There’s a reason lobster is the most expensive thing on the menu. The tender, juicy meat of a fresh lobster dipped in hot butter is one in a million. Although it wasn't always a meal for the rich and fanciful, lobster has become a genuinely expensive and ”posh” dish. But don't let this deter you from trying it. If you're looking for a new avenue to explore in the seafood realm, lobster is one of a kind. Learn how to cook it right and you'll never run out of ways to impress your taste buds.
The question stands, am I getting the freshest lobster for my money? Is there a difference distinguishing type, taste, and price? What is the best tasting Lobster?
I am here to help guide you and broaden your knowledge of this interesting (and delicious) sea creature.
What Exactly is a Lobster?
All lobsters are decapod (have 5 sets of legs) omnivores that feed on plants, fish, and other crustaceans during the night. Lobsters are known for their fierce cannibalism in times of captivity (hmm, fun!) All lobsters molt (shed their skin) numerous times throughout their lifespans to support their growth, but this is a very slow process. Each species of lobster goes through a hard shell and soft shell season, as they rotate through molting stages. These stages affect the taste and quality of the lobster we eat.
These strange invertebrate crustaceans live singly and are carried by mom for a whole year before venturing out on their own. They can regenerate lost limbs, and live in the wild for up to 50 years! That's a long time to survive on the predacious ocean floor. Research shows that older lobsters, although their meat is not as tasty, are more fertile and strong than the young (and can I add, probably wiser too?)
They also taste with their legs, chew with their stomachs, have their brain in their throat, and kidneys in their heads.
So let's get down to it. Now that we know these animals are far from ordinary, let's explore the different varieties and their accompanying flavors.
Ultimately, there are two categories that Lobsters are placed in; warm water and cold water varieties.
Hard or Soft Shell Lobster?
Lobsters will molt seasonally, and unfortunately, the timing is not universal. Depending on factors like weather, climate and species type, soft and hard shell seasons can differ by location and may not be at the exact same time every year.
Soft Shell Season
When lobsters shed their skin and molt, they stretch the soft carapace and create a roomier shell. This water-loaded shell provides a unique flavor that is difficult to describe. Most importantly, soft shell lobsters are extremely hard to transport because of their fragility. Hence, they can really only be enjoyed directly after being caught, on-site, or cooked from frozen. They also typically have less meat-per-pound than hard shell lobsters. Soft shell lobsters are mostly caught between the months of July and late September.
Hard Shell Season
Lobsters are easiest to transfer and keep alive while their shells are hard. Depending on molting seasons in different areas, the best time to harvest is after they have molted and regained their hard shell. In many places, lobsters are protected during molting season to reduce extreme dips in their population. After being caught, hard shell lobsters can travel thousands of miles and arrive at their new destination alive! Their shells tend to be packed with more meat, hence they usually cost more. They are most abundant between late September and November.
Warm Water Lobster
Also known as the “rock lobster,” “spiny lobster,” or “false,” these types of lobsters have 5 appendages and NO front claws. Instead, they have a front set of legs that are actually thick, oversized antennae. They are found mostly on the California coastline and the Caribbean and are largely harvested in the winter months. Warm water lobsters are generally less expensive and are known for their excellent source of tail meat. On average they are 1-5 pounds, but can grow as large as 15 pounds!
Warm water lobster = no front claws
Caribbean Lobsters fall under this category. They are caught on the North American coast, throughout the Gulf of Mexico and on the shore of the Caribbean (hence their name).They are unique in that they only spawn in summer when the ocean temperature reaches exactly 73*F. They are commercially fished (primarily in the Bahamas) for their unique and succulent tail meat, packaged in a nice hard shell patterned with gray and brown stripes and yellow spots. You can have these delicious tails delivered to your door (affiliate link).
Avg. Price (Frozen Shipped): $35/lb.
Avg. Price (Live): $25/lb.
Flavor Profile: sweet & delicate flavor, succulent tail meat
South African Lobsters are actually a warm water species, yet they live in cold water. They tend to grow much slower than the Caribbean lobster and have a unique flavor due to their extremely muscular tail. If you haven't experimented with the South African Lobster tail, I'd highly recommend it. It isn't cheap, but when cooked well, this lobster will blow your mind. It is predominantly sold to US markets as frozen raw tails or frozen whole lobsters. The South African Government strictly manages the fisheries, and everything is processed, frozen and packed right at sea. This has gained them a good reputation of producing high quality lobsters. Order now from LobsterGram.
