Surf and turf need not be reserved to date nights at a restaurant. Learn how to cut lobster tails for grilling, broiling, steaming, baking, and other cooking methods and you can add some major gourmet fare to your dining room menu, too. Follow our Test Kitchens tips and tricks for how to butterfly a lobster tail so it’ll cook quickly, evenly, and beautifully—and look like a showy five-star dish.

By Karla Walsh
Updated November 02, 2020
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Learning how to cut lobster tails doesn't need to be intimidating. It’s surprisingly easy—and is the key to the gourmet look we see at fancy seafood restaurants. When butterflying lobster tails, you're essentially just cutting lobster tails through the hard shell so you can easily spread the tail meat into two even halves. The lobster tail meat underneath the shell then puffs up as it cooks and the resulting edible portion is juicy, tender, and totally rave-worthy. Confession: After we mastered how to butterfly a lobster tail, we admit that we’ve rarely bought full lobsters anymore. The tail meat alone requires much less effort to prepare and eat, plus the ratio of meat to shell is far superior in the tail.

We'll show you how to butterfly a lobster tail so you can serve this special meal at home. Butterflying is a simple three-step process, and it’s ideal to serve as-is or pop the meat out and use in a lobster roll recipe. However you decide to serve it, we can pretty much guarantee you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to butterfly lobster tail. Let’s dive in!

How to Buy Lobster Tails

Look for lobster tails in the fish department or the freezer case of your local grocery store, or buy them online from a sustainable fishmonger such as Luke’s Lobster or Maine Lobster Now. Most lobster tails you'll find are from spiny lobsters, which have meatier tails than Maine lobsters and don't have claws. They are generally marketed as rock lobster tails. Expect the tails to have a mottled, greenish-blue-brown appearance when raw. Plan on one (about 8-ounce) tail per person. If frozen, thaw the tails in the refrigerator prior to cutting the lobster tails and cooking them.

How to Butterfly Lobster Tails 

To butterfly or not to butterfly? That is the (first) question. Most seafood recipes for lobster tails call for butterflying them before cooking. However, there are exceptions. Sometimes, when lobster tails will simply be boiled (for incorporating the meat into dishes like this luscious Lobster Mac and Cheese), butterflying is not necessary. However, if your recipe specifies butterflied, here's how to cut lobster tail.

Credit: Blaine Moats

1. Cut the tail

Hold a lobster tail in one hand with the top of the hard shell facing up. Using sturdy kitchen shears ($7, Target), cut through the top of the shell and through the meat, stopping just before the bottom shell. Do not cut through the wide end of the tail.

Credit: Blaine Moats

2. Open lobster tail to separate the meat from the shell

Using your thumbs and fingers, gently spread the halves of the tails apart, keeping the meat attached near the end of the tail.

Left: Credit: Hannah Bigot
Right: Credit: Hannah Bigot

Step 3: Lift the meat over the shell

Gently separate the meat from the back of the shell, keeping the base attached at the tail, and lift the meat over the shell. Squeeze the shell halves back together beneath the meat so that the meat rests on top of the shell. Now the tail is ready to cook as desired.

Credit: Jacob Fox

How to Cook Lobster Tail

Lobster tail tastes great broiled, boiled, steamed, grilled, and baked. You can also cook lobster on the stovetop for a quick, easy, and elegant dinner addition. Get our step-by-step directions for cooking by clicking the button below.

How to Cook Lobster Directions

Now that you’re a pro at how to butterfly a lobster tail, you can confidently serve a gourmet-style seafood entrée with maximum flavor and minimum intimidation.

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