October 16, 2021

Lobster: How to Cook Lobster Tail

Read Time:18 Minute, 33 Second

Lobster: How to Cook Lobster Tail

This is the ultimate guide to cooking lobster at home, from buying and cleaning, to butterflying and preparing. Post includes our favorite recipe for flavorful, buttery, lobster you won’t be able to get enough of.

Cooked lobster tail on a white plate with parsley and lemon wedge, with the words How to cook lobster tail as an overlay

For this post I took the exact same recipe for garlic buttery lobster, and prepared it using different methods. And let me tell you, my family was very happy with the recipe testing for lobster tails. And the results were really fun!

Lobster is rich, creamy, delicious, and flavorful, and one of the yummiest things you can eat. And the lobster tail is the sweetest part with the most meat, so it is no wonder it is what is most often featured on menus.

However, lobster is also expensive. Making it at home is easy, and cost effective. But lobster still costs more per pound than chicken. Which means, you want to make sure you prepare it right and not waste your money. There are several different ways it can be prepared. It can be baked, broiled, grilled, steamed, pressure cooked, and even boiled. So what is the best way to cook a lobster tail?

Let’s take a look at all the ways to cook lobster, and what you should know about each. There is only one way to ruin a good lobster tail and that’s by overcooking it! So let’s cover how to find a good lobster tail, how to thaw it, butterfly and clean it, and the various methods for cooking lobster tail so you can become an expert at cooking lobster at home.

Before you ever start cooking lobster you need to buy it and prepare it. All great dishes start with great ingredients, so let’s look at how to buy the perfect lobster tail.

How to Buy Frozen Lobster Tail

If you are cooking lobster tail you are likely cooking for a special occasion, and it would be such a shame to have your lobster turn out mushy, or tough, or have a bad flavor or smell. Which means, the first step in cooking lobster is picking a good tail to cook.  I have created an entire guide for how to buy lobster tail which you can find here: Lobster Tail Buying Guide.

While I have an entire guide, here are the main things you need to know. Most lobster tail available at grocers is going to come frozen. When purchasing frozen lobster tail, there three main things to look for or know:

  1. Is the lobster tail from warm water or cold water lobster?  It is best to choose cold water.
  2. The size of the tail. The optimal size is 5-12 ounces for flavor and tenderness.
  3. Has the tail has been “glazed” or soaked in sodium tripoyphosphate prior to freezing? These are processes used for preserving the lobster tail, but can add extra water weight, and aren’t ideal. Avoid when possible.

Truthfully, unless you are shopping at a high end grocer, or a specialty fish shop, your chances of getting really high quality lobster tail is low. You may be better off ordering your lobster online and having it shipped to you. But of course, don’t let this stop you. You can pick up lobster at your grocer, and prepare it at home and still have it turn out great! Just make sure to use precautions.

A package of lobster with a sticker that shows it is cold water lobster tails

Tips for Buying Lobster:

  • Avoid buying tails that have any discoloration in the meat: black spots or yellowing.
  • Avoid tails that have been soaked in sodium tripoyphosphate prior to freezing.
  • Tails should not have any grayish coloring.
  • Buy frozen, avoid already thawed lobster tails,  as they should be cooked immediately once thawed.
  • Choose tails ranging from 5-12 ounces in size.
  • Buy from a reputable store or fish counter.
  • Buy cold water tails if they are available, they cost more, but are better quality.

You can tell if your tails are done if the color of the meat turns from translucent to a white or opaque color.

If using an instant read thermometer, you want the internal temperature of about 140°F.

If you do not have an instant read thermometer, use a sharp knife to cut into the thickest part of the tail meat. If it is completely white, with no translucent or grayish color, then it is ready to serve. If there is that grayish color, cook a little longer. But be careful to not overcook.

Note: tails will continue to cook after you remove them from the heat source, if you want to completely stop the cooking process, submerge in an ice bath. 

How to Cook Lobster:

Whether you choose to bake, broil, poach, steam, grill, cook in a pressure cooker or air fryer, you can’t go wrong with lobster! The following are basic instructions for each method for cooking lobster.

Bake Lobster

One way to cook lobster, and avoid rubbery or tough tail meat is to bake it in butter and seasonings. Oh yum!

