Chances are, if you ever find yourself in a fancy restaurant, one item you’re sure to spy on the menu is lobster, whether fresh from Maine or a rock lobster tail. But just because most people associate lobsters with a night on the town, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy the luxury of eating lobster tails in your own dining room. Throwing a whole lobster into a pot of boiling water seems simple enough but I bet you’re asking, “How do you cook lobster tails?” Grilling lobster tails is as simple as firing up the grill and throwing a lobster tail on the barbie. Sweet and succulent, making a grilled lobster tail offers high-end taste with minimal effort.
Granted, if you’ve never tried cooking lobster tails on the grill before, you might think it amounts to a culinary shipwreck waiting to happen. Well, you can dry off your waterlogged ambitions and pull that seaweed out of your hair, because grilling a lobster tail is actually a breeze.
With a little advance planning and a couple minutes of focused dedication, you can find yourself afloat on a sea of buttery delight eating grilled lobster tail. You’ll learn about using rock lobster, fresh Maine lobster and even frozen lobster. Consider this article your gastronomic guidebook.
Introduction to Lobsters
Before we voyage to the dinner table, let’s take a tiny introductory side trip and learn more about lobsters. Rock and Maine lobsters (the two types of lobsters most commonly used in grilling) are marine crustaceans, which means they call crabs, crayfish and shrimp their relatives. Lobsters thrive in both cold and warm waters, depending upon the species. Average adult male lobsters weigh between 1.5 and 2 pounds, but the Guinness World Record holder tipped the scales at more than 44 pounds. That would make for a mighty hefty lobster tail (roughly half the lobster’s body weight is held in the tail). Lucky for you—or perhaps not so lucky, if you’re a lobster lover—you probably won’t grill lobster tails even close to that size.
Where to Buy Fresh Maine or Rock Lobster
Of course, you can’t learn how to grill a lobster tail until you get your mitts on a fresh lobster. According to Tom Douglas, the James Beard Award-winning chef who proved victorious on “Iron Chef America,” the best grilled lobster tail begins with a fresh lobster tail. “Tails are best fresh and the lobster should be lively,” advises Douglas. Before you begin grilling lobster tails, look around your area to find places that sell fresh rock or Maine lobsters. If you aren’t good buddies with your neighborhood lobster man, visit your local seafood market to buy fresh lobster. If an unkind city planner didn’t situate a seafood market nearby, or if you’re a landlubber with no ocean in your midst, then you can buy lobster tails at the supermarket up the street.
Both seafood markets and supermarkets keep live, fresh lobsters in aquarium-like tanks. More than likely, what you’ll find in that gurgling, aerated case will be the country’s most popular species, an American lobster, oftentimes referred to as Maine lobster. You can tell you’re gawking at Maine lobsters because they’ve got those big pairs of iconic lobster claws. American lobsters are considered in season from May through December.
You don’t have to cook your lobster recipe with the best Maine lobster, though. It’s just that in most areas, fresh Maine lobsters may be the only kind offered at your market. If you don’t spot Maine lobsters, some tanks may have the thinner, West Coast variety, the spiny California lobster. You can grill lobster tails using these lobsters as well. These types of fresh lobster tails are usually spied, not surprisingly, in markets in California. If your seafood market sits near the warm waters of Florida, you might find yourself gazing at the spiny Caribbean lobster. Both types of fresh lobster have seasons that last year round so you can grill lobster tails anytime of the year. Now, whether those spiny lobsters hail from California or the Caribbean, you would be correct to also call them a rock lobster, just like that critter made famous in that B-52’s hit “Rock Lobster,” which you may be humming right about now. And while most people don’t enjoying playing favorites— except for deejays, perhaps—Douglas does prefer certain types of lobsters when learning to grill lobster tails: “A live American one is probably the best for grilling.” So if you can, get your hands on fresh Maine lobster tails and leave the rock lobster for other types of cooking.
Once you’re staring at the tank of fresh lobsters, you may be wondering which to choose. If you have a lot to choose from, pick one that looks like it’s still got a little spunk. But for the sake of your fingers, let the fishmonger pull that denizen of the deep from the tank. The grab-happy claws of the Maine lobster are no laughing matter while the shell of a rock lobster can be as prickly as a sea urchin. To make the process of grilling easier once you get home, ask your fishmonger to separate the lobster tail from the rest of the body. Just be aware, you have to pay for the whole thing even if you are only going to grill the tail. Your lobster tail probably weighs somewhere around 8 to 10 ounces. When you get home, before grilling the lobster tail, place it in the fridge.
Preparing to Grill Lobster Tails
Begin by heating your grill. You want the grill to be nice and hot before placing lobster tail on it. You can grill lobster tails regardless of the type of grill you have. If it’s gas, set it on medium high. If you fancy yourself old fashioned and prefer to grill with charcoal, get those briquettes a-flaming. Charcoal grilled lobster tails taste just as good as those cooked on a gas grill. Back in the house, you’re going to need a few items before you can start grilling: a pair of tongs, a big bowl of ice water, kitchen shears or scissors, a sharp chef’s knife, melted butter, and a basting brush.
