This Grilled Lobster Tail recipe shows you how to prepare lobster tails in 20 minutes with a smoky char and flavorful garlic butter sauce to top. Easy, delicious and perfect for any time of year.
Hubby and I have visited the Caribbean on several occasions and always love to sample the local fare. One of my favorite things to nosh are Grilled Lobster Tails, simply prepared with butter, loads of garlic and parsley. Cutting the tails in half, they create their own little cooking vessels for tender, sweet meat.
However, I have trouble getting my hands on the smaller, sweet meat tails from the Caribbean up north, so I’ve adapted the same garlicky sauce to cold water, Maine lobster tails. This recipe can be used on a gas grill, charcoal grill or even a flat top grill.
What's In This Article
Spiny Lobsters vs Maine Lobsters
The lobster you eat in the Caribbean is most likely the local spiny lobster, as opposed to a Maine lobster. You can tell the difference by white spots on the tail and they are usually a little smaller than their northern cousins.
Spiny lobsters are less sweet than Maine and are therefore perfect for the added flavor of garlic.
Even when purchasing a cold water lobster tail, you also want to aim for smaller (and cheaper) tails. Lobsters have very long lives and continue to grow. Older lobsters have less flavor and tougher meat. Smaller tails will also ensure even cooking.
Frozen vs Fresh Lobsters Tails
Like so many types of seafood, it is really hard to ensure you are getting fresh and never frozen even when buying from the seafood counter. Frozen doesn’t necessarily mean bad and can in some cases, be better quality if handled correctly. They can also be cheaper because there isn’t an overnight and packing cost associated with keeping them fresh and selling within 24-36 hours.
If buying frozen, look for:
- Tight Packaging- Air is the enemy when freezing any food. A tight packaging, even vacuum sealed, will prevent freezer burn and other unsightly issues, giving you better flavor and a longer freezer life.
- No Ice– If the tails are packaged in the generic meat counter styrofoam with plastic, make sure there are no large cubes of ice in the packaging or on the tails. This is a sign they may have been defrosted previously.
- Look for whole tails– Meaning they haven’t been split yet. Less surface area on the meat to the air means they are kept fresher.
- Freeze Burn– Freezer burn is when the food is damaged by dehydration and oxidation due to air reaching the food. It creates a dull, off-white color that is different from the unaffected area and can taste chewy or rubbery. If it has this, don’t buy it!
How to Defrost Lobster Tails
If they are frozen, tails will need to be thawed before cooking.
- Take your lobster tails out of the freezer the day before you plan to cook them and place them on a covered plate in your refrigerator. This takes 20-24 hours depending on the size.
- For quicker results, defrost tails in an airtight plastic bag under cold water (never hot water) in the sink or let them sit covered on the counter for 1-2 hours at room temperature.
- Fully defrosted lobster tails will be pliable and easily handled.
How to Butterfly Lobster Tails for Grilling
Before you grill, you must prep the lobster tails. Butterflying lobster tails simply means to cut the shell, letting the meat be exposed. This makes for faster and more even cooking.
There are two types of butterflying. The first way is to cut the shell and bring the meat up, above the shell, like you would for broiling a lobster tail. The second way is to cut the shell and release the membrane, but not take the meat out, leaving the shell as a protective layer from the heat. I highly recommend the second way for grilling lobster tails.
- Cut the lobster shell. Using a pair of sharp kitchen shears, cut down the top center of the shell lengthwise, starting from the end opposite the tail fin and going down the the tail. In my experience, shears are the best way to do this. You only want to cut the top shell, not the meat or the bottom shell. You can use a sharp knife, but be very careful.
- Loosen the shell. Using your palm, press down on the shell to loosen it. For larger tails or harder shells, you can place it between both of your hands and crack the bottom shell in the center without breaking it. The shell on the bottom isn’t as brittle and can be stretched without totally coming apart.
- Release the membrane. Gently run a finger between the shell and the lobster meat. Sometimes this can be tricky to get started, but after you’ve separated it initially, it gets much easier. This way the meat will be super easy to take out after grilling and the garlic butter sauce can run down between the shell and the meat.
- Skewer. Skewering isn’t necessary, but makes the process easier and also keeps the tails nice and straight which looks prettier, but also keeps the cooking even. Soak wood skewers in water before using so they don’t catch on fire on the grill. Run the skewer lengthwise down the center of the tail and the end where it flares out.
You can use a live lobster, in this case you’ll need to stun the lobster and then use a cleaver or sharp knife to remove the tail.
Foodie friends, really good lobster tail doesn’t need to be heavily seasoned or marinated. In fact, lobster tail can degrade if exposed to acidic properties for too long.
Seasoning for this recipe is kept to olive oil and salt and then the garlic butter sauce is added at the very end. Butter has a low smoke point and garlic gets bitter when burnt, so basting with it while cooking will sacrifice the golden liquid to the smoky Gods and give your bright red tails no glory.
Lemon Garlic Butter Sauce
Which brings me to the sauce. Grilled lobster tail has enough sweet flavor and succulent texture on its own, so you want something that complements and doesn’t overwhelm.