Baked Lobster Tail with a garlic butter and herb mixture

  1. Butterfly the lobster as per the directions above.
  2. Clean and remove any intestinal vein etc. if you didn’t do so already.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. Place prepared lobster tails on a baking sheet.
  5. Brush with butter and seasonings of choice.
  6. Bake around 7 to 18 minutes (depending on tail weight)/ until an instant-read thermometer reads 140-145 degrees. Do not overcook.
  7. Remove from oven.
  8. Optional: Place under broiler for 1-2 minutes to get a golden finish

Estimated Baking Times:

S: 3-4 ounces, 7-8 minutes
M: 5-6 ounces, 10-12  minutes.
L:7-9 ounces, 12-15 minutes
XL:9+ ounces, 15-18 minutes
Bake until opaque and reaches temperature of 140 degrees F.

Broil Lobster

Broiling lobster is my go to method as it is simple, and usually turns out deliciously, especially if you top with butter!

Broiled Lobster on a white plate with parsley and lemon wedge

  1. Pre-heat oven broiler to high heat, place rack on highest setting unless cooking large lobster tails (9 ounces +) in which case, place on middle height.
  2. Butterfly and clean lobster tails.
  3. Place on a baking sheet or broiler pan with the shell side down.
  4. Brush meat with butter and seasonings.
  5. Broil 4-5 inches from heat for around 1 minute per ounce. If broiling large tails, broil farther away from the heat source
  6. Baste tails with additional butter when done cooking.

Estimated Broiling Times:

S: 3-4 ounces, 6-8 minutes
M: 5-6 ounces, 10-11  minutes.
L:7-9 ounces, 12-15 minutes
XL:9+ ounces, 15-18 minutes
Broil lobster meat until opaque and white in center, and/or 140˚F.

Poach Lobster

To poach lobster you will start by parboiling it, then adding it to butter to finish cooking in butter.

  1. Parboil or blanch tails (about 2-3 minutes, depending on size) just enough so that the meat can be removed from the shell.
  2. Butterfly the lobster, but instead of setting on top of the shell, remove the meat in one piece.
  3. Clean and remove the vein and any goop.
  4. Gently poach the lobster meat in melted butter by simmering them gently (DO NOT BOIL).
  5. When internal temp reaches 140 degrees F. remove and rest for 2-3 minutes.
  6. Serve and enjoy.

Estimated Poaching Time

S: 3-4 ounces, 3-5 minutes
M: 5-6 ounces, 6-8  minutes.
L:7-9 ounces, 11-12 minutes
XL:9+ ounces, 15 minutes

Grill Lobster

Note: It’s OK to char the shell side of the lobster tail, but be extra careful not to char the flesh.

  1. Butterfly and clean lobster tails as per instructions above.
  2. Preheat grill to a medium heat (350-375 degrees)
  3. Brush lobster with butter and seasoning.
  4. Grease grill or rack well.
  5. Cook tails with the shell side on the rack until shells turn red and meat begins to turn from translucent to opaque.
  6. Flip tail and grill on flesh side for just a couple of minutes.
  7. Baste with butter, and finish grilling shell side down until internal temp reaches 140 degrees F. Be care to not overcook or tails will be dry and rubbery.

Estimated Grilling Times

S: 3-4 ounces, 4-5 minutes
M: 5-6 ounces, 6-8  minutes.
L:7-9 ounces, 8-11 minutes
XL:9+ ounces, 10-12 minutes

Instant Pot Lobster

Did you know you could cook your lobster in your pressure cooker or instant pot? You need a steamer basket, but it is a quick and efficient way to cook lobster tail. Also check out my guide for using the Instant Pot so you don’t end up accidentally flavoring the lobster with a smelly sealing ring, or ruining it by doing something wrong.

