Lobster rolls: How to make this rich summer treat, where to buy

By Evan Kleiman

The lobster roll on the left is served cold, with a mayo-based dressing, celery leaves, and chives. The roll on the right is served hot, with melted butter and garnish. The meat in both comes from Connie and Ted’s in West Hollywood. Photo by Zacile Rosette/KCRW.

Despite the May gray, summer approaches. And nothing screams summer more than a lobster roll on a salt-sprayed boardwalk. That is if you’re from New England. But who can resist the split-top bun filled with rich lobster meat? 

The choice is: How do you take yours, hot or cold? Is it the cold Maine-style stuffed into a grilled and buttered bun? The mixture is made of chilled meat bathed in a mayo dressing with a bit of lemon juice, chopped celery and chives. Or do you prefer the Connecticut-style roll in which warmed lobster meat is left plain and simply drizzled with melted butter once in the bun? Some say that the lobster meat reveals its true nature when served cold but often that saline-sweet richness is obscured by too many ingredients in a mayo drenched “salad.” Others believe that heating the meat lets the full flavors bloom, as long as you don’t drench it with the melted butter. Overall, restraint seems to be the key to the best lobster rolls. Either way, they are a rich treat of a luxury meat.

Making your own lobster roll is pretty easy if you let someone else cook the meat for you.

You’re looking for the tender and flavorful knuckle meat with a bit from the claw meat mixed in. Don’t completely rely on tail meat, even though it’s easiest to cook at home. It’s a bit tough, which doesn’t fare well in a roll. You can look for lobster meat at fish markets or online. I’ve found Luke’s Lobster to be a good source. They are a Maine fishing family who sell kits direct, but you can find the meat at Sprouts or via Instacart, but always check first. Costco occasionally releases kits.They’re the butter-based variety and sell out whenever they appear. Perhaps set a Google alert.

This lobster roll is made with chives and celery leaves on a brioche “bun.” Photo by Shutterstock.

The roll or bun is an important part of the experience. Traditionally it’s a split-top hot dog bun. You want the split-top bun because the sides have no “crust,” so you’re able to beautifully toast them in butter, an imperative for the classic. Some chefs opt for brioche, reinforcing the richness of the meat with an eggy, buttery bun. King’s Hawaiian makes a split top bun, but I find the sweetness of it interferes with the lobster’s natural sweetness. If you can’t find a split top bun, you can make an approximation using an unsliced loaf of bread. Cut an extra thick (approximately 2-3”) piece of unsliced bread. Then just trim the bottom so your bread chunk is low-rise like a bun. Then cut a split partway down the center from the top. Now you have a lot of crumb exterior for toasting. 

If you want to take on cooking the lobster yourself, this extremely detailed how-to by Kenji Lopez-Alt for Maine-style lobster rolls is for you. Here’s a good simple recipe for starting with the cooked lobster meat, putting it all together Maine-style. Here’s the briefest possible recipe for the Connecticut-style from the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. 

And if you just want to eat a lobster roll and have someone else make it for you, here are some local suggestions: