Grilled lobster tails are a fast yet fancy way to serve seafood when the weather outside is just too nice to stay indoors. Despite the hefty price tag, good-quality frozen lobster tails are pretty easy to find, making them an especially good choice if fresh seafood is hard to come by where you live. Instead of going the standard route of dipping the lobster in melted butter, spend a few extra minutes making a garlic butter and you’ll be rewarded with something extra special. Here’s how to do it.
Clawed vs. Clawless Lobsters
While there are lots of different kinds of lobster out there, the crustaceans fall into two main categories: clawed lobsters and those without claws. The most common and popular clawed lobster is the Maine (also known as American or Northern) lobster, which comes from the cold waters off the northern Atlantic coast. It has two distinctive meaty front claws and four more pairs of legs, and it is what’s most often depicted when you see pictures of whole steamed lobsters. Lobsters without claws, known as spiny or rock lobsters, have five sets of legs that are all the same size and often live in warmer waters, like those the Caribbean and off the coast of Florida. All of the edible meat in spiny lobsters is in the tail.
Buying and Thawing Lobster Tails
Frozen lobster tails can be from clawed or clawless lobsters. There are a couple of ways to tell which ones are being sold. Check the package or ask the fishmonger for the region the lobster was caught in. If it doesn’t say, take a look at the color: Maine lobster tails are generally dark green-brown with hints of red. Spiny lobsters are lighter in color, with a range of relatively pale yellows and browns, and some have distinctive spots. Maine lobster tails are prized for their sweet flavor and are more expensive than spiny lobster tails, which don’t cook up as sweet. Both are fine choices for grilling, but if I had to pick one over the other, I’d go with Maine lobster tails.
Because lobsters must be cooked or frozen immediately after they’re killed, raw lobster tails are always sold frozen. Instead of removing the tails from whole fresh lobster, I find it easier to buy frozen lobster tails since they’re usually processed and flash frozen soon after they’re caught. I usually buy one 6- to 8-ounce lobster tail per person, although you can always go smaller or larger depending on what else you’re serving or what your store carries.
The best way to defrost lobster tails safely and evenly is to put them on a plate or baking sheet in a single layer in the refrigerator and let them thaw for about 24 hours. This keeps them at a safe temperature and thaws them more evenly than leaving them out at room-temperature or thawing them under cold running water.
Preparing and Grilling Lobster Tails
Once the lobster tails are thawed, there’s a little more prep that needs to be done before they hit the grill. Because of their shape — one end is significantly thicker than the other — cooking them evenly is difficult if you keep them whole. To make sure they cook evenly and to create a wide, flat surface for melting the garlic butter, butterfly the tails first.
Butterflying means to halve something into two thinner, more even pieces. For a lobster tail, this means cutting through the hard shell with kitchen shears, then slicing the tail meat in half so that it can open up flat like a book. One other step worth doing is using your fingers to loosen the meat from the shell, which will make it easier to remove the meat once the lobster is cooked. Once butchered properly, the lobster tail meat will cook up evenly without the need for skewers or other tools to keep it from curling up.
To grill the lobster tails, place them meaty-side down on a really hot grill for a few minutes to get some grill marks. Once they release easily from the grill grates, flip them over and top with an easy-to-make garlic butter (the tails will finish cooking as the garlic butter melts). The total cook time depends on the size of the tail. You want the meat to be just cooked through, so aim for an internal temperature of 135 to 140ºF. Serve with lemon wedges for a nice bright pop of flavor to cut through the richness of the garlic butter and the sweetness of the lobster meat.
How to Make Grilled Lobster Tail with Garlic Butter
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 8 minutes to 10 minutes
(6 to 8-ounce) lobster tails, thawed if frozen
- 4 tablespoons
(1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 2 cloves
- 1 tablespoon
fresh parsley leaves
- 1 teaspoon
kosher salt, divided
- 1 teaspoon
vegetable or olive oil
Thaw the lobster. If the lobster tails are frozen, place on a plate or baking sheet and refrigerate overnight to thaw.
Soften the butter. Place 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a small bowl and let sit at room temperature until softened.
Heat the grill. Heat an outdoor grill to medium heat, 350ºF to 400ºF. Meanwhile, prepare the garlic butter and lobster.
Prepare the garlic butter and lemon wedges. Cut 1/2 medium lemon into 4 wedges for serving. Finely chop 2 garlic cloves and 1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves. Add the garlic, parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt to the butter and smash with a fork until well combined.
Cut the lobster shells. Pat 4 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.
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.
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).
Grill the first side. When the grill is ready, scrub the grill grates clean if needed. Brush the lobster meat with 1 teaspoon vegetable or olive oil, then season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. 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.
Grill the second side with the garlic butter. Flip the tails and divide the garlic butter onto the meat. Cover and grill until the lobster meat is just cooked through and the garlic butter is melted, 3 to 5 minutes more. The meat should register between 135 and 140ºF in the thickest part. Transfer to a platter and serve with the lemon wedges.
Make ahead: The lobster tails can be cut up and the garlic butter made up to 4 hours ahead. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Larger lobster tails: If using 10-ounce lobster tails, grill 5 minutes on the first side and about 7 minutes on the second side.
Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 2 days.