Instant Pot Cooked Lobster topped with butter and parsley and garlic

  1. Thaw: If frozen, allow the lobster tails to fully thaw before prepping. While many instant pot recipes can be prepared from frozen, lobster is not one of them. It will result in tough and rubbery lobster. 
  2. Butterfly and clean according to instructions above
  3. Add Salted Water to the bottom of the Instant Pot (1 cup water 1 1/2 tsps salt)
  4. Add any desired seasonings to the Instant Pot.
  5. Place Steamer Basket inside the Instant Pot.
  6. Adjust the Steamer Basket so it is partially close, and the opening is just wide enough to place the lobster tails standing up inside.
  7. Place lobster tails in steamer basket, so they are standing up inside.
  8. Brush the lobster tails with melted butter and seasoning of choice.
  9. Place lid on Instant pot, and lock into place, set vent to “sealing” and cook tails for 2 minutes on LOW pressure. 
  10. Quick release pressure, and open the Instant Pot.
  11. Use an instant read thermometer to check the temperature, and allow lobster to sit in pot and continue cooking until temp reaches 140 degrees F. 
  12. Serve and Enjoy

Boil Lobster

This is how I learned to cook lobster growing up, but find that sometimes all that water can mean less flavor in the lobster meat, so this is my least favorite method unless cooking a larger lobster tail.

Boiled lobster tail topped with garlic butter and parsley

One of the easiest ways to cook lobster tails is to boil them,  this is particularly effective for big tails, as it promotes even cooking. However, I suggest only par-boiling, and finishing cooking using another method such as grilling or baking/broiling for better flavor.

  1. Bring a medium to large pot of water to a boil. Make sure the pot is large enough that once the lobster tail is inserted, the water has room to circulate.
  2. Once water boils, add tails, and allow water to come back up to a boil.
  3. Once back to boiling, lower temperature, and cook until done.
  4. Remove meat from the shell with kitchen shears.
  5. Serve with butter and season after cooking.

Estimated Boiling Times

6-7 ounces, 5-6 minutes.
8-10 ounces, 6-8 minutes
16-20 ounces, 10 minutes
20+ ounces, 10-12 minutes

Steam Lobster Tails

Steaming lobster tails brings out the bright reds of the shell, and makes for a clean, flavorful taste to the tail meat. This is a quick method, and because you butterfly the tail before steaming, it is easy to watch it and see when it is done cooking.

Steamed lobster tail on a wood plate with parsley and lemon wedges

  1. Butterfly and clean lobster according to above directions.
  2. In a large pot with a lid, add 2 inches of water, and place on medium high heat.
  3. Bring to a boil.
  4. Once boiling, add lobster tails, and cover with a lid.  Or use a steaming rack with lid.
  5. Steam until cooked through (internal temp of 140 degrees)
  6. Serve with lemon and butter.

Estimated Steaming Times

6-7 ounces, 6-8 minutes.
8-10 ounces, 8-10 minutes
16+ ounces, 10-12 minutes

Air Fry Lobster

One of my favorite gadget, the air fryer is making my life so much easier, and even works for cooking lobster. The downside is not being able to see the lobster tails, so not knowing for sure how long it needs to cook through. I always start with 4 minutes, then add more based on the size of the tail. But within 6 minutes, you get a delicious, fully cooked lobster tail. How amazing is that?

Air fryer lobster tail on a white plate with parsley and lemon wedge with an airfryer behind the plate

  1. Preheat your air fryer to 380F
  2. Butterfly and clean lobster tail according to above directions.
  3. Brush lobster with the melted butter, and season.
  4. Place the lobster tails in the air fryer basket and air fry at 380F for 4 minutes.
  5. Add the more butter
  6. Air fry for and additional 2 minutes or until internal temp reaches 140 degrees F.

I love lobster, and when I am out to eat, and visit somewhere like Red Lobster I don’t even look at the red lobster menu. I already know, I want lobster, and usually broiled with a garlic butter sauce. But man the price tag is hefty. And I have to ask what the market price is for lobster that day. So instead of the hassle and expense, I decided to learn how to prepare lobster myself. And not just prepare it, but explore all the different options to determine which is the absolute best way to cook lobster tails, from purchasing it to serving it. My personal favorite is to broil it, but I suggest trying the different methods out for yourself to determine which you like best.

And don’t forget, lemon, clarified butter, or melted butter, and a little bit of salt and pepper go a long way to enhancing and highlighting the amazing flavors of lobster!

Serving Suggestions:

Lobster tail is the kind of main that stands on it’s own for flavor, which means sides should be kept fairly simple. My favorite sides to serve with lobster tail are as follows:

Cooked lobster tail on a white plate with parsley and lemon wedge, with the words How to cook lobster tail as an overlay

Garlic Butter Lobster Tails

Everything you need to know to cook Garlic Butter Lobster Tails: Several methods, how to butterfly the lobster tails, clean them, and cook them for a great lobster dinner at home. 

