Whether you’re making grilled lobster, ravioli, or bisque, it’s always nice to use the best lobster possible for the occasion. Apart from knowing the best lobster species to look at, you also need to know how to pick them when you’re at a store. Which species is best, and how can you get the best one?
The best lobster is the highly-rated cold-water Maine lobster scientifically known as Homarus americanus. It is found mostly in Maine but also in the waters between North Carolina and Eastern Canada. Buying Maine lobsters directly from the source is the recommended way to get the best ones.
In this article, I’ll look at everything you need to know about getting the best lobster for your money. You’ll also see comparisons of the various options available to help you make a decision.
How To Choose the Best Lobster
When it comes to choosing the best lobster, you’ll find many subjective opinions on the matter.
If you talk to two dozen people, you’re bound to get different answers as people choose tastes they are used to or types of lobster meat they have the fondest memories of. This makes it hard to arrive at a consensus.
However, the majority of your respondents in that survey might mention the Maine lobster as the best.
Why Maine Lobster is Best
While many people choose Maine lobsters because of their taste, others choose them because they are the only so-called “true” lobsters. No other lobsters have both appendages and claws. The claws are a delicacy for some lobster-lovers, and so, any other lobsters without them won’t quite measure up.
On the other hand, some people don’t mind the type of lobster meat they get as long as it’s well cooked, and they have a sizable, juicy tail to munch on. The tails can come from species known as rock or spiny lobsters or from Maine lobsters, and they won’t mind.
So, you’ll need to first decide what category you fall into. Once you decide what species of lobsters you want or the type of lobster meat you value the most, then it’s all about choosing the right individual pieces when you’re in a store.
To guide you on that, here are some points you should keep in mind:
Pay Attention To Shell Type
Lobsters can either have a hard or softshell. However, this only tells you if the lobsters have recently shed their exoskeleton. No lobsters have permanent soft shells.
As the new exoskeleton ages, it will progress to “hard” and ultimately be shed before the process happens again.
Lobsters with soft shells are a little bit tastier and are easier to prepare. However, those with hard shells tend to have more meat as lobsters fill out the hard shells better. Soft-shell lobsters also aren’t the best for long-distance transportation, even with adequate conditioning.
So, if your lobsters come from a different state (or Canada), it’s probably best to choose hard shells.
If you’re trying to weed out lobsters with really old shells, the only characteristic to watch out for is dirty or scrapes-laden claws. Newly formed hard shells won’t have many scrapes as the lobster hasn’t put the claws to use enough to leave marks.
Don’t Use Your Nose
Healthy lobsters don’t emit any odors when they are alive, so you don’t need to smell the lobster to know if it’s fresh or not. If your lobster has any sort of smell, it’s best to avoid that aisle or shop, until further notice.
Eating spoiled lobster can cause a myriad of health issues.
Fresh Lobsters Offer More Value
If you’d like to get the best taste and all the nutrients from a lobster, you need to buy and eat it as soon as it’s caught. Lobsters immediately start consuming their own nutrients as they get out of the water. So, a lobster three days ago will have far fewer nutrients, and a weaker flavor, compared to one caught two hours ago.
For this reason, restaurants keep their lobsters in tanks filled with water until it’s time to kill and cook them.
Avoid Lobsters With Little or No Antennae
When at the lobster holding tank at the grocery store, avoid lobsters with the antennae almost disappeared.
It shows they’ve been there for a while because lobsters eat each other’s antennae when they are in a confined space. So, a lobster with very long antennae is most likely still relatively fresh. Of course, for a big-sized one, it could also mean it’s been held alone in a tank for a while, but it’s something you should watch out for.
Time and Distance Affects Quality
As mentioned above, lobsters are best eaten fresh from the ocean. So, if you’re getting yours from a store closer to where the action is, you’re likely to get fresher products overall.
If you live in Texas and want to buy Maine lobsters, you’re not going to get the freshest packed lobster. While the lobsters will still be edible, the time spent in transit often translates to lower quality overall because the lobsters consume their nutrients in captivity.
Similarly, Maine lobsters are easier to get between June and October, while Canadian lobsters are the best to go with outside that window. Knowing which variants are in season will reduce your chances of buying stale lobster or paying over-the-top rates for another variant.
