Features
Lobster Rolls: Are You on Team Butter or Team Mayo?
Let the debate begin.
09-03-2021
Mari Levine

For decades, the lobster roll has been at the center of one of the Eastern Seaboard’s most fervent food debates.

Pretty much everyone agrees that lobster is delicious. But when you put it in a roll, that’s where the disagreements begin. Mayo (Maine style) versus butter (Connecticut style). Hot versus cold. Toasted bun versus . . . actually, all lobster rolls should come on a toasted bun.

So what camp are you in? Below, representatives from each side—writer Izzy Lopez and America’s Test Kitchen test cook Eric Haessler—plead their cases. But remember: When both options are lobster rolls, everybody wins.

izzy and eric

Izzy Lopez and Eric Haessler: two lobster-roll lovers on opposite sides of the debate.

Izzy "All Mayo All Day" Lopez

On my list of cherished summertime foods, lobster rolls reign supreme. 

I grew up in New England, and I spent my childhood summers on the beach. After a lifetime of research, I have determined that lobster rolls must be made in the Maine style (also known as New England style)—cold lobster shrouded in mayo, stuffed into a bun, and bespeckled with chopped celery. This is not a preference, but a rule. And don’t skimp on the claw meat. 

To understand the Maine-style roll, you have to understand beach food, an unpretentious dining genre renowned for taste and ease. The design of a mayo-dressed lobster roll is similar to that of a chicken salad sandwich, which, when made well, is a better-than-you-remembered favorite.

After a lifetime of research, I have determined that lobster rolls must be made in the Maine style . . . This is not a preference, but a rule.

Maine-style rolls can be easily made at home with few ingredients and kept cool during long, traffic-filled drives to the beach or a cookout. These rolls are simple yet luxurious affairs—the mayo dressing offers a rich complement to sweet lobster meat, the celery provides necessary crunch, and the cold temperature brings relief to humid afternoons. 

Fans of the Connecticut-style lobster roll, which swaps out mayo for hot butter, will tell you that mayo obscures the taste of the lobster itself. Of course, melted butter is an exceptional condiment on most foods—no one is debating that. However, in the case of the lobster roll, a cold, mayo-dressed salad heaped into a grilled bun is the only way to go if you want a lobster roll that is rich, delicious, and enjoyed by the sea.

Team Mayo

Izzy's Choice New England Lobster Rolls

A little bit of mayo and a whole lot of lobster makes the best New England–style rolls. Here's how to do it at home.

 

Eric "Butter Is Better" Haessler

I understand that there are literally hundreds of ways to prepare any given ingredient, but boiled or steamed lobster with drawn butter is the gold standard of foods for me. It is so simple. I place it in the seafood category with perfectly seared scallops and oven-roasted oysters.

So combining that lobster and butter and spooning it into a toasted bun? That's the ultimate sandwich—and the only way to eat a lobster roll. 

[D]on’t waste your lobster, people. Don’t hide it behind mayonnaise like a cheap can of StarKist. Bring it out front. Let it shine.

When I think of a mayonnaise-based sandwich salad, I go straight to tuna fish or chicken salad. Both are delightful. They're handy for school lunches or picnics, and they make a fast and easy meal when you're working from home. But they are certainly not on the delicious decadence level of lobster. They shouldn't be treated the same way. It's like taking a piece of prime rib and grinding it into hamburger.

Don’t get me wrong, I love mayo. I use it every day. I’ll dip my fries in it, spread it on the outside of grilled cheese, and use it to make potato salad or deviled eggs. But don’t waste your lobster, people. Don’t hide it behind mayonnaise like a cheap can of StarKist. Bring it out front. Let it shine. Slather it in melted butter and drop it in a warm, toasted hot dog bun.

Team Butter

Eric's Favorite Hot Buttered Lobster Rolls

This Connecticut-style recipe is all about the tried-and-true combination of lobster and butter.