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Lobster is a special treat. If you’re like I used to be, I tended to shy away from buying it out of fear of ruining it. I was always afraid that I’d end up wasting my money, only to have the lobster turn out tough or not all the way cooked through. However, after hearing from my husband how much he enjoyed the (expensive!) lobster dinner we ordered when at a seafood restaurant, I decided it was time to finally try to cook lobster on my own.
My biggest concern was finding the best lobster internal temp to know that the meat was cooked through all the way, but not overcooked. I did some research, and found the answers I was looking for. The first baked lobster recipe I tried turned out really tasty. My husband was raving about it for days!
I decided to keep experimenting and trying different ways to cook lobster. During this process, I learned a lot about the best ways to prepare and cook lobster, that I’d love to share with you. Read on, and I’ll share my best tips for choosing the best lobster, cooking it, and serving it.
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What temperature should lobster tail be cooked to?
When cooking lobster, it is very important not to overcook it. When overcooked, lobster is rubbery and tough—not at all what you want. The internal temp of lobster tail when fully cooked should be right around 140 ºF. This will ensure that the meat is cooked through and safe to eat, but also ensure that it doesn’t end up too chewy or tough.
While I can provide you with a target internal temperature for lobster tail, I can’t provide you with exactly how long the meat will need to cook to reach that temperature. This is because a number of factors can impact how long a lobster tail takes to cook. The size of the lobster/lobster tail and the cooking method you choose will have the greatest impact on the time needed to cook it.
Types of Lobster
Before we get into how to cook lobster, let’s look at the different types of lobster that you may find. In the United States, you may find either cold water or warm water lobsters available for purchase, though you’re more likely to see cold water lobsters.
Most cold water lobsters in the United States come from Maine. The meat of cold water lobster is dense, sweet, delicious, and relatively easy to cook.
If you happen upon warm water lobster, it will likely have come from Florida, Latin America, or the Caribbean. When cooked, the texture of warm water lobster is a bit different from that of cold water lobster. Because of its protein structure, warm water lobster may taste a little grainier.
Both warm and cold water lobsters turn the signature red color when they are cooked.
Choosing the Best Lobster Tail
Even with the best recipe and cooking techniques, lobster tail isn’t going to taste amazing if you aren’t selective when shopping. If you’ve never shopped for lobsters before, use the tips below to choose ones that will have the best flavor.
- Never buy lobsters without taking a close look at them. This may mean asking the person behind the fish counter to move the lobster tails closer so you can see them clearly.
- Do not purchase any lobsters or lobster tails with lots of discoloration. A few spots are natural, but anything that looks excessive should be avoided.
- Take a look at the color of the lobster meat. It should be white and opaque. Meat that looks slightly yellow or green may be spoiled and will not taste right.
- Stay away from “extra-moist,” “enhanced,” or “water-added” lobsters. These terms all indicate that the company selling the lobster has added a saltwater solution. This solution serves to increase the weight of each lobster tail. Because lobster is sold by the pound, it will increase the amount you’ll pay for each lobster tail, without really giving you any extra meat.
Thawing Frozen Lobster Tails
Unless you happen to live by a local fish market where lobsters are caught and sold fresh, most lobster tails that you purchase will be frozen. Before cooking the lobster, you’ll need to thaw it. Thawing lobster tail properly is essential, both for the taste of the meat and its safety for consumption.
There are two safe options to thaw frozen lobster tail: thawing it in the fridge or thawing it in cold water.
Using the Refrigerator to Thaw Lobster
As long as you have about 24 hours before you plan on cooking your lobster, the refrigerator is the preferred method of thawing. Put a few paper towels on a sheet pan with a small lip around it (to prevent any water from leaking off the pan). Place the lobster, still in its original packaging, over the paper towel. Put the baking pan in the fridge and leave it there for about 24 hours. While the fridge is still cold, it is not as cold as the freezer, and it will work to slowly and safely thaw the lobster.
Using Cold Water to Thaw Lobster
Sometimes, you may not have 24 hours to wait for a lobster tail to thaw in the fridge. If you need your lobster thawed more quickly, you can use cold water. Remove the lobster tails from the package, rinse them with cold water, and place them in a zipper plastic bag. Place a few knives or forks in the bag to make it heavier, seal the bag almost all the way (leave it about ½-inch open), and place it into a pot filled with cold water.