Which Lobster Is the Sweetest?
Cold-water lobsters are widely regarded as the sweetest because the cold water ensures the meat doesn’t absorb the salt in the water. The cold water surroundings also give the lobster meat a softer taste and feel overall. The belief that cold-water lobsters are the sweetest has made them popular.
Cold-water lobsters are from New England, Atlantic Canada, Northern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Warm-water lobsters are from Indonesia, the Caribbean, Brazil, and other warm water areas.
The best catches from these waters are also tasty, but many chefs agree they are generally lower than the cold-water variants on the tastiness scale.
What Size Lobster Is the Best Tasting?
Smaller-sized lobsters generally taste better and have more distinct flavors. The size range to target is lobsters between 1.25-2 lbs (0.57 – 0.91kg) in weight. Many experienced lobster enthusiasts agree that this is the right size to look at for the best tasting meat.
Bigger lobsters deliver more meat and look more impressive on a plate, but the best flavor pound for pound belongs to the recommended range. Interestingly, lobster harvesting laws in Maine only allow you to catch lobsters weighing a minimum of 1.25lbs (0.57kg).
You should also avoid pregnant lobsters as they aren’t quite as good tasting.
Of course, laws in most places mandate putting back a visibly pregnant lobster in the water to keep the population healthy, but it’s not always easy to know a pregnant lobster. Still, if you end up with one of those, you’ll probably get slightly more meat, but the taste will be lacking overall.
Which Is Better: Lobster Claw or Tail?
Lobster tail is better if you want more fibrous and chewier meat, while lobster claws are better if you prefer softer meat. The lobster tail is fibrous because it gets a lot of exercise over the lifespan of the lobster, as it’s the primary means of locomotion. The claws aren’t used quite as often.
This debate has been raging for a while, with many different reasons for each choice.
While tenderness is often a common reason for people choosing one part over the other, there are a couple more possibilities to consider.
Some people prefer lobster tail because it offers a lot more flexibility when it comes to cooking. It’s easy to boil, bake, grill, or microwave a lobster tail, and it stays in form while cooking with a great uniformity to the cooking.
Claws are a bit more challenging to cook evenly because they don’t have a uniform shape. This is why they are often boiled or steamed.
So, if you love steamed or boiled lobster meat, you may prefer claws and the tender meat they hold, while those who prefer grilled lobster meat will most definitely prefer tails.
Buying lobster tails often guarantees more meat for your money compared to going with claws. The shells on a lobster’s claws are very heavy compared to the meat you’d get from it, while the shells on the tail are lighter and thinner.
You’re more likely to find packaged lobster tails for this reason. How many people would want to pay for a pack of lobster claws knowing that around 80% of the weight isn’t edible?
Who Has the Best Lobsters in the World?
Maine and areas in Eastern Canada, including Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick, have the best lobsters in the world. This is because they account for the bulk of the highly sought-after cold-water lobsters.
Both areas produce and export the same species of lobsters (Homarus americanus) with slight differences in the meat density, flavor potential, and thickness of the shells.
Why Is Spiny Lobster More Expensive?
Spiny lobsters are more expensive because they are a favorite delicacy for the Chinese middle class who want to retain their age-old tradition of enjoying lobster meals without paying exorbitant fees for their locally grown species. They can cost up to $40 per pound (0.45kg).
Local lobster businesses in the US ship their spiny lobsters to China to satisfy heavy demand. The prices quoted for their products abroad mean that they typically can’t sell at prices commonly seen for other types of lobsters, especially the Maine Lobsters.
Brazilian Lobster vs. Maine Lobster
Brazilian lobsters are highly rated as one of the tastiest warm water species in the world. The exquisite pink shade post-boiling makes them a great attraction at events. Maine lobster grows at a slower rate, so the result is firmer and more succulent meat compared to the Brazilian lobster.
However, the best Brazilian lobsters won’t command the same level of culinary respect as Maine lobsters.
Also, Brazilian lobsters are one of the “false” lobsters without pronounced claws. This means that they often have less meat than Maine lobsters of the same size. However, they are tender and are flavor-rich.
Why Don’t Florida Lobsters Have Claws?