Avg. Price (Frozen Shipped): $45/lb.
Avg. Price (Live): unknown
Flavor Profile: sweet and succulent
Australian Lobsters are harvested off the northwest coast of, you guessed it, Australia. They are known to have a smooth, delicate flavor, with each tail weighing in at around 8-10 ounces. Their red and green shades give them a unique visual characteristic. They are an extremely versatile lobster suited to all types of cooking, with a slightly fishy and salty taste. Overnight shipping here.
Season: year round
Avg. Price (Frozen Shipped): $60/lb.
Avg. Price (Live): $45/lb.
Flavor Profile: sweet and mild taste, firm meat
Reef Lobsters are known for their beautiful purple and lavender markings, showing in either stripes, rings or spots. Strangely, they actually have claws but are not regarded as a ”clawed” lobster. Instead of the typical 3 sets of claws on the warm water species, these only possess 1 set. These little guys are known to be very timid, and because of their small size, are not prized for their meat, but are most popular in the aquarium trade due to their bright coloring. Found in the Indo-Pacific, Caribbean, and warmer parts of the Atlantic.
Avg. Price (Live): $20 for 2 inch lobster (for aquarium)
California Lobsters are a species (one of the largest) of spiny lobster found on the coast from Monterey Bay, CA to Mexico. They can grow up to 24 inches long, and are commercially and recreationally fished, 95% of them being shipped to China, as they are willing to pay up to 3X more than local customers. These are the most economically important lobster on the American west-coast.
Avg. Price (Frozen Shipped): unknown
Avg. Price (Live): $25/lb.
Flavor Profile: creamy, nutty, delicate, sweet
Cold Water Lobster
Also known as “true” or “clawed” lobsters, these have become the typical and expected lobster when dining out or when shopping at a market. Because of their 5 sets of walking legs and 3 sets of claws, there is more meat to be had. Many people prefer the claw meat over tail meat, making cold water lobster a specialty all over the world.
Cold water lobsters are prized above all other species because of their sweet, briny richness.
Canadian Lobsters are harvested for their claw meat, and depending on timing, you'll get a soft or hard shell lobster along the East Coast of Canada. There is a constant debate over the difference between the Canadian and the Maine lobsters. Although they are from the same species (Homarus americanus), there are some differences, the major difference being the temperature of the waters. Canadian waters are colder, thus producing a harder shell, less sweetness and denser meat. Order Canadian lobster tails here (affiliate link).
Season: October-January & June-July
Avg. Price (Frozen Shipped): $65/lb. lobster meat
Avg. Price (Live): $20/lb.
Flavor Profile: pronounced flavor, on the sweet side, denser meat
Maine Lobsters (Homarus americanus) fall under the same species as Canadian lobsters and are highly favored for their juicy claw meat, but also their tails. You can commonly find Maine lobster in restaurants and supermarkets, and many swear it to be the best lobster available. They have a sweet briny richness, and their tail meat is extremely fibrous and firmer than any claw meat out there. Prices will vary depending on location, but average at about $50/pound for store-bought. If you order Maine Lobster in a restaurant, you can find prices will far exceed this. Maine lobstermen have caught over 100 million pounds of lobster annually since 2011, which is completely insane!
Season: year-round. Peak time is June-December
Avg. Price (Frozen Shipped): $70/lb. lobster meat
Avg. Price (Live): $20/lb.
Flavor Profile: sweet, succulent pronounced flavor, tender meat
New Zealand Lobsters live in the deep waters of the South Pacific coast and have a beautiful deep scarlet-colored shell. There are two species of these rock lobsters; the red/spiny rock lobster and the packhorse rock lobster. They are known for their sweet, velvety smooth meat and firm white flesh. After being harvested from temperate, subtropical coastal waters throughout New Zealand, the lobsters are quickly flown live to markets throughout the world, especially Asia. It is one of the prized seafood dishes for Chinese celebrations. Check out this amazing resource.
