How To Make Your Own Lobster Rolls

There’s a lot of hubbub in New York, lately, about lobster rolls. Apparently there’s a glut of lobsters (see this New York Magazine article) and new lobster shacks are sprouting up all over the city. My loyalty, as always, belongs to Pearl Oyster Bar which makes the best lobster roll I’ve ever had. But did you know that its chef, Rebecca Charles, once taught me how to make her signature lobster roll for a video Craig and I did for Serious Eats? And did you know that, since then, I’ve made several more lobster rolls–always marveling at how easy it is? Because it is, indeed, very easy. And with lobsters really cheap right now in New York ($5.99 a pound at Citarella) this may turn out to be something you’ll want to do at home too.

The trick is to buy live lobsters. Don’t get already cooked lobsters: they’re more expensive and because they’re already cooked, they won’t absorb the mayo the way a warm lobster will. I know some of you are squeamish when it comes to killing your lobsters, but here’s a trick: when you bring them home from the store, put them in the freezer. That’ll numb them–see how numb this guy is?


Then get the biggest pot you have, fill it with water, add some salt, and bring it to a boil:


When it’s boiling rapidly, drop those lobsters in. (I bought two 1 1/2 pound lobsters which made enough lobster salad for four understuffed rolls; if you like your lobster rolls overstuffed (like Pearl’s) this’ll yield two rolls).


Let the lobsters cook for 10 to 15 minutes; you’ll know when they’re done because the lobsters will be a bright fire engine red and they’ll float to the top:


Immediately lift them out and submerge them in a bath of ice water to stop the cooking:


Once they’re cool to the touch, take your first lobster to the cutting board and with a sharp knife separate the claws/knuckles and the tail from the body:


At this point begins a wild goose chase I like to call “find the meat!” It’s easy to find the meat in the claws and the tail, but don’t miss the meat in the knuckle. To get that, wrap the knuckle in a kitchen towel and smash with a rolling pin.

When you’ve gotten the meat out of the knuckle, proceed to the claw (also wrapping in a towel, cracking carefully with a rolling pin (you don’t want too much shattered shell) and extracting the meat)…


…and then the tail. To get the meat out of the tail, you can slice the whole thing (shell and all) in half lengthwise and just yank the meat out.

Do the same with the other lobster and by the end you’ll have a big bowl of lobster meat:


You’ll be tempted to snack on it but don’t! That lobster meat is precious; each bite you take means less dinner for one of your guests.

Take that meat and chop it so it’s chunky:


Now we enter a very sensitive area. Some lobster roll aficionados will balk when I tell you to add a big heaping spoonful of mayo (specifically: Hellman’s.) But I hate mayoless lobster rolls; to me, the whole point of a lobster roll is the magical way that the lobster juices combine with the mayo to create this decadent, creamy lobster sauce that seeps into the roll and makes life better. If you’re not a mayo person, I suppose you could leave it out but please don’t tell me about it. I’ll hold my ears.

So yes–add a big spoonful of mayo, one finely chopped stick of celery, a big squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper:


Stir that all around:


And there you are: you’ve got your lobster roll filling. If you have guests coming later, you can do what I did and put it in a plastic tub and refrigerate. That’s what they do at Pearl and the lobster rolls aren’t any less for it.


When it’s time to serve them, here’s the 2nd most important step (the first being “add mayo”)—you’ve gotta toast your buns in butter. The buns Rebecca Charles uses at Pearl are Pepperidge Farm hot dog buns; see if you can find top-loading buns (I couldn’t). Side-loading will work ok too.

Melt butter (1 Tbs or so) in a skillet until it’s sizzling and add your buns opened and face-down:


Cook for 30 seconds to a minute until they’re nice and toasty like this:


And that’s really all there is too it. Spoon that lobster salad into your toasted bun and you’ve got a world class lobster roll:


Because it’s such a world class dish, I didn’t want to serve anything distracting on the side so I served potato chips:

My guests, our friends Jimmy and Raef, didn’t seem to mind:


And that’s how to make your own lobster rolls.

P.S. Here’s the original Serious Eats video, directed by Craig:

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This post is the final post in a Seafood Celebration series, which is sponsored by Red Lobster. Check out their new American Seafood menu at and discover regionally inspired seafood creations starting at $12.99.

Previous Series Posts: Cornmeal-Crusted Catfish, Jambalaya.

5 thoughts on “How To Make Your Own Lobster Rolls”

  1. #1 ALWAYS remove rubber bands before cooling #2 For maximum flavor and sweetness you only need a few inches of water. Salted. Then cover and steam and never overcook. 3 minutes per lb. Then ice water to stop the cooking.

  2. Good recipe but I wouldn’t want to be put in the freezer first. Very easy to make a small lethal cut first so they aren’t boiled alive- how awful!

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