Sweet butter, zesty garlic and bright lemon are perfectly paired. This sauce is made from homemade clarified butter, but you can skip the process of clarifying (separating milk fats from butter fats) or buy a jar of ghee and still have a fantastic sauce.
This sauce is made from:
- Good quality butter
- Lemon zest
- Fresh garlic
- Coarse kosher salt
- Italian parsley
You can also add a splash of white wine, cayenne pepper, black pepper or smoked paprika or other tangy bits like chopped capers or olives for a Mediterranean feel. I love the look and taste of fresh charred lemon juice, so I grill a few lemon halves and give them a spritz after cooking.
Transform this compound butter into any version of herb butter swapping the parsley for thyme, rosemary or even cilantro. This same butter mixture can be used on whole lobster or any type of seafood.
How to Grill Lobster Tails
- Make the lemon butter sauce first by melting the butter in a small saucepan and then adding the garlic, lemon zest, parsley and salt. Lemon juice is often added, but the acidic nature will separate from the sauce. Zest, however, gives a pure lemony flavor and will stay evenly distributed through the sauce.
- Using kitchen shears, butterfly the lobster tails. Gently loosen the flesh from the shell. Devein (take out the long, thin tubal thing that can be brown and runs right down the center) the top of the tail, if needed. Skewer, lengthwise, with a soaked wooden skewer or a metal skewer.
- Brush the meat with the olive oil and then sprinkle with salt.
- Heat the grill to high medium-high heat. Place lobster tails on the top grill rack (or indirect heat), flesh side down, for 5-6 minutes. Turn and continue to cook for another 1-2 minutes or until meat is white and pearly. Simultaneously grill lemon halves for fresh lemon juice, if desired.
- Total cooking time is dependant on the size of the lobster tail. The general rule is 60-75 seconds total time per ounce of individual tail. This recipe is based on 8 ounce tails. The internal temperature of the lobster tail should read 135°F-140°F using a digital thermometer.
- Remove the tails from the grill and spoon the melted butter sauce over each tail, letting it seep down between the meat and the shell. Dust with smoked paprika.
What to Serve with Lobster Tails
Really, what can’t you serve? Here are a few of my favorites options for a full, well-rounded meal.
More Seafood– Why wouldn’t you want to make a seafood feast? Make my famous Maryland Crab Cakes along with cocktail sauce and shrimp cocktail. Or try a whole grilled fish since you’ll be on the grill anyhow.
Surf & Turf- This is typically a steak, like pan fried steak, steak frites, prime rib or a filet, but feel free to swap it out with baked chicken thighs or blackened chicken, even crock pot pork chops.
Bread- This garlic butter is also amazing on bread, so why not serve a side of focaccia or sourdough to mop up the plate?
Storage & Reheating
Lobster is always best enjoyed freshly cooked. It can be stored for up to 3 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Reheating is best at a medium heat in the oven, in a skillet or on the grill. Microwaving seafood often leaves it dry and rubbery.
Cooked lobster meat can be frozen in plastic wrap for up to 3 months.
Fun Lobster Facts
- During Colonial times, lobster was considered to be the “poor man’s food”, a bottom feeding crustacean, it was fed to livestock.
- Only Maine lobsters have claws, Caribbean lobsters called spiny lobsters, have no claws.
- Lobsters can live as long as 100 years. They rarely get “sick” and die, they need to be preyed on.
- Lobsters continue to grow through their life, so a lobster can grow up to 40 pounds! That puts your pricy 7 pound lobster to shame. Ha!
- Lobsters are a great form of protein, omega 3 fatty acids and are low in fat and calories (until you add the butter….)
- Lobster molt their shells through the lifecycle, also known as soft-shelled lobster, kind of like soft-shelled crab. They are plentiful from July-October.
- Live lobsters aren’t red, they are blue, yellow or brownish. They turn red while cooking.
More Lobster Recipes
- Lobster Mashed Potatoes
- Lobster Pasta with Corn, Pancetta and Creme Fraiche
- Lobster Mac and Cheese
- Stuffed Lobster Tail Recipe
Grilled Lobster Tail Recipe (How to Grill Lobster Tails)
- Make the lemon butter sauce by melting the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Add the minced garlic, lemon zest, parsley and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine and heat for an additional 1-2 minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside. Butter will harden if it gets too cool, simply reheat until melted.
- Using kitchen shears, butterfly the lobster tails. Gently loosen the flesh from the shell. Devein the top of the tail, if needed. Skewer, lengthwise, with a soaked wooden skewer or a metal skewer.
- Brush the meat with the olive oil and then sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of the coarse kosher salt. Set aside.
- Heat grill to high medium-high heat. Place lobster tails on the top grill rack, meat side down, for 5-6 minutes. Turn and continue to cook for another 1-2 minutes or until meat is white and pearly. Total cooking time is dependant on the size of the lobster tail. Internal temperature should read 140°F using a digital thermometer.
- Remove and spoon the lemon garlic butter sauce over each tail, letting it seep down between the meat and the shell. Dust with smoked paprika.
- If you've made this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the star ratings or comments section.