How to Butterfly a Lobster Tail for a Gourmet Seafood Feast

Follow our Test Kitchens tips to butterfly, grill, broil, steam, or bake lobster tail so it'll cook quickly, evenly, and beautifully every time.

Learning how to butterfly a lobster tail doesn't need to be intimidating. In fact, it's surprisingly easy—and 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. 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 whole 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 for serving as-is or popping the meat out to 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

You can find lobster tails in the fish department or the freezer case of your local grocery store. Or buy them online from a sustainable fishmonger like 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 before 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 are simply boiled (for incorporating the meat into dishes like this luscious Lobster Mac and Cheese), butterflying is unnecessary. However, if your recipe specifies butterflied, here's how to cut lobster tail.

woman cutting top of lobster tail with scissors
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 ($8.99, Target), cut through the top of the shell and through the meat, stopping just before the bottom shell. Don't cut through the wide end of the tail.

woman separating lobster meat from shell with hands
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.

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.

Lobster Tails with Chive Butter
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.

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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