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Course: Main Course

Cuisine: American

Keyword: how to cook lobster, how to cook lobster tails, lobster tails

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Servings: 2

Calories: 157kcal

Ingredients

  • 2 lobster tails cold water, 4-8 ounces
  • 2 Tbs butter salted
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp parsley chopped fine
  • 2 lemon wedges

Instructions

Thaw Lobster Before Preparing

Butterfly Lobster Tails

  • Use kitchen shears to cut from the top of the lobster tail to the base.

  • Flip lobster tail over, and use thumbs to crack the ribs, pressing down until you hear them crack. 

  • Flip lobster tail back over, and use fingers to separate the lobster meat from the shell, being careful not to cut your fingers. 

  • Gently lift the lobster tail meat out of the shell, leaving attached at end. Place over top of the shell. 

  • Clean lobster tails by removing digestive tract, and rinse off.

Butter Garlic Herb Sauce

  • In a small microwave safe dish, melt butter in microwave by heating for 20-30 seconds.

  • Stir in minced garlic and fresh, finely chopped parsley,  and set aside. 

BroilIng

  • Move oven rack to the highest setting, then Pre-heat oven broiler to high.

  • Place butterflied lobster tail in a baking dish or broiler pan with the shell side down, so meat will be closest part the top oven element. Set aside

  • Carefully spoon butter mixture over lobster meat. Reserve some for after cooking.

  • Broil 4-5 inches from heat for around 1.25 minutes per ounce. If broiling large tails, broil farther away from the heat source (approximately 6-8 minutes)

  • Remove from oven, use a meat thermometer to test doneness (140 degrees F.) or check that meat is no longer translucent, but rather white or opaque.

  • Remove from baking dish, and serve with remaining butter, and a squeeze of lemon.

Baking Lobster Tails

  • With oven rack at the middle setting, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

  • Place cleaned and butterflied lobster tails in a baking dish.

  • Brush with butter and garlic herb mixture.

  • Bake around 7 to 18 minutes (depending on tail weight)/ until an instant-read thermometer reads 140 degrees. Do not overcook.

  • Remove from oven.  Optional: Place under broiler for 1-2 minutes to get a golden finish

  • Finish with additional butter, and a squeeze of lemon. 

Poaching Instructions

  • Add water to a deep pot, and bring to a boil.

  • Parboil or blanch tails (add to water and let boil about 2-3 minutes, depending on size) just enough so that the meat can be removed from the shell.

  • Butterfly the lobster, but instead of setting on top of the shell, remove the meat in one piece.

  • Clean and remove the vein and any goop.

  • In a large skillet, add butter plus additional butter, and gently poach the lobster meat in melted butter by simmering them gently (DO NOT BOIL).

  • When internal temp reaches 140degrees F. remove and rest for 2-3 minutes.

  • Serve and enjoy.

Grilling Instructions

  • Preheat grill to a medium heat (350-375 degrees)

  • Brush lobster with butter mixture. Reserve some for basting later. 

  • Grease grill rack well with oil or additional butter.

  • Cook tails with the shell side on the rack until shells turn red and meat begins to turn from translucent to opaque. (3-5 minutes)

  • Flip tail and grill on flesh side for just a couple of minutes to add some flavor.

  • Baste with butter, and finish grilling shell side down until internal temp reaches 140 degrees F. Be care to not overcook or tails will be dry and rubbery.

  • Serve with lemon wedges. 

Pressure Cooker Instructions

  • Thaw: If frozen, allow the lobster tails to fully thaw before prepping. While many instant pot recipes can be prepared from frozen, lobster is not one of them. It will result in tough and rubbery lobster. 

  • Butterfly and clean according to instructions above. Add Salted Water to the bottom of the Instant Pot (1 cup water 1 1/2 tsps salt)

  • Add any desired seasonings to the Instant Pot. 1 clove of garlic and some salt is recommended. 

  • Place Steamer Basket inside the Instant Pot. Adjust the Steamer Basket so it is partially closed, and the opening is just wide enough to place the lobster tails standing up inside.