As the bag comes into contact with the water, the air will come out, and then you can seal it shut the rest of the way. Let the water sit in the pan, preferably with the water from the tap running very slowly over it, for about 1 to 1 ½ hours. After this time, the lobster should be thawed and ready to cook.
While it may be tempting to use hot water to try to thaw the lobster tails more quickly, this is not a good idea. The hot water may partially cook the lobster. Additionally, it can also allow dangerous bacteria to grow, which could lead to food poisoning.
Preparing Lobster Tails to Cook
There are a few different options when it comes to cutting and preparing lobster tails for cooking. Some of the more popular include: butterflying the tail, splitting the tail, fan-cutting the tail, or removing the meat from the tail.
Let’s take a closer look at each method and what you need to do:
Butterflying Lobster Tails
Butterflying a lobster tail is relatively easy. It also allows for impressive presentations of the cooked lobster, which is always a bonus. Additionally, butterflying is often the preferred method of preparation when grilling, broiling, or baking a lobster tail at higher temperature. They are easier to marinade and baste and absorb the smokier taste of higher-heat cooking methods.
Follow these steps to butterfly a lobster tail:
- Lay the lobster tail out in front of you. Use kitchen shears to cut down the middle of the upper shell. Start at the wider end of the tail and cut all the way down to the tail fan (but don’t cut through the tail fan).
- Open up the two halves of the shell to reveal the lobster meat inside.
- Carefully pull the lobster meat up through the opening in the front shell, taking care to leave the meat connected to the end of the tail.
- When done correctly, this method of preparation should make the lobster look almost like a butterfly—with two wings around the center meat.
Splitting Lobster Tails
Splitting lobster tails involves cutting the entire tail in half to create two identical pieces, each with the shell still attached.
Here are the steps you can follow to split lobster tails:
- Lay the lobster tail bottom-side up.
- Using a very sharp knife, make a clean cut down the center of the bottom shell, all the way through the harder upper shell. You’ll want to cut completely through the lobster’s fan-tail as well.
- Once complete, you should have two equal pieces.
Fan-Cutting Lobster Tails
This method of cutting lobster tails will allow you to create mini ‘boats’ of lobster meat.
Follow these steps for this method:
- Lay the lobster tail bottom-side up on a cutting board. The bottom of the shell is much thinner than the hard upper shell.
- Use kitchen shears to cut lengthwise down the center of the underside of the tail, starting at the wider end and stopping when you get to the fan-tail.
- Use the kitchen shears to cut the part of the shell that connects to the tail-fan, but leave the tail-fan alone.
- Carefully loosen the lobster meat that is attached to the harder back shell, and leave it in place. It should look like a little boat of lobster meat.
Removing Lobster Meat From the Tail
Some recipes may call for cooking lobster meat that has already been removed from the shell. For example, if you plan on gently steaming the lobster or poaching it, you probably don’t want to leave it in the shell.
Here is what you need to do to remove uncooked lobster meat from the tail:
- Lay the lobster tail bottom-side up.
- Cut a slit along each side of the tail, running from the wide end to the fan-tail.
- Use your fingers to peel the membrane covering the lobster meat back and remove it.
- Carefully crack the sides of the lobster shell.
- Remove the lobster tail from the shell, working slowly to ensure it comes out in one piece.
How to Season Lobster Tail
Lobster can be seasoned either before or after cooking (or, both, if you’d prefer). Brush melted butter along with a little salt, pepper, and any other seasoning you like on grilled, steamed, or boiled lobster. Plain boiled or steamed lobster is also delicious when simply served with some lemon and melted butter.
Best Ways to Cook Lobster Tail
When it comes to cooking lobster tail, you have room to experiment and have some fun. There is not one right way to cook this delicious meat. So you can consider how you plan to serve the lobster tail and your comfort with different cooking techniques and go from there.
Below, you’ll find tips and steps to follow for a variety of different lobster tail cooking techniques.
