Learning how to clean, cut a lobster tail, and then butterfly before cooking is easier than it seems! We show you step by step how to prep lobster tails to make a quick, easy, and delicious lobster dinner whether you plan to bake it, broil, air fry, or grill them.
Be sure to watch our butterfly lobster video tutorial to see the steps in action. It's a WHOLE LOTTA YUM!
Lobster Tails vs. Whole Lobster
When it comes to cooking and serving lobster, both lobster tails and whole lobsters have their pros and cons.
Lobster tails are convenient for when you just want a smaller portion of lobster meat as we did with our steak and lobster dinner recipe or our air fryer lobster tail. Not to mention, a lobster tail is easier to cook than a whole lobster, and it's cheaper!
Serving a whole lobster is perfect for those times when you're feeding a crowd or want to serve an entire impressive lobster on a platter. In addition, whole lobsters will have more flavor keeping the body intact, and yields more meat from not on the tail, but also the claws, legs, and body.
How to Buy Lobster Tails
If you're taking the time and energy to cook a lobster tail, be sure you're buying high-quality ones at the grocery store. Things to consider:
- Size: Lobster tails come in various sizes, a standard grocery store often sells them in a 3 oz-6 oz size, but you can buy them from specialty retailers in an 8-9+ oz size. Any size should work for whatever recipe you're making, you might just need to adjust the cooking time a bit.
- Freshness: Look for lobster tail shell that is firm and has a moist appearance. Avoid tails that have discoloration or an ammonia-like odor, these are signs of spoilage.
- Origin: The best lobster comes from the cold water regions near Maine or Eastern Canada. Some lobster tails are imported from other countries, so ideally look for tails that are sustainably sourced. Raw lobster tail color can vary based on the type of lobster you buy, some might be red, and others will be brown~ both are delicious and will cook to a red color.
- Packaging: Most grocery stores sell frozen lobster tails, if you see them defrosted in the fish department of your local grocery store, most likely they were previously frozen and then defrosted. If purchasing frozen tails, make sure they are well-packaged and not freezer burned.
- Price: Lobster tail isn't cheap! So be sure to check prices at various grocery stores or try to buy them on sale. They often go on sale before holidays or a special occasion like Valentine's Day.
Tools You'll Need
Learning how to cut a lobster tail is actually easy, but it's essential to use kitchen shears and not a sharp knife.
A knife won't give you the control that kitchen scissors will and you don't want to accidentally slice into the lobster tail meat.
- Kitchen shears
- Cutting Board
How to prep lobster tails regardless of how you plan to cook them all starts with just one basic ingredient. The lobster tail!
When you start with high quality seafood, they just need a bit of simple seasoning and butter and that's it.
- lobster tail (3 oz - 8 oz) size
- salt and pepper
- other ideas- butter, fresh lemon juice
Clean the Lobster
Lobster tail naturally contains iodine, many people prefer to remove the excess by first cleaning the lobster in cold water. This is an optional step but good to do if you have extra time.
Fill a large bowl with cold water. Place the lobsters in the bowl and let them soak for 15-30 minutes.
Drain the water and pat the lobster tails with paper towels before cutting lobster tails.
How to Cut a Lobster Tail (Butterfly)
How to cut a lobster tail is actually pretty simple and you'll get the hang of it really fast. How to cut a lobster tail and how to butterfly a lobster tail is just a slight difference. To butterfly a lobster tail implies you aren't just cutting into the shell but you're also partially splitting the meat.
You're basically going to cut lobster tails through the hard shell, pull the shell apart, then pull out the meat to either cook as butterfly lobster tails or to completely remove the meat for another purpose such as bisque, lobster cakes, or a lobster roll sandwich.
Cut through the shell
Use kitchen shears to cut through the top of the hard shell, from where the body would've been attached all the way down to the tail. Cut through the shell lengthwise down to the end of the body.
Butterfly Lobster Tail
You can also butterfly a lobster tail by cutting into the meat and partially splitting the tail meat. To butterfly a lobster tail better helps it lay flat on the shell when serving it. Stop right before you get to the fin and do not cut into it.
Loosen the Shell
With clean fingers, gently open and pull the shell apart until the lobster meat is slightly exposed. Remove the intestinal vein that runs down the center of the tail if it wasn't removed by the grocery store.
You want to separate the meat from the shell by gently taking your thumb and loosening the tail meat from each interior side of the lobster tail.
Trim the fins
On the bottom shell piece, you'll find small fins. You can cut the fins off from the bottom shell if preferred. It's a totally optional step and isn't visible when eating the tasty meat.
If you aren't butterflying lobster tails to serve on the shell, you also want to cut off the tail fan with scissors or a sharp knife.
Lift the Meat over the Shell
- If you're serving the meat attached, carefully remove the tail meat from the shell, letting it still stay attached to the end of the tail and fin.
- Push the cracked shell together and lay the butterflied lobster on top of the shell.
Final Soak (optional)
You can give the lobster a quick rinse and pat it dry with paper towels after handling it. This is entirely optional.
- Raw lobster tails can be purchased partially prepped from the grocery store either frozen or defrosted. When you buy a lobster tail at the store, the head, claws, and rest of the body are already removed. Sometimes the center vein has already been removed for you and other times you'll have to remove it yourself when cutting a lobster tail.
- We highly recommend using kitchen scissors to cut through the lobster tail, not only is it the easiest method, but it's safer for you as well! Borrow them from a friend or neighbor if you don't have any.
- Lobster tails are sold in a variety of sizes, typically ranging from 3 oz - 8 oz each. How to cut a lobster tail won't change with the size of the lobster tail your purchase.
- Lobsters purchased in the US from the grocery store can come in a variety of colors. Some varieties of raw lobster are red, others are brown. They'll taste the same! The tail color varies based on the variety, environment, what it eats, etc.
Lobster Tail Cooking Methods
Popular ways to cook lobster include broiling, baking, and grilling. Using an air fryer is easy too! Proceed with your preferred recipe on how to cook lobster, here are a few of our recipes:
What to serve with lobster?
Serve your butterflied lobster tail with the following easy side dish suggestions:
- Seafood butter sauce
- Lemon wedges
- Potatoes - baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, or roasted potatoes
- Pasta - especially with fettuccini alfredo
- Rice pilaf
- Roasted vegetables
- A green salad - try it with our avocado kale salad
How long does cooked lobster meat keep?
Cooked lobster can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days, or in the freezer for up to 2 months.
Why are some raw lobsters red and why are some brown?
The color of a raw lobster can vary from reddish-orange to brown, depending on the species and the environment in which it lives.
It could be because of the type of lobster, what it eats, and where it lives such as in murky water vs. clear sunlit water.