Avg. Price (Frozen Shipped): $50/lb. whole lobster, $25/lb. tail meat
Avg. Price (Live): $60/lb.
Flavor Profile: slightly sweet, meaty succulent texture
Slipper Lobsters possess enlarged antennae and have no front claws, with a flat face that makes it look like they've been smashed. They bury themselves in the mud during the day, instead of in holes like most other lobsters. Hence, they are not as desirable to eat, lucky for these guys. All the 90 species of slipper lobsters are edible, but only a few are of commercial importance, and are mainly caught by scuba divers. They are found in all warm oceans and seas, with the majority of them being fished in Asia. These guys are endangered, but still being served as a "rare and special" meal in certain places, although they are tricky to cook and can easily become rubbery.
Endangered in most places.
Flavor Profile: sweet, white and firm meat
Furry Lobsters get their name from the protrusions on their body which make them appear to be covered in hair. They have very large antennas, but not as big as the spiny lobster. They tend to be quite small and usually manage to avoid lobster traps, and are more easily caught by divers. These funky-looking lobsters have a dark colored body that ranges from brown to purple, blue markings on the head and white stripes on their legs. This type of lobster can grow to be about 70 centimeters in length and can easily weigh up to five kilograms.
Season: no interest to commercial fisheries. Prohibited to fish.
Squat Lobsters are actually more closely related to crabs or hermit crabs. They live in crevices and dig in the sand for food with their claws. Over 900 species of squat lobsters have been discovered, but only a very small amount are commercially fished, because only certain varieties are edible, called Langostino Lobsters. These small crabs are distributed worldwide and reside in all water levels, from caves above sea-level to deep-sea hydrothermal vents. There is a demand for squat lobster meat to use as feed in fish, shrimp and prawn farms, because they contain astaxanthin, a pigment that helps color the meat of farmed trout and salmon.
Season: not commercially fished. Occasionally used as bait.
Several other crustaceans have ”lobster” in the name, but these are not clawed lobsters from the family Nephropidae. Their closest relatives are the reef lobsters and freshwater crayfish.
Commercially Imported Lobsters
The Homarus species (typical looking lobster) from the North Atlantic Ocean are regularly exported from USA and Canada to Europe and the UK. The Scampi species (”mini lobsters”) from the North and South hemispheres are imported in relatively small quantities.
Canadian waters are very cold, so their lobsters typically have harder shells than Maine lobsters, and are easier to transport (but the meat is less sweet and tender).
Currently 95% of commercially caught lobster in California is shipped to China, where people are willing to pay premium prices. Because these fisheries can ship directly to Asai while keeping the lobsters alive, they are able to make a much bigger profit.
The Best Time of Year to Buy and Eat Lobster
In Maine, where the most well-known Lobsters thrive, they are harvested year-round. But the largest harvesting counts come during the summer months when fishermen work around the clock to meet the demands of tourists and locals.
The reason lobsters are more abundant during the summer season is because they migrate closer to shore in the warmer waters and shed their shells. After they've molted, they tend to feed, and hungry lobsters are considered easier to trap.
Mother nature does not always cooperate with the wants of man. Live lobsters are susceptible to seasonal changes, and government regulations can often affect supply and demand. In Canada, where 60% of the world's lobsters are harvested, the season typically peaks 2 times a year; once between the months of April and June, and another in December.
May is typically the best month if you're looking to buy live lobsters. The hauls are very good, yet the summer demand is not in effect yet, and prices haven't skyrocketed. Plus, the lobsters are generally very firm and meaty after the cold months.
Prices surge throughout summer, and even more into Christmas and New Years. Throughout the winter months, only the bravest fisherman take on the choppy waters and head far out to catch what they can. Hence, there are less lobsters to be had in winter, and this is when they are most expensive to get live.
Typically a fine lobster meal is served with more than one side dish. It really depends on your taste, as these sides are very diverse.
Properly prepared lobster, whole or “in the shell," has a quality freezer-life of 9 to 12 months.
Cooking raw lobster from frozen - If you want to thaw your frozen lobster (uncooked), it should be done slowly to preserve premium taste and texture - overnight in the refrigerator.