When learning how to cook lobster tails on the grill, Douglas recommends that you use a two-step process. Grilled lobster tail should undergo parboiling, then grilling. So while the grill is warming up, set a pan of water to boil, making sure you’ve got water enough to cover the lobster tail. Once you’ve got a nice rapid boil going, carefully slip in your fresh lobster tails. “Immerse the lobsters in boiling water for 5-7 minutes, depending on the size of the tail,” instructs Douglas. When your timer rings, remove the lobster tails with a pair of tongs and plunge them in the ice-water bath. As the lobster tails cool, you’ll probably notice that the flesh is only partially cooked. No worries. You’ll finish the cooking on the grill.
Remove the formerly hot lobster tails from the not-so-cold water and place each tail on the cutting board. Now, when you grill lobster tails, this is where you need to stay focused. Before you throw the lobster on the grill, you’re going to have to split that tail. This is a necessary step when making a grilled lobster tail. Your best tool for this is a pair of kitchen shears. If you’ve only got a standard pair of scissors, you’ll still be able to split the tails. You’ll just have to put a little more oomph into it.
This next part may be the hardest for some when learning how to cook a lobster tail. Before grilling, turn each tail over on its back so the hard exoskeleton rests on the board. Press the lobster tail as flat as you can with your non-dominant hand. With the kitchen shears or scissors in your dominant hand, slice the underside of the shell straight down the middle, from its widest end to the tapered tail. Make sure you leave the end flippers intact. Flip the tail over. Now cut the topside of the shell, again from the widest to the narrowest point, leaving the flippers as they are.
The lobster tail meat should still be in one piece, but not for long. Take that sharp knife and split the meat of the tail down the middle, cutting all the way through the tail this time, even the end flippers. Whew. You did it. Now comes the easy part of cooking the lobster tail: Let’s get down to grilling.
Cooking Lobster Tails on the Grill
Before you grill the lobster tails, brush a little melted butter on the cut flesh of the tail to prevent sticking. Place your split tailpieces on the medium-heat grill. Grill lobster tails with the fleshy side placed directly over the heat. Watch out for flare-ups. Depending on size, you’ll want to grill the lobster tail for a total of 5 to 10 minutes, flipping once onto their shelled sides. How do you know when you’re done grilling the lobster tail? “The tail will be white and opaque throughout,” Douglas says. When thoroughly cooked, remove the grilled lobster tail.
Did we say grilling was the easy part? Not true. Here’s the easiest step: dining on your grilled lobster tail. After grilling, the lobster tail meat should be firm, with a fresh, mellow taste. Grilled lobster tails can be eaten plain; however, dipping pieces in a little melted butter will make your taste buds do a happy dance. And if you decide to add a squeeze of lemon, no one will criticize you.
Grilling Frozen Lobster Tails
If it so happens you don’t live near either coast, or if finding a market that features Maine or rock lobster is about as likely as discovering buried treasure, you can still have your grilled lobster tail and eat it too. These days, most supermarkets carry frozen lobster tails and if you can’t find fresh, grilling frozen lobster tails will work just fine. However you decide to make your recipes for lobster tails, Douglas says, “Don’t compromise. Either get a lobster that’s alive-n-kicking and secure the tail or choose a tail that’s undergone the deep freeze. No in-between,” says the chef. Although fresh Maine lobsters are the best, frozen lobster tails that have undergone a deep freeze will still taste good because the flavor has been successfully preserved. So if you want to grill lobster tails for dinner, don’t let the fact that you can’t find fresh lobster stop you.
If you choose frozen lobster tails, the process is virtually the same. You simply need to thaw the lobster tails first. Just place the frozen tail in a plastic bag, and then submerge your see-through seafood container in warm water. When fully thawed, continue with the instructions laid out above.
Before you grill lobster tails, you should know how many to purchase. You want to be sure that you put enough on the grill for all of your friends to enjoy. According to Douglas, whole grilled lobster tails should serve one person as an entrée, while half of a grilled lobster tail would be a good bet as an appetizer. Of course, if you decide to have a grilled lobster tail as an appetizer and a dinner course, no one’s going to hold it against you.
Well, someone might. Anyone wearing the lobster bib and wielding those ungainly pliers might be kind of jealous that you’re grilling at home instead. If you invite him over and show him that learning how to grill lobster tails is easy, he’ll be thanking you all the way to the seafood market. Remember, you can grill lobster tails with fresh Maine lobster, rock lobster or even frozen lobster tails. So don’t stress if you can’t find those Maine lobsters at your local grocery store. Once you start grilling the tails and dipping them in butter, your guests won’t care what type of lobsters you used.