Buying Lobster Tails

August 19, 2012 25 Comments

Buying Lobster Tails

How to Buy Lobster Tails & Not Get Ripped Off

Are thinking about buying some frozen lobster tails to make a special meal for your spouse or loved one? Whether you serve them alone or with a steak (Surf & Turf), you will want to read this article so you don’t spend more than you have to for an inferior product.

And if you are thinking about buying live Maine Lobsters, read my article on How to Buy Live Main Lobsters & Not Get Ripped Off.

Just imagine sitting down to the table after working hard to put this fabulous meal together and one of the lobster tails is “bad”. How disappointing! And it can happen if you don’t choose your tails correctly.

Thinking about making a special meal for my incredible wife, I went on-line to do some research on lobster tails and see what was available. I had no idea how little I know about them or what to choose. Warm water, cold water, rock lobster, spiny, Australian, Caribbean. Where did all these choices come from?

So I called my friends at Lobster Gram. These guys have been in the lobster business for a long time and have a huge selection of live Maine lobsters and lobster tails from around the world.

Where to Buy Lobsters and Lobster Tails Online

Clawed or Unclawed?

Most of us think of live Maine lobsters with those two large, meaty claws when we think of lobsters. You buy them live in many supermarkets today or have them sent to you via the Internet. If a Maine lobster is missing a claw, it is called a “cull”.

Spiny lobsters, also called Rock Lobster, have no claws but hard shells and very long antennae. They come from both warm and cold water climates and are the most the source for frozen lobster tails. There are more than 40 species of clawless lobsters found around the world. They can grow as large as 15 pounds but most range from 1 to 5 pounds.

When I asked Chef Lee Lippert why they don’t sell the tails from Maine lobsters, he told me they are just too expensive. The Maine lobster outgrows their tail meat after they reach one pound so the bigger the lobster, the less tail meat. In a one pound lobster, there is about 6 ounces of meat in a Maine Lobster tail but 7 1/2 ounces in a New Zealand clawless tail.

Warm Water or Cold?

When it comes to lobster tails, the first and most likely the most important decision you will make is whether to buy warm water or cold water tails. Warm water tails come mainly from Florida, the Caribbean and Latin America with big suppliers from Cuba and Nicaragua. Cold water tails generally come from Maine, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

According to Chef Lee, 1 out of 5 warm water tails that he handled while in the restaurant business were bad. What does he mean by bad?

The tail stays mushy after being cooked.

It doesn’t firm up.

The tail firms up but falls apart easily.

It has an ammonia odor.

What was his experience with cold water lobster tails?

Over his 25 year experience and having cooked more than 10,000 lobsters, he figures he only had 5 bad ones. That’s some difference. It tells me if you want to avoid a disappointment when making a special diner, you want to buy cold water tails.

Yes, you will pay more for cold water tails. Lee figures it’s about a $5.00 difference per pound but I think of it as buying an insurance policy. It will end up costing a lot more if you end up throwing one of the tails away besides ruining a beautiful dinner.

How can you tell the difference between warm water and cold water tails?

Ask before you buy. You want to know specifically if they are from water water or cold and where they were caught. If you fish provider doesn’t know, stay away.

Check their shells. Caribbean warm water tails have distinct yellow spots and a yellow band across the tail. Australian tails don’t have these markings.

Quality and Taste Differences

There is a definite difference in taste and quality between warm and cold water tails. The cold water tails have whiter meat and are considered more tender because they grow more slowly in colder water. Most people will tell you the more expensive cold water tails also have a cleaner taste.

How to buy frozen lobster tails

Buy from a reputable source like the sources mentioned below.

If you see lobster tails at some unbelievable price, they most likely are warm water tails or you will pay for what you get.

If they are not marked warm water or cold water and no place of origin given, assume they are warm water tails.

If you see discoloration in the flesh, especially black spots, figure they were not handled properly.

If the tail has a grayish color, it is a sign the lobster wasn’t alive during processing.

Any signs of yellowing or dull meat should be avoided.