Florida lobsters don’t have claws because they come from a species of warm-water lobsters who have developed a slightly distinct exoskeleton to match their feeding habits. All lobsters have five pairs of legs, but cold-water lobsters have claws important to their feeding habit in their front legs.
The larger claw features thick teeth that help in crushing mollusk shells, while the smaller claw comes in handy for tearing flesh. The claws are also used for self-defense when necessary.
Warm-water lobsters like the Florida Lobsters don’t have these claws because they use their front appendages to draw food to their strong mandibles, which can crush mollusk shells. They also use the spikes on their body for defense.
Maine Lobster vs. Canadian Lobster
Main lobsters are similar to Canadian lobsters because they are both from the Homarus Americanus species. However, the former refers to members of this species found across North America’s Atlantic Coast (usually off the coast of Maine), while the latter is found in Eastern Canada.
Maine lobsters live in cold and shallow waters.
However, the water temperature is slightly higher compared to the lobster’s habitat in Canada. This is the basis of the distinction between both types of lobsters. The slightly warmer habitat gives Maine lobsters a more tender feel and a more delicious taste and can survive up to 48 hours after removal from the ocean.
On the other hand, Canadian lobsters live in slightly colder waters, giving them a denser shell. This slight change in habitat temperature affects their tenderness and flavor, making them slightly below what you’d get from Maine lobsters.
However, the denser shells also mean that Canadian lobsters can survive a bit longer out of the water—up to 72 hours.
This extra day of survival compared to Maine lobsters is a huge reason why many businesses choose to go with them. They are easier to distribute and transport overall. Of course, Maine lobsters getting rave reviews also mean Canadian lobsters are more competitively priced in most places.
Maine Lobster vs. Rock Lobster
Like other warm-water lobsters, rock lobsters are a different species from Maine lobsters. While Maine lobsters are the Homarus Americanus species, rock lobsters are from dozens of other closely related species but are fairly distant from the Maine lobster.
Most rock lobsters belong to a completely different genus known as the Palinuridae.
Rock lobsters look like other warm-water lobsters, so you can quickly differentiate them from the lack of claws and the presence of prominent spikes along the tail. They also have a wider range of colors, so you’ll see quite a few pale brown or pale yellow rock lobsters compared to the dark green that’s common for Maine variants.
Rock lobster tails are commonly sold in grocery stores, while Maine lobster tails are a bit rarer.
This is because most lovers of the latter species prefer to buy them whole as the claws have more tender meat and also look great on a plate. You’ll most likely find Maine lobster tails only if the claws are missing or if they are deformed.
You can also distinguish between Maine and rock lobsters from the price quoted at stores. These lobsters are typically the cheapest to buy, whether from frozen seafood stores or restaurants.
Maine lobsters aren’t the costliest, but they are the priciest of all regularly consumed lobsters in the US due to their reputation.
Maine Lobster Vs. Florida Lobster
Maine lobsters are known by their classic exoskeleton, while Florida lobsters don’t have these and are known as spiny lobsters due to their long, spiny antennae. They look similar, but they are not related.
Maine lobsters generally taste better and hold more meat compared to the slightly less-inspiring and usually smaller meat from Florida lobsters.
Maine Lobster vs. Boston Lobster
There’s no difference between a Boston lobster and a Maine lobster unless you’re looking at the Canadian variant of the Homarus Americanus. The Canadian variant comes from colder waters and looks slightly different. The shells are also tougher, and the meat is slightly less tender and not as tasty.
When you hear Boston lobster, there’s a high chance the individual is referring to a Canadian or Maine cold-water lobster. Boston lobster is a generic term used in the international market when discussing all clawed lobsters from North America.
Whether you want to make lobster roll, lobster soup, or bisque, this succulent meat will leave you satisfied if you nail the recipe. However, before you set out to make your purchase, you should carefully consider your needs.
If you want a real lobster experience, it’s best to find the nearest place to get fresh Maine lobsters that haven’t stayed out of the water for more than 48 hours. If you can’t find them, Florida or Brazilian lobsters can also do a great job!
For more, don’t miss Is It Safe to Cook Dead Lobster, Crabs, and Crawfish?.
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