Lobster Hits the Grill

Grilled Lobster

Conventional wisdom holds that the best way to cook a lobster is by steaming.

Conventional wisdom hasn’t tasted the jerk lobster at Boston Beach, Jamaica. Or the spiny lobster flambeed with Pernod on France’s Cote d’Azure. Or the garlic-herb lobster we grill over a wood fire in Martha’s Vineyard.

The truth is, that steaming is great for cold water Maine lobster, but grilling imparts a satisfying texture and smoky sear you just can’t achieve with hot water.

Grilled Lobster

Grilled Lobster

The first step in mastering the art of grilled lobster is to know the various species. (There are forty around the world). For those of us living in New England, lobster means Homarus americanus—a dark shelled, two-clawed lobster fished from the cold waters of the Atlantic.

For those of us living in south Florida, lobster means spiny lobster —a warm water crustacean that lacks the claws of its northern cousin, but has a wide tail filled with sweet meat.

Spiny Grilled Lobster

In France, spiny lobster comes from the Mediterranean, where it’s known as langouste (langosta in Spanish).

Then there are slipper lobsters, clawless crustaceans fished from the waters surrounding Australia. Known also as Morton Bay bugs or Balmain bugs, they are difficult to find in the U.S.

If you live in the Northeastern U.S., it’s easy to find whole lobster, but elsewhere (including the Midwest and online), you’re more apt to find lobster tails in even the most rural supermarkets. Their preparation is easy.

Lobster on the Grill

First, using kitchen shears or tin snips, make a cut through the hard part of the shell running the length of the tail. Using a paring knife, cut through the resulting slit through the meat to but not through the soft under-shell. Then fold the two halves open (butterfly them), so the flesh will lay flat. Remove the alimentary canal, a vein-like structure that runs down the back of the lobster. Run your thumbs under the tail meat to loosen it from the shell. (This makes for easy eating.) Finally, season the lobster with a rub, marinade, or flavored butter, and you’re ready to grill.

I like to grill lobster tails meat side down first (to sear in the juices)—this will take 3 to 4 minutes, then invert, and finish cooking the lobster shell side down, 3 to 4 minutes more.

Lobster Tails

All the while, you should baste the lobster: with melted butter (make that garlic herb butter) or extra virgin olive oil, or your favorite marinade or basting sauce.

So how do you know when it’s done? The flesh will be sizzling, bronzed, and firm ,and the meat will start to pull away from the shell.

Lobster Tails

As for whole Maine lobsters, here you summon your courage (and a large chefs’ knife) and cut the live lobster in half lengthwise, starting at the head. (Hold it in place with a folded dish towel.) This may seem cruel, but it dispatches the lobster instantly. (Be forewarned—it may continue to twitch.) If that seem too challenging, par-boil the lobster in boiling water for 3 minutes, then cut it in half.

I like to remove the claws and grill them separately—they take longer than the lobster body.

Again, start cut side down and baste frequently with melted butter or olive oil.

Some people (me included) gather the lobster juices from each half in a bowl, pouring them back on the lobster once you’ve turned them shell side down.

Either way, if you already grilled lobsters, you know how delectable they can be. If you’ve never tried it, well, run right to your fishmonger to try it.

In honor of National Lobster Day (June 15), here are some of our favorites!

‘Lobstah’ The Way We Grill it in Martha’s Vineyard

Martha's Vineyard Lobster

What: Grilled lobster with garlic herb butter.That’s it.

Where: Massachusetts, the United States

How: Direct grilling

Special effects: A dish this simple lives and dies by its freshness. For the best results, use live lobster—preferably from a fish market, not from a tired old lobster tank at the supermarket. One good mail order source is TK—Nancy—chance to plug our friend from Maine. I like females (on account of their caviar-like roe); Mrs. R prefers males (precisely because they lack the roe); to identify the sex of a lobster, examine the first set of swimmerets on the underside at the junction of the body and the tail. In a male, these will be hard; in a female soft and feathery.

Advance preparation: None.

Serves 2 and can be multiplied as desired.

As many of you may know, when I’m not traveling Planet Barbecue, I spend much of the year on Martha’s Vineyard. Of course we grill, and, naturally, the first thing to hit the embers is local seafood. For most people, lobster means crustacean boiled in seawater, and while boiling helps keep the meat moist, grilling roasts the shells, producing complex flavors you simply can’t achieve with a pot of water. Besides, few sights are cooler than a grill full of bright orange lobsters lined up, sizzling over the coals. The only remotely challenging part of this recipe is splitting the lobsters—best done quickly with a large knife. You’ll find instructions below, but you may feel more comfortable parboiling the lobster before cutting.

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Mexican Grilled Spiny Lobster with Garlic Sauce – Langosta Con Mojo De Ajo

Mexican Grilled Spiny Lobster

What: Spiny lobster basted with butter and Worchestershire sauce, served with Mexican fried garlic sauce.

Where: Mexico.

How: Direct grilling.

Special effects: To most North Americans, lobster means Homarus americanus (Maine lobster), recognizable by its large meaty, claws. But elsewhere on the world’s barbecue trail, the lobster grilled most commonly belongs to a family of clawless lobsters (the Palinuridae) that includes Florida’s spiny lobster, France’s langouste, and South Africa’s rock lobster. What you lose in claw meat, you gain in tail meat (of which there’s more in a spiny lobster). And because the flesh of a spiny lobster is firmer and drier than Maine lobster, it holds up better when exposed to the heat of the fire. Note: Tradition calls for the lobster to be cut in half alive lengthwise—a process that, while humane in that it kills the lobster instantly—can be disconcerting if you’re not used to it. It’s also acceptable to parboil the lobster for 3 to 5 minutes, then cut the shellfish in half.

Advance preparation: None, but the mojo de ajo can be made ahead.

Serves 4.

I first experienced this garlic-blasted grilled lobster at a seaside fish shack on the Isla de Las Mujeres. On receiving my order, the chef walked out on a pier, extracted a spiny lobster from a metal cage in the water, and whacked it in half using a large chef’s knife. The glaze featured an unexpected ingredient—salsa inglese (“English sauce,” literally, as Worcestershire sauce is often called in these parts)—which always strikes me as odd because Mexico is one of the few places in North America not at some point colonized by the English. Also intriguing was the fried garlic sauce: not called salsa, as virtually every other sauce in Mexico is, but mojo—the name of a fried garlic sauce popular in Cuba and the Spanish Caribbean. Put the lobster, glaze, and garlic sauce together and you get the perfect Mexican grilled seafood dish for people who like bold flavor, but not chile hellfire.

Get The Recipe »

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