Classic New England Lobster Rolls

SandwichQuick and EasyNew EnglandLobster

Nothing says summer like a New England Lobster Roll! This classic recipe lets the lobster shine with big chunks of sweet meat, a little mayo, and a touch of lemon. Keep it simple and serve it with a side of chips.

Photography Credit: Sally Vargas

We wait a long time for summer here in New England, and, when it arrives, it is spectacular. Maybe it’s the longing for it that makes it so.

One thing is required when it comes to sunny summer days: The Lobster Roll.

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Lobster Rolls: Classic Summer Feast

New Englanders are an understated lot, and you’ll see that reflected in this classic summer feast. Just a few ingredients: large chunks of lobster, mayonnaise, and celery, stuffed into a grilled hot dog bun and eaten on a dock near water on a sparkling day! That’s the essence of summer here, with or without the dock. Proust can have his madeleines. I will take a lobster roll.

There is something so comforting about eating a lobster roll on a hot dog bun. It screams summer. It says, “Nothin’ fancy here, folks.” If you want bells and whistles, then take your bacon and avocado and brioche lobster rolls to another table. Yes, New Englanders have attitude aplenty, too.

On Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, and our two summer birthdays, our family abandons the burgers and hot dogs in favor of the long-yearned-for lobster roll. But it’s a cheater’s affair.

We rarely start with a live lobster. I mean, you could. You could also start a sandwich by baking bread from scratch. Don’t get me wrong, I might cook a lobster to eat it along with corn on the cob and a hot dog (another New England tradition), but the beauty of the lobster roll is its ease of preparation.

How to make lobster rolls with individual bowls of the lobster salad ingredients set on a table.


If you are reading this from Minnesota, I apologize. Freshly cooked New England lobster meat purchased locally really is the best. Frozen or canned lobster meat just isn’t the same as freshly cooked lobster, but if that’s what you have access to, you can still make a tasty roll.

Here are three ways to get your lobster if you don’t live in New England:

  • Live Lobster: Typically, if you’re going to cook a live lobster, you want to dip it in butter, not put it in a roll. But if that’s the only way for you to have fresh meat for your roll, and you have the time (and money), then go for it. Check out our post on How to Boil and Eat Lobster.
  • Frozen: You can purchase precooked frozen lobster meat or uncooked frozen lobster tail at fish markets. Either one will do the trick.
  • Mail Order Lobster: If you don’t live in New England and don’t have access to freshly cooked meat or live lobster, but you want to be as authentic as possible, several Maine lobster companies such as Maine Lobster Now can ship fresh, frozen, or even live lobsters to you overnight. It’s pricy, but fresh lobster meat really is the best. I have plenty of local options, so I can’t vouch personally for the shipping companies, but I have faith in Mainers that they will treat you well.

When looking for lobster meat for a lobster roll you want a combination mostly lobster tails and claws. If you only have tail meat that’s okay, too.

For cooked frozen meat, just thaw in the refrigerator before using. For the uncooked frozen tail, the best way to prepare it is to thaw for 24 hours ahead of time and then steam it in salted water. The time will depend on how large the tail. A three- to six-ounce tail will take about four to six minutes.

How to Prep the Lobster for Rolls

A prized lobster roll has large, bite-size chunks of lobster; so don’t chop it too small. Some lobster rolls are made with just lobster, a little lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Now that’s true understatement.


The New England style hot dog bun, also called a split-top or top-loading bun, was developed by Howard Johnson’s, a restaurant chain famous for its clam strip rolls. Clam strips, made from flattened large surf clams, were the standard for Howard Johnson’s clam rolls in New England. The best clam rolls, made from deep-fried whole belly clams like Ipswich clams, are also served in New England style buns, and lobster rolls followed suit.

Not only do these buns stand upright, but because they are baked in a special pan, they have “whitewall” rather than browned sides. Those sides can be buttered and grilled in a pan.

You can fashion a New England style bun from a regular hot dog bun by cutting a sliver of crust off each side of the bun to square it off, ready for buttering and pan-grilling.


Classic New England Lobster Rolls Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: 4-6 servings


For the filling:

  • 1 pound cooked lobster meat, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise

For the buns:

  • 4 to 6 New England style split-top hot dog buns
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons soft butter

For serving:

  • Lemon wedges
  • Potato chips


1 Make the lobster salad: In a bowl, stir the lobster meat, lemon juice, salt, pepper, celery, and mayonnaise together. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice, if you like.

Glass mixing bowl with chopped lobster, mayo and diced celery to make a homemade lobster roll recipe. Mixing bowl with creamy lobster salad to make a homemade lobster roll recipe.

2 Toast the buns: Spread the outsides of the buns with softened butter. Set a skillet or cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Toast the buns for about 30 seconds on each side, or until golden brown.

Three split rolls buttered and in a skillet to toast for a homemade lobster roll recipe. How to make lobster rolls by toasting the bun. Three split buns, toasted and on a plate.

3 Assemble the lobster rolls: Fill each bun with lobster salad. Serve with potato chips and a wedge of lemon.

Plate of the best lobster roll recipe served with a side of chips and a lemon wedge.

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Sally Vargas

Sally Pasley Vargas is a freelance writer and the author of three cookbooks (Food for Friends, The Tao of Cooking, Ten Speed Press, and The Cranberry Cookbook). She currently writes the column The Confident Cook for The Boston Globe along with seasonal recipes for the Wednesday Food Section.

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8 Comments / Reviews

No ImageClassic New England Lobster Rolls

Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Marie

    I love lobster rolls and always order them if I see them on a menu. I was a bit nervous but I wanted to try and make them myself so I ordered lobster and received it uncooked. I was thankful that you told me how to steam it. This recipe is super easy but was fantastic. It came out perfect. My husband loved them. Thank you!


  2. Paul

    This is THE authentic recipe. I’ve only made them this way albeit with the addition of a quarter tsp. of celery seed. But you must use the proper pronunciation and introduce them as “lopstah” rolls when serving . A bottle of Moxie anyone?


  3. Gary

    Mass. native, here. This is one of two ways to make a lobster roll. As with the warm version, this cold version, is all about the lobster, a decent roll/bun, and a bit of mayo.
    But the celery should say “optional” along with the unnecessary chives (ughhh). And at least you didn’t muck it up with suggesting fennel. For me, any of that licorice flavored herbs with anywhere, especially seafood, is disgusting!

    Warm version is simply lobster, melted butter and a squeeze of lemon.
    In either, toasting the roll is completely optional.
    Glad to see you kept it simple.


  4. low and slow

    Where can I find lobster rolls? Iv`e never seen them at any supermarket,thanks.

    Show Replies (1)
  5. Steve K

    Just to clarify, in Minnesota our stores do often carry live lobsters, as well as uncooked frozen tails. We aren’t totally in the dark ages you know. This recipe sounds very much like what I’ve had back east.

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Plate of the best lobster roll recipe served with a side of chips and a lemon wedge.Classic New England Lobster Rolls