How to Know How Long to Boil Lobster Tails

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Fresh lobster tails on ice in a seafood market.
Fresh lobster tails on ice in a seafood market. (Image: Jón Helgason/Hemera/Getty Images)

One of the finest treats available at the fishmonger, lobster sports an armored shell concealing a famously sweet and flavorful interior. Despite the visual appeal of whole lobster, many diners prefer to buy theirs in the form of frozen lobster tails instead. While they lack the dramatic appearance of a whole lobster, they're easier and much less messy to eat. Cooking instructions vary from package to package, but the tails can simply be boiled like a whole lobster.

Size Dictates Time

As with whole lobsters, your cooking time is determined by the size of the tail. These can be as small as 2 to 3 ounces or as large as a pound in weight, depending on the species and origin of the lobster itself. If you're working from a recipe and purchased the specified size of tails, you can simply follow the recipe's instructions. Otherwise, the usual rule of thumb for lobster tails is one minute of boiling time for every ounce. Four-ounce tails, then, should boil for four minutes, while 10-ounce tails will require 10 minutes.

The Single-Tail Guideline

As always, the details are important. First, as with whole lobster, you'll need 2 to 3 quarts of boiling water per pound of tails. That way, your water will return to the boil quickly after the tails are added. Don't begin timing your tails until the water boils again, otherwise your timing will be off and the tails will be undercooked. Base your timing on the size of a single tail. For example, if you're preparing five 4-ounce tails, boil for 4 minutes -- not 20 minutes. Finally, thaw the tails -- overnight in your refrigerator is best -- before boiling them. They can be cooked from frozen, but in that case it's better to butterfly the tails, and steam or broil them instead.

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