Best wood for smoking lobster | My favorite choices for great flavor

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  January 2, 2022

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A true seafood fan knows that smoked lobster tails are one of the most delicious foods to serve during your BBQ party.

If you’ve tried smoked lobster tail meat, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

When you’re looking for the most amazing flavors for your smoked lobster tail, you need to use some wood chips or wood chunks.

Best wood for smoking lobster | My favorite choices for great flavor

The best wood for smoking lobster tails if you like a strong flavor are hardwoods like hickory, mesquite, and oak wood. For a milder smoke flavor, maple, apple, cherry, and other fruit woods are most suitable. But, the overall best wood for smoking seafood is alder.

It all depends on your preference because there are so many smoking recipes out there, but if you’re keen on letting the garlic butter or herb butter shine, start off with mild or medium wood.

That way you can feel all the flavors of the meat inside the lobster tail.

If you’re used to southern-style BBQ, the smoky and earthy flavors of strong woods will surely please. Keep reading to find out which wood chips you can use for smoking lobster tails.

Does the smoking wood matter when making smoked lobster tails?

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Just like when you’re smoking other meats like chicken, for example, you want to use a smoke wood that doesn’t overpower the meat’s natural flavors.

Usually, you’ll use milder fruit woods or neutral smoke profiles like alder and oak. The same thing applies to making seafood like lobster in your smoker.

When smoking lobster, the woods must compliment the spices and flavoring mixtures. Usually, the thawed lobster tails are first coated in a butter sauce with minced garlic and black pepper.

This butter mixture already adds some flavors so you can then decide whether you prefer a strong smoking wood that can balance out the garlic butter flavors.

It’s all about personal preference and many people prefer to use mesquite, hickory, and oak wood to smoke lobster tails.

Alternatively, if you like to really taste the lobster tail meat, you can use a mild fruit wood for smoking and just add some lemon juice for a fresh, sweet, and citrusy taste.

Check out other great fish to smoke in my ultimate top 10 smoking choices for the seafood lover

Best smoking wood choices for lobster tails

If you want soft flavors to taste the lobster tail then go lighter.

Whether you cover lobster tails with a heavy sauce such as Hollandaise or bearnaise, a heavier lumber alternative may be the best way to take advantage of those heavily competing flavors.

Try alder, apple, cherry, hickory, oak, or mesquite for amazing flavor. Let’s look at each wood in part and see what flavor it imparts to the lobster tails.

Alder

  • mild to medium flavor
  • earthy, slightly sweet

Alder wood is a mild to medium flavored smoke wood. It is traditionally used for all types of meat because it doesn’t overpower the natural aromas.

But did you know that alder is actually considered one of the top woods for smoking seafood and fish?

The alder wood chips have a mild earthy flavor and a light sweetness. The overall flavor is delicate and light so you can taste the butter sauce, the condiments, and the sweet taste of the lobster tails.

Alder wood is also great as a blending wood with fruity woods such as apple. The apple and alder combination is sweet and only lightly smokey.

Alder is also my favorite mild wood for smoking lake trout

Apple wood

  • mild flavor
  • sweet, fruity

Fruit woods are mild and give the lobster a pleasantly sweet and fruity smoke flavor. Apple is the most popular because it has subtle smokiness but tastes quite sweet.

Applewood chips are a good choice for smoking lobster since they are mild enough to complement the delicate flavors of the meat

Also, applewood chips for smoking are the most common wood chip to mix with stronger flavored woods like hickory or mesquite wood chips to lessen the strength of more robust flavors of those intense wood chips.

Learn all about how to use woodchips in your smoker here

Mesquite wood

  • strong flavor
  • earthy, bacony

Mesquite wood is intense – it imports meat with a strong bacony and earthy smoke flavor. Some people find this Texas-style flavor a bit too strong for the smoked lobster tail but it’s very delicious.

The combinations of the herb butter mixture and the fishy aroma of the meat work well in this case.

Mesquite isn’t commonly used for smoking seafood, the lobster tails have a hard shell that prevents all the smoke from penetrating the flesh.

If you smoke the lobster in its shell, you can get a very mild smoke flavor. The lobster shell acts as a barrier and doesn’t let the heavy smoke overpower the subtle lobster meat flavors.

Mesquite wood chips burn very fast so you need to soak the chips first to make them smoke slower.

If you want to tone down the rich earthiness and strong smoke aroma, you can blend mesquite with milder woods such as alder, oak, or apple and cherry.

Be careful not to use too much mesquite or it can taste too pungent for the delicate meat in lobster tails.

