the shell as possible until you reach the other end of the tail so that it will not curl up when cooking. Break off any extra skewer.

  2. Use a wide steamer that will fit the tails in one or two layers. Fill the steamer with water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the lobster tails to the steamer (flesh-side up if butterflied). Cover (or leave the lid slightly ajar if it threatens to boil over) and steam until opaque all the way through and the internal temperature registers 135 to 140ºF, 4 to 5 minutes if butterflied or 6 to 9 minutes if left whole.

Cooking Method #3: Baking

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 425ºF. Butterfly the tails. Place flesh-side up in a single layer in a baking dish just large enough to hold them. Add enough water to the baking dish to just cover the bottom. Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil. Bake until opaque all the way through and the internal temperature registers 130 to 135ºF, 15 to 20 minutes.

Cooking Method #4: Grilling

  1. Heat an outdoor grill to medium heat, 350ºF to 400ºF. Butterfly the tails. When the grill is ready, scrub the grill grates clean if needed. Brush the lobster meat lightly with vegetable or olive oil. Place on the grill flesh-side down with the thicker end closer to the hotter parts of the grill. Cover the grill and cook until grill marks appear on the bottom, about 5 minutes.

  2. Flip the tails. Cover and grill until the lobster meat is opaque all the way through and the internal temperature registers 135 to 140ºF, 3 to 5 minutes more.

  1. Serve the lobster tails. Serve the lobster tails with melted butter for dipping and lemon wedges if desired.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The lobster tails can be butterflied up to 4 hours ahead. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

Storage: Leftover cooked lobster meat can be removed from the shells and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.