Ask your fish purveyor if the tails have been soaked in sodium tripoyphosphate prior to freezing. If it has, don’t buy them.

Look out for “glazing”. This is when water is injected between the meat and the shell before freezing. It adds up to 20% additional weight to the tail so you pay more for less. Typically only done to warm water tails to protect during storage.

The best time of year to buy lobsters is during the winter when prices tend to be lower.


Boiled Red Lobster

Online Sources: Lobster & Lobster Tails

Convenience - Selections - Quality - Gift Giving - Corporate Events

So the old adage, "Buyer Beware" really rings true when it comes to buying live lobster . Unless you have a lot of disposable income, serving live lobster is an extravagant treat for a special occasion. Be careful to buy the best product you can afford so you don't end up with an inferior product. The links below are affiliate links.

Lobster Anywhere

For over three decades, Lobster Anywhere has provided live Maine lobsters and premium seafood to white tablecloth restaurants, hotels, and large institutions throughout the United States. They established an unparalleled reputation for serving customers with discerning taste. If you want live Maine lobsters, and fresh seafood delivered overnight for your business or special event, you can count on Lobster Anywhere to deliver.




Last modified on Tue 14 November 2017 3:20 pm

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Comments (25)

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    • Chris Elser says:

      I am from the Northeast and owned a seafood restaurant for 35 years. you want to buy cold water Lobster tails from south Africa if you want the best and Canada has some nice cold water tails as well.The Maine Lobster tails are not very good.Maine Lobster is better served steamed whole,while the other two tails are much bigger and meatier and I only had a few ever sent back and generally it was the person.Look at wholly for Canadian tails while the South African aren’t cost effective right now.

  2. Stephen says:

    Best information I could find about buying lobster. Better than!

    Thanks Stephen! – RG

  3. Wanda Rasmussen says:

    A friend purchased 4 lobster tails for me to cook for supper. Three of them had white flesh inside the shells and one of them has pink flesh. Will it still be good to cook?

    Hi Wanda, without seeing them, it’s hard to tell but if you are uncomfortable about any of them, I wouldn’t take a chance. But before you toss any of them, I would contact the company your purchased them from. – RG

  4. Charlotte says:

    I am a lobster lover and thought I knew a lot about lobbies, but, I brought 2 home tonight and boiled them up and upon opening the 1st one at the tail instead of seeing the usual greenish “tamale” which I also love, it was very runny and black and seemed to be a lot of whatever it was. I was afraid to eat that lobster due to this finding and also became cautious about the other one whereas, if it was bad and I boiled them together…I did not want to get sick. Soon, I lost my appetite entirely for them and kind of freaked out. Can you tell me what was up with this?
    Was it bad, do you suppose?

    • The Reluctant Gourmet says:

      Charlotte, I do not know myself, but I did a little research and found these comments at that may be helpful.

    • Jill says:

      Black and runny was the roe (lobster eggs from a female lobster). Usually after boiled the roe turns red but on occassion it does not. I have never been able to figure out the reason. I eat lobsters weekly and ive only seen this about 3 times in the past 13 years. I adore the roe so even after attempting to cook it longer it usually wont turn red. I had tried microwaving once and it did turn red but the texture and taste was unusual so I tossed it.The green you see is the liver (tomally) of the lobster, very delicious from hard shell lobster but the soft shell lobsters tomally is too briney for my liking.

    • Charles says:

      The Black was roe/caviar/eggs turns bright red when cooked. I love it

    • Charles says:

      The Black is the roe ( eggs ) turns bright red when cooked its safe to eat. Some say the tamale could contain toxins. I’m 75 I eat it I used buy it buy the pound probably ate about a ton ” The tail on a female is wider also the first row of swimmerets are soft. I ask for hard shell more meat but you work harder.