Hickory

  • strong flavor
  • bacony, earthy, nutty, adds dark color to the meat

If you enjoy the strong flavors of mesquite wood, you’ll also like smoking with hickory wood. This is the classic southern-BBQ wood flavor.

It’s not quite as rich and intense as mesquite but offers the same bacon-like taste with a strong earthy smoke profile.

Hickory wood chunks can also add a nice dark brown color to fish and seafood.

It works well with lobster tails because it has a light nutty aroma to it and this, combined with classic smokiness infuses the lobster tails with the best BBQ flavors.

Hickory is best combined with fruit woods like cherry which also gives the lobster tails a dark red exterior color. Apple is a good choice too and these two fruit woods give the rich earthy hickory wood a sweet kick.

Maple

  • mild to medium smoke flavor
  • mellow and slightly sweet

Maple is known as a mellow wood for smoking. It’s used to smoke foods like poultry and game birds but it’s also great for seafood because it’s not too overpowering.

The maple wood is subtle and not heavy at all. It imparts the lobster with a pleasant mellow sweetness.

You can’t really taste a distinct wood smoke flavor with maple but if you use sugar maple, the taste is even sweeter.

I haven’t seen a smoked lobster tails recipe that recommends using only maple because the flavor is a bit too mild but you can always mix it with apple, cherry, or a neutral wood like alder.

There’s no reason you can’t also use the sweet maple as an alternative to fruit woods or to tone down the pungent flavors of mesquite and hickory.

Oak

  • medium to strong flavor
  • earthy, rich smoky

Oak is a popular wood for smoking meats like beef and pork. But, you can also add oak wood chips to your smoker when you’re cooking smoked lobster tail.

Although it’s not quite as strong as mesquite, this wood burns a heavy smoke with a rich, earthy taste. It’s a bit overpowering if you use too much.

For delicate meats like lobster tails, I recommend mixing oak wood with a light fruitwood like apple or pear. That hint of sweetness balances out the aromas of the oak wood smoke.

Like cherry, oak also gives the meat a nice mahogany color.

Cedar plank

Alternately you could place lobster tails on cedar planks for smoking at a low temperature.

You’re not supposed to use any resinous woods for smoking meat because they contain high levels of toxic sap and resin. These can cause illness when ingested but cedar planks are an exception to the rule.

Cedar planks are traditionally used to smoke salmon but in this case, you can place the lobster tails and douse them with some melted butter, garlic cloves, and other condiments.

The planks are placed on the smoker grates and the aromas of the cedar lightly penetrate the meat.

How long does it take to smoke lobster in a smoker?

Lobster meat cooks and smokes pretty fast, you need to heat the smoker to 225 degrees F. Configure your smoker for indirect cooking at a low temperature.

The benefit this has is that lobster tails cook slowly. This results in more tender meat and an added smokey taste.

Using a slow cooking method for smoking lobster is essentially our favorite way.

Once you’ve prepped the fresh and cleaned or frozen lobster tails, place the lobster either onto the smoker grates, a pan, or use cedar planks.

Don’t forget to cover them in a bit of olive oil or other cooking oil so they don’t stick to the grates.

Then, the most important part is to add the flavored wood chips of your choice. You can do a quick smoke or a long and slow smoke.

For a quick smoked lobster tails recipe, you should smoke the lobster meat at 130 degrees F for approximately 15 to 20 minutes.

However, smoking using the traditional low and slow works best for lobster tails.

Although it’s a “longer” smoke, it actually only takes about 35 to 60 minutes to smoke lobster meat, depending on the size of the lobster tails.

Most lobster should be smoked for about 45 minutes or so. The internal temperature of the meat should be about 200 F.

Know exactly how your lobster tails our doing with a good wireless meat thermometer

Which woods to definitely avoid when smoking lobster

When smoking seafood, you want to avoid using walnut. This wood is way too strong for smoked lobster tails and will make them taste bitter.

Also, you should never use any conifers and resinous trees for smoking any food.

The only exception is the cedarwood planks which are suitable for smoking salmon and lobster tails on the smoker.

Using conifers like pine wood is dangerous because the sap and terpenes create a sooty black smoke when burning and it makes food bitter but it can also make you feel sick.

Takeaway

Next time you set up the smoker for lobster tails, don’t forget about smoking wood.

If you prefer strong earthy flavors, go for a strong wood like mesquite, oak, hickory, because these enhance the light fishy aromas of the lobster tails.

But, if you want to savor the delicate meat, you can use any type of mild fruitwood or a more balanced wood like alder and maple.

These milder smoke woods impart just enough aroma to give the smoked lobster tails a pleasantly sweet aftertaste.

Make it a complete meal with these 7 best recipes for smoking vegetables

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.