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, and they all molt (shed their skin) numerous times throughout their lifespans to support their growth.
These strange invertebrate crustaceans live singly and are carried by their mother 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 stronger 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.
But enough with the fun facts. 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.
If you’ve tried to buy a lobster, you’ve probably wondered about the categories they fall into: Hard Shell vs. Soft Shell and Warm Water vs. Cold Water. Let’s take a look at each of these and explain the differences.
Hard or Soft Shell Lobster?
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. 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've 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. The most extreme version of a hard shell is “Old Shell” lobster. These have not shed their skin since the previous season and can be air- shipped anywhere in the world and arrive alive. These have a coarser flavor and are usually the most expensive due to shipping costs.
Warm or Cold Water Lobster?
While all lobsters go through soft shell and hard shell seasons, they can be divided into warm water and cold water varieties based on their anatomy and where they are harvested. Let’s look at which lobster types fall into each category.
Cold Water Lobster
Also known as “true” or “clawed” lobsters, because of their three prominent sets of claws, these lobsters all fall under the family Nephropidae. These clawed creatures have become the expected experience when dining out or when shopping at a market. 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.
Maine Lobsters (Homarus americanus), also called New England Lobsters, are highly favored for their juicy claw meat, but also for 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 a typical price is around $50/lb. store-bought. If you order Maine lobster in a restaurant, you will find that prices will far exceed this. Maine lobstermen have caught over 100 million pounds of lobster annually since 2011!
Season: Year-round. Peak time is June-December
Avg. Price (Frozen Shipped): $90/lb. lobster meat
Avg. Price (Frozen Shipped as Tails): $85/lb.
Avg. Price (Live): $50-100/lb.
Flavor Profile: Sweet, succulent, pronounced flavor, tender meat
Canadian Lobsters fall under the same species (Homarus americanus) as Maine lobsters, but they live in much colder water, producing a harder shell, less sweetness and denser meat. They are valued especially for their claw meat, and depending on timing, you'll get a soft or hard shell lobster along the East Coast of Canada. Order Canadian lobster tails here (affiliate link).
Season: October-January & June-July
Avg. Price (Frozen Shipped): $55/lb. lobster meat
Avg. Price (Live): $30/lb.
Flavor Profile: Pronounced flavor, on the sweet side, denser meat
French Blue Lobsters, also called Breton, Bretagne, or Brittany Lobsters, are renowned for their deep blue carapace which turns brick red upon cooking. Despite their fame as a specialty of the Brittany region, many are imported to the area from Ireland or Scotland. Their meat is firm and has strong notes of the ocean because they live in shallow water. Devotees of Breton lobster describe the taste as strongly pronounced; this is a seafood-lovers’ lobster!
Avg. Price (Frozen Shipped): $30/lb.
Avg. Price (Live): $40/lb, but cannot ship fresh to the USA
Flavor Profile: Firm, succulent, and salty
Warm Water Lobster
Collectively, these varieties are also known as the “rock lobster,” “spiny lobster,” or “false lobster” since they are actually a type of large crawfish and do not fall under the family Nephropidae, which comprises lobsters. While they have 5 appendages, they have NO front claws. Instead, what many people mistake for their front legs is actually a large set of 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.
Avg. Price (Frozen Shipped): $20/lb.Avg. Price (Frozen Shipped as Tails): $45/lb.
Avg. Price (Live): $20/lb.
Flavor Profile: Sweet and delicate flavor, succulent tail meat
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 are shipped to China, as that market fetches up to 3X more than local customers. These are the most economically important lobster on the American West coast.
Avg. Price (Frozen Shipped as Tails): $65/lb.
Avg. Price (Live): $65/lb.
Flavor Profile: Creamy, nutty, delicate, sweet
South African Lobsters live in cold water, but they are classified as a "warm water" lobsters because they lack claws and are part of the genus Palinarius like other warm water species. 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 earned them a reputation of producing high quality lobsters. Order now from LobsterGram.
Avg. Price (Frozen Shipped): $85/lb and up.
Avg. Price (Live): Unknown (frozen at sea)
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.
