Fall is the best time of the year in San Diego. Of the many reasons is that it is spiny lobster season. This articles describes how to tail a spiny lobster and how I like to prepare them. Tailing a lobster means removing the tail for cooking.
What are Spiny Lobsters
A spiny lobster is different than a Main lobster. Spiny lobster don’t have claws and they get their names from the sharp spines all over their bodies. Lobster season varies, but usually starts in early September and ends in March. Early in the season, the water is still warm and the “bugs” are in shallow. They typically come out at night and there isn’t anything much nicer than a warm fall Southern California evening of lobstering.
Since there are no claws, the core meat is in the tail. The legs have a little, but the tail is where 90+% of the good stuff is in the tail. So, tail “tail a lobster” to get the good stuff ready for cooking.
Catching Spiny Lobsters in Southern California
There are really two main ways to catch spiny lobsters; either hoop netting or diving. I hoop net from my boat. I describe a hoop net as looking like a metal hoola-hoop with a net that hangs below it. Lobster are free to walk into and out of the net. They are not traps. They are lowered to the bottom and you attach a float to the free end of the line so you can find them and pull them up. The trick is to pull the net up when they are in the hoop eating the bait. Easy enough, but there are plenty of challenges as any Southern California Hooper will tell you.
When you do catch one, you might learn about the “Spiny” part of their name. As mentioned, spiny lobsters are covered in spines, these are for protection and they are sharp. Even their antennas are spiny. When you grab them, they will rake their antenna over your hands. If their flipping tails catch you, you can get a good cut. I know I should wear gloves, but I get excited and forget to put them on. That leaves my hands looking a little rough after a good night.
It is all part of earning a great meal.
Tailing a Spiny Lobster
Now that you have them, it is time to eat them. California Department of Fish and Wildlife has rules about size and preparing them to eat. Since you eat mainly the tail and you measure the non-tail section (carapace), they have to stay intact until you cook them. And, when a lobster dies, the meat goes bad quickly, so you should keep them live until right before you eat them.
The process is pretty simple. You grab them and twist the tail off. I hold the carapace in one hand, fold the tail under with the other and wist the tail unit it comes off. Then, to get the “vein” out, I push one of those spiny antenna back up, twist and pull it out. Check out the video to see me tail one.
Once you have a few bugs tailed, it is time to cook them up. Your cooking method should be ready before you tail them. There are a lot of good ways to cook them, my favorite is to grill them over mesquite coals.
Grilling a Spiny Lobster
With everything ready, I will split the tail lengthwise, add some olive oil/garlic and then put them on the grill. Meat side down for 1 minute, flip, add more oil/garlic and cook for another 6-10 minutes depending on size. Don’t over cook them.
As you can see in the picture, you can do the lobster whole on the grill too. You basically push a knife through the brain to kill it and split it. I think they look neat this way, but it is more work for very little more meat and takes a lot of grill space. What you can see is that I put the meat side down for just long enough to get grill marks and then finished cooking shell down.
Update – Here is a new method I discovered for cooking spiny lobster – Bacon Wrapped Lobster.
I recommend Jim Salazar’s book on lobstering. It has a lot of great information. For me, the only hard part in looking at the book is it makes me wish it were lobster season.