  • Place lobster tails in steamer basket, so they are standing up inside.

  • Brush the lobster tails with butter mixture. Reserving some for serving. 

  • Place lid on Instant pot, and lock into place, set vent to “sealing” and cook tails for 2 minutes on LOW pressure.

  • Quick release pressure, and open the Instant Pot. 

  • Use an instant read thermometer to check the temperature, and allow lobster to sit in pot and continue cooking until temp reaches 140 degrees F.

  • Serve with lemon wedges and additional butter mixture and Enjoy

Boiling Instructions

  • Do not butterfly lobster first! 

  • Bring a medium to large pot of water to a boil. Make sure the pot is large enough that once the lobster tail is inserted, the water has room to circulate.

  • Once water boils, add tails, and allow water to come back up to a boil.

  • Once back to boiling, lower temperature, and cook until done. The shell should be red, and the meat white. 

  • Use kitchen shears to butterfly lobster, wash off any green good and remove digestive track if it is there.

  • Serve by spooning butter mixture over the top, and squeezing lemon over it all.

Steaming Instructions

  • Butterfly and clean lobster according to above directions.

  • In a large pot with a lid and steamer basket, add 2 inches of water, and place on medium high heat. Cover pot with a lid.

  • Bring to a boil. Once boiling, remove the lid, and . add lobster tails to the steamer basket, cover with a lid. 

  • Steam until cooked through (internal temp of 140 degrees)

  • Serve by brushing with butter mixture and squeezing lemon over the top.

Air Fryer Instructions

  • Preheat your air fryer to 380F

  • Butterfly and clean lobster tail according to above directions.

  • Brush lobster with the butter mixture,  reserving some to add later.

  • Place the lobster tails in the air fryer basket and air fry at 380F for 4 minutes.

  • Add the additional butter, as this will help keep the lobster from drying out while it finishes cooking. 

  • Air fry for and additional 2 minutes or until internal temp reaches 140 degrees F.

Video

Notes

If cooking a lobster tail larger than 9 ounces, move oven rack down to middle setting. If meat is slightly pink, this just means it is from a female lobster, nothing to worry about.
Estimated Baking Times:
S: 3-4 ounces, 7-8 minutes
M: 5-6 ounces, 10-12  minutes.
L:7-9 ounces, 12-15 minutes
XL:9+ ounces, 15-18 minutes
Bake until opaque and reaches temperature of 140 degrees F.
 
Estimated Broiling Times:
S: 3-4 ounces, 6-8 minutes
M: 5-6 ounces, 10-11  minutes.
L:7-9 ounces, 12-15 minutes
XL:9+ ounces, 15-18 minutes
Broil lobster meat until opaque and white in center, and/or 140˚F.
 
Estimated Poaching Time
S: 3-4 ounces, 3-5 minutes
M: 5-6 ounces, 6-8  minutes.
L:7-9 ounces, 11-12 minutes
XL:9+ ounces, 15 minutes
 
Estimated Grilling Times
S: 3-4 ounces, 4-5 minutes
M: 5-6 ounces, 6-8  minutes.
L:7-9 ounces, 8-11 minutes
XL:9+ ounces, 10-12 minutes
 
Estimated Boiling Times
6-7 ounces, 5-6 minutes.
8-10 ounces, 6-8 minutes
16-20 ounces, 10 minutes
20+ ounces, 10-12 minutes
 
Estimated Steaming Times
6-7 ounces, 6-8 minutes.
8-10 ounces, 8-10 minutes
16+ ounces, 10-12 minutes

Nutrition

Calories: 157kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Protein: 10g | Fat: 12g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 110mg | Sodium: 369mg | Potassium: 151mg | Vitamin A: 355IU | Vitamin C: 10mg | Calcium: 53mg | Iron: 0.3mg

Our recipe card software calculates these nutrition facts based on averages for the above ingredients, different brands, and quality of produce/meats may have different nutritional information, always calculate your own based on the specific products you use in order to achieve accurate macros for this recipe.

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Pin to your Dinner board on Pinterest:

A complete breakdown of the different ways you can cook lobster tail at home, baking it, broiling it, air frying it, instant pot or pressure cooking it, steaming lobster and more.

 

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