EVERYONE KNOWS BUT YOU by Thomas E. Ricks: Tom’s Grilled Maine Lobster Rolls

In an aside in my mystery Everyone Knows But You, a shady character explains to the protagonist how he sells phony “lobstery-y” rolls to unsuspecting tourists. I put that in the story because a real lobster roll, made with fresh-caught lobster meat, is a thing of joy.

Some friends of mine once asked me to take their son, a cynical, suburban teenage type, with me on Penobscot Bay I was pulling my lobster traps in my boat. At first, he affected boredom. But his eyes got big as I pulled the first lobster trap from the water and set it on the deck. It was loaded with some small fish, a few starfish, a bunch of crabs, and two big lobsters. Later two porpoises swam by, snorting a greeting through their blow holes. Seals watched us from nearby rocks. By the time we got to my last trap, he said, “Wow, every trap is like Christmas!” Then we moored the boat, rowed the dinghy to shore, and went home and cooked up the day’s haul. This is my favorite way to cook lobster, especially for kids who have just witnessed the process of catching them.
–Thomas E. Ricks


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2-3 servings

Prep Time

30 mins

Cook Time

14 mins

EVERYONE KNOWS BUT YOU by Thomas E. Ricks: Tom’s Grilled Maine Lobster Rolls

Note: Catch your lobsters, if you have a valid license. I prefer hard shelled lobsters of about 1 1/2 pounds. Bigger than that, the meat begins to get tough and stringy. You can use soft shell lobsters but not too soft—they don’t grill well, so avoid shells that feel leathery.

Remove lobster heads: This is more humane than dropping them in boiling water. Do this outside because it is a messy process. I use a cutting board and big knife or cleaver on the grass at the edge of the lawn. Cut the lobsters right behind the carapace, separating the head from the body. (YouTube videos that can help you with this.) Discard the heads. Do not put them in the kitchen trash—they will begin to smell high within a few hours. Likewise, with the shells, you later have left over from the meat. Put the mess in a garbage bag and get rid of it.)

I make these rolls with at least 2 or 3 fresh-caught lobsters. Get one more than you think you will need, because lobsters produce a surprisingly small amount of meat. My rule of thumb is one lobster plus my additions (below) makes one brimming finished roll. Also, I’ve actually seen people eat four of my grilled lobster rolls at one sitting, although that is like eating four cheeseburgers.I prefer grilling to boiling because the taste result it is like the difference between roasted potatoes and boiled potatoes.

To pick the meat: A little pick or two-pronged fork is essential. A nutcracker also helps, although you can use a big pair of pliers. I also use a hammer to make the first crack in the body, the claws, and the knuckle

Best consumed with a bottle of chilled Sancerre or a cold Maine IPA while sitting outside and watching the tide roll in as the sun sets over the harbor.

  • 2-3 1 1/2  pounds lobsters (see note)
  • Olive oil, for brushing 2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise (I prefer Duke’s or Hellman’s)
  • Salt, to taste
  • A handful of fresh baby arugula, but not if it is tough (optional)
  • Celery (1 small rib per lobster, optional)
  • 1-2 strips cooked bacon, diced (optional)
  • Tarragon, but not too much—fresh or dried (optional)
  • Ground cayenne pepper or Sriracha sauce (optional)
  • Hot buttered hot dog rolls, preferably top-opening
  1. While the grill is heating, remove the lobster heads (see note). Place lobsters on the hot grill over a medium flame. Brush a little olive oil on the top side of the shells. Grill the first side for about 7 minutes, then turn and cook for another 6 minutes, brushing with a little oil the side that is now up.
  2. Place the cooked lobsters in a bowl and set on the counter to cool for an hour or more. When the lobsters are comfortable to handle, pick the meat (see note) Make sure the thickest meat, in the claws and tail, is cooked through so that it is white. If it isn’t and is still jelly-ish in the middle, just sauté that part in butter on the stove for a minute or 2 until it is fully cooked. Don’t neglect the meat in the “knuckles” between the body and claws—I think this is the lobster’s best-tasting part. Vein the tail. Rinse it. Set aside the claw meat, then dice the rest of the meat.
  3. Place the diced meat in a bowl, and add a few tablespoons of mayonnaise. Stir. Add salt to taste. You could just add mayo, but I like to mix it up sometimes. Then dice and stir in optional additions:  arugula, bacon, celery, tarragon,  ground cayenne pepper or Sriracha..Chill in the refrigerator for a while, but don’t serve it too cold.
  4. Scoop lobster on hot buttered hot dog rolls. Garnish with the reserved claw meat.