Avg. Price (Frozen Shipped as Tails): $75/lb.
Avg. Price (Live): $70/lb.
Flavor Profile: Sweet and mild taste, firm 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): $30/lb.
Avg. Price (Live): Unknown
Flavor Profile: Slightly sweet, meaty succulent texture
Tristan Lobsters are fished from the waters surrounding the most remote inhabited island in the world, Tristan da Cunha, in the South Atlantic. Their meat is very sweet and is often described as “clean-tasting”. The low fat content of this species means the meat has a very small flake, leading to a texture not found in any other lobster in the world. The green shells turn red upon cooking, and the pink flesh becomes bright white.
Avg. Price (Frozen Shipped as Tails): $60/lb.
Avg. Price (Live): Unknown
Flavor Profile: Very sweet, clean, unusual texture
Lobsters Not of Commercial Importance
While we seem to eat as many lobsters as we can get our hands on, dozens of species exist that we don’t, or can’t, eat. For example, Reef Lobsters are beautiful but tiny, and only useful in the aquarium trade. A few species of Slipper Lobsters are eaten, but they are mostly endangered. Squat Lobsters, which are really a type of crab, are only used as bait or sometimes as a food coloring ingredient.
Global Lobster Import and Export
The Homarus species (American cold-water lobster) from the North Atlantic Ocean are regularly exported from the USA and Canada to Europe. Canadian waters are very cold, so their lobsters typically have harder shells than Maine lobsters and are therefore ideal for shipping such a distance (but the meat is less sweet and tender).
Meanwhile, much of American warm-water lobster is sold to Asian markets. The United States typically exports around 12 million pounds of California rock lobster to China, where people are willing to pay premium prices. Because these fisheries can ship directly to Asia while keeping the lobsters alive, they are able to make a much bigger profit.
Oddly, the USA is also the world's largest importer of lobster! Americans import huge numbers of lobster from Caribbean markets to satisfy our insatiable craving for the tender meat.
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 fewer 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 the 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° F 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 a 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 being 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. Lobsters' 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 provides 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
Historically, the Maine (New England) lobster is most sought after by American consumers, and therefore the most expensive in the United States. Aficionados insist on eating it fresh, so it is killed minutes before making its way to the plate. Maine lobster is no longer as abundant as it once was, and therefore it is a delicacy that can cost a pretty penny.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought havoc on the lobster market, and current lobster prices are elevated and unstable. Simultaneously, recent heightened demand for lobster worldwide has caused prices of all types of lobster to surge. While Maine lobster prices have skyrocketed, prices of other lobsters have kept up.
The most expensive lobster meal comes from the Le Parker Meridian Hotel in New York. This Lobster Frittata costs a whopping $2000 per plate. Would you be willing to splurge to see what this dish has to offer?
Some Lobster History
Lobster was not always thought of as a fine meal. There was once such an abundance of them that lobster was considered a ”poor man's food” for fit servants and lower-class members of society. It was even served in prisons and used as fertilizer or 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 invention of the Lobster Smack: a custom-made boat with open wells to keep the creatures alive during transport. By World War Il, lobster was considered a delicacy. To this day, lobsters are one of the most profitable commodities in the 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.
Lobster Info and Background:
Dhary, A., Nurhayati, A., Junianto, ., & Gumilar, I. (2021). Analysis of Supply Chain Management of Lobster (Panulirus spp.) In Pangandaran (Case Study of PT. ASI Pudjiastuti Marine Product). Asian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Research, 11(3), 9–19. https://doi.org/10.9734/ajfar/2021/v11i330203
Pereira, G., & Josupeit, H. (2017). The world lobster market. FAO Globefish Research Programme (Vol. 123). Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/docview/1920223310?pq-origsite=gscholar&fromopenview=true
Representative Prices: Maine Lobster
Representative Prices: Canadian Lobster:
Representative Prices: Blue Lobster
Representative Prices: Caribbean Lobster
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Representative Prices: Australian Lobster
Representative Prices: New Zealand Lobster
Representative Prices: Tristan Lobster