Your thawed lobster can then be boiled in a 2% salt brine for 12-15 minutes (roughly 1/2 cup of non-iodized salt or sea salt per 2 quarts of water).
Preparing pre-cooked lobster from frozen - If you have lobster tail, knuckle or claw meat, which is already cooked, thaw using overnight refrigeration method, and boil in salt brine for 2-3 minutes. You don't want to further cook it, you're just heating it up. Drain in a colander and enjoy.
You can steam pre-cooked whole lobsters. Place a steam rack at the bottom of a large pot and fill with 2 inches of water + 2 tbs. salt. Bring to a boil and place lobster(s) in rack, cover pot. Average steam time is 10 minutes.
Preparing and Freezing Cooked Lobsters -
- Blanch live lobster at 212° for 60 seconds in a 2% salt brine.
- Chill after blanching in a tub full of half ice, half water.
- After a 15-20 minute chill, remove excess surface water.
- Put lobsters in commercial freezer bags and remove as much air as possible. Place in second freezer bag or wrap over with a laminated freezer wrap.
- Freeze at -18° C (0° F) or lower. The lower the freezer temp, the better they will regain flavor and quality.
Pro-tip: Lobster steamed in a pilsner or lager beer is delicious!
- Freshness - Depending on how far your lobster has traveled to get to your plate, the freshness will vary. If a lobster is alive right before cooked, you will have ultimate freshness. Usually, a flash-frozen lobster that is thawed, cooked, and eaten quickly will regain most of its flavor as well.
- Age - The older the lobster, the tougher the meat will be. Younger (smaller) lobsters will usually have more flavor to offer. Lobster fishermen throw back the ones that are too big or too small. The small ones need to grow, while the large ones add vigor to the gene pool.
- Location - Where the lobster is harvested will also have an effect on the quality of the meat. Lobster's environment and diet can have distinguishing effects on their ultimate taste. Different location, different species, different tastes.
- Season - Lobster is easiest to transfer (alive) when the shell is hard. They tend to have more meat and firmness after the colder months. Educate yourself about the molting season in your area if you want to buy locally.
The Best Lobster
Cold-water Lobsters, particularly from Maine, are prized all over the world for their sweet and tender meat. Because Maine has warmer waters than Canada, their lobsters tend to be softer, allowing for more tender meat, and an overall better tasting lobster. There is no comparing the tender and sweet meat of a Maine Lobster; it is the best!
Cold-water Lobster from Maine provide the most coveted tails in the world.
We recommend this distributor to get your hands on some amazing Maine Lobster, delivered live right to your door (affiliate link).
Most Expensive Lobster
Typically the Maine (American) lobster is most sought after, and therefore the most expensive. It is the tastiest and most succulent, and is killed minutes before making its way to your plate. If they are sold live (most expensive) they can be bought and transferred home. Because there is not an abundance of lobsters in the oceans anymore, it is a delicacy that can cost a pretty penny.
“Old Shell” lobsters have not shed their skin since the previous season and can be air- shipped anywhere in the world and arrive alive. These have a courser flavor and are usually the most expensive due to shipping costs.
The most expensive Lobster meal comes from the Le Parker Meridian Hotel in New York. This Lobster Frittata costs a whopping $1000 per plate. Would you be willing to splurge to see what this dish has to offer? I think I'd rather treat all my friends and family to a lobster feast for the same price!
Some Lobster History
Lobster was not always thought of as a fine meal. There was such an abundance of them, that lobster was considered a ”poor food” for servants and lower class members of society. It was even served in prisons, used as fertilizer and fish bait. These people didn't know what they were missing! Possibly a side of melted butter?
In the 19th century, New Yorkers and Bostonians developed a taste for it. Lobster fisheries only flourished after the Lobster Smack was invented; a custom-made boat with open wells to keep them alive during transport. By World War Il, lobster was considered a delicacy. To this day, lobsters are one of the most profitable commodities in coastal areas they inhabit.
Whether it be a soup, bisque, lobster roll, cappon magro, or a boiled or steamed whole lobster, nothing can compare to this succulent meat. If you want to splurge on a lobster dinner, make sure you’re getting something fresh that will make your tastebuds thank you. Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions or comments.