  5. Sharon E Williams says:

    If I buy frozen lobster that have a blue colour is that good or bad. I have also bought tails that are just a tiger colour and no eyes (or so on the shell are they good or bad.) I am at a loss as to what to buy. Can you tell me what I should be looking for in a great lobster tail around 6 to 7 oz. or even the smaller ones 5 oz. We have had good lobster and very mushy lobster and paid the same for all. We have this 2 times a month so if I should order if from the net please let me know.

  6. thomas cappiello says:

    I’ve cooked probably nearly a thousand lobster tails at a restaurant, and we used mostly Brazilian rock lobster, and I’d say about 1 in 15-20 were what we call “fall-aparts”. which is always a bummer cause it means the person ordering lobster is going to be waiting. But I have heard many “opposite” bits of info that is reported here. For one, Brazilian rock lobsters are delicious, and I’ve eaten plenty of Maine lobsters too. Sometimes we did have to use Australian tails and I thought they were smaller and tougher in general. I have had some “bitter” Maine lobsters. I also eaten a lot of California lobster, and would have to agree that aren’t always the best lobster. But the Australian lobsters can either be from cold water (from the South, i.e Tasmania) or warm water (northern stocks). I think there are many more factors that go into what is a good lobster, other than where its from. The Maine (and Canada) lobster fisheries are superior I think because of the care, from boat to processor. So I think quality also depends highly on reputability, which you can’t always know unfortunately.

  7. Don says:

    Really appreciate the info, bought some New Zealand lobster tails for NYE dinner with the family and am excited to learn I made the right choice. Maybe a couple fail safe recipes on here would complement the info.
    Happy New Year 2014!

  8. J .Mitchell says:

    why dont you put prices on your products.

    • Hi J. Mitchell, I’m not exactly sure what products you are asking about but none of the lobsters are mine. I’m just suggesting them as a source for
      lobster although some companies I post are affiliates and I get a small percentage for mentioning them.

  9. Christina says:

    Hi, I’m looking at buying lobster tail for a recipe I want to make. My local seafood market in Dallas has lobster tail for $18.99 a lb vs the local kroger which has it for $6.99 a tail. Neither one specifies type of lobster and I’m waiting to hear back from the seafood market. Is it safe to assume the lobster tail at the seafood market is cold water and that what kroger has is warm water? My recipe calls for 3 lobster tails, so I’m trying to figure out if I can afford the stuff from the seafood market. Thanks.

    • The Reluctant Gourmet says:

      Hi Christina, hard to say without being there so I suggest you speak with the manager at your Kroger’s and ask him to tell you where the lobsters are from and whether they are warm or cold water tails. If he doesn’t know, he or she should be able to find out. The local seafood market must know where their lobster is coming from and I’m surprised they don’t mark them in the cooler. Now, if it’s a matter of money, I always suggest you buy the best ingredients you can afford. If you are going to take the time and put in the effort to make a great meal, try to use the best ingredients you can find. Saying that, if $19 per pound lobster tails are not in your budget, go with something else. I’m sure you meal will still be delicious.

      • Christina says:

        Thanks for the feedback. The price is whats listed on the seafood markets website, I’ve only been there to get fresh oysters(which were fantastic) and I didn’t even glance at the lobster while I was there, they are about 30 minutes away for me and they are closest place to get fresh seafood. I sent them a message and am waiting to hear back from them. The price at krogers was what was in the weekly ad, I haven’t had a chance to go up there an ask either.

        On average how much would an average size cold water lobster tail weigh? At $19 a pound am I getting only 1 tail or would I get closer to 2 tails from a pound?

        • The Reluctant Gourmet says:

          Christina, why not give them a call and ask for the seafood manager or fishmonger? As for weight of the tail, they come in all sizes so it’s hard to say. Most of the supermarket lobsters I see range from 1 to 2, maybe three pounds and that’s for a whole lobster.

          After a quick research, “the general rule of thumb (that i’ve heard) is the yield of meat from a lobster’s tail is around 20 – 25% of the total weight, depending if it’s hard or soft shell so a 3lb lobster yields about 10-12 ozs. of tail meat, or slightly less. “

  10. Dee says:

    If a place