Steaming Lobster Tail
Steaming lobster tail is a favorite method for many individuals looking for an easy and quick way to cook the meat. When you steam lobster, it can leave the meat very tender and easy to remove the hard shell.
To steam lobster, fill a pot with about four inches of water. Heat the pot over high heat. Place the lobster tail, with a cut down the shell, in the steamer basket. Cutting the tail a bit helps allow the steam to cook the lobster quickly enough to prevent it from turning out too chewy.
Steamed lobster tail should be cooked until the internal temperature reaches about 140 ºF. The cooked meat should look white.
The exact cooking time may vary based on the size of the lobster tail, with smaller tails cooking in as little as 4 minutes and larger tails taking 10 minutes or more to cook.
After steaming lobster, you’ll want to add some butter or seasonings, otherwise the flavor may be too bland for you.
Boiling Lobster Tail
Boiling lobster tail is easy, however some don’t prefer this method because the boiling water may minimize some of the natural flavors of the lobster. You can counteract this potential negative consequence by salting the water before cooking lobster tail.
Fill a pot with enough water to cover however many lobster tails you are planning to cook (but don’t put the tails into the water just yet). Sprinkle in some salt. Place the pot on the stove over medium-high heat and bring it to a boil.
Once boiling, place the lobster tails in the pot and cook for approximately 1 minute per ounce. The meat should turn a pinky white translucent color.
Drain the water from the pan, allow the lobsters to cool slightly, then carefully remove the shells and serve.
Grilling Lobster Tail
Making grilled lobster tail can help you achieve a smoky and delicious meal. However, you’ll want to take care when grilling lobster. A grill gets hot really quickly, and it is easy for your lobster to go from perfectly cooked to overcooked and chewy.
As with other cooking methods, grilled lobster temperature should be right around 140 ºF. You don’t want to let the meat get any hotter than this.
Before grilling a lobster tail, slide the entire tail onto a skewer to ensure it doesn’t curl up as it cooks. Place the lobster tail directly on the grill, away from the hottest grates. Check the temperature periodically, starting after about 8 minutes of cooking. Though, it will likely take a bit longer to fully cook.
Baking Lobster Tail
Preheat the oven to 425 ºF. Place butterflied or split lobster tails in a baking dish and a little bit of wine or water in the base of the dish.
Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake the tails until the internal temperature reaches 140 ºF. Again, the exact cooking time will vary depending on the size of the tail, but it typically takes between 1 and 2 minutes per ounce of lobster using this cooking method.
Broiling Lobster Tail
Broiling lobster tails is another quick, yet tasty, way to cook them. You’ll want to start with either split or butterflied lobster tails on a baking sheet.
Set up your oven so the upper rack is approximately 10 inches away from the heating element. Place the baking sheet in the oven, and boil the meat for approximately 1 minute per ounce, though the exact time can vary.
Broiled lobster is tender, brown, and very flavorful.
Checking Lobster for Doneness
The best way to check lobster meat to confirm it is cooked is to use an instant-read thermometer. Cooked lobster white should be pinkish-white in color. The meat should also be opaque, rather than translucent as it looked before cooking.
Place the thermometer in the lobster meat when it looks like it is done cooking. If the internal lobster temp reads 140 ºF, then it is cooked. If it isn’t quite 140 ºF yet, keep a close eye on it to make sure it doesn’t end up getting overcooked.
What to Serve with Lobster
You can serve anything with lobster that sounds good to you. However, there are some side dishes that can really amplify the meal. The best side dishes may also depend on the method used to cook the lobster meat.
Here are a few ideas for what you can serve with lobster tail:
- Baked potatoes
- Clam chowder
- French baguettes
- Caesar salads
- Corn on the cob
- Steamed mussels or clams
- Macaroni and cheese
Lobster: Deliciously Divine
I don’t know about you, but I always feel a bit impressed with myself when I cook lobster. Even though it isn’t too difficult, as you should be able to see now, lobster has always been an extra special treat. Plus, you know how expensive it can be to order lobster in a restaurant, so learning how to cook it at home and the ideal lobster internal temp just feels like such a huge accomplishment. Are you ready to try one of the lobster cooking methods I shared above? Which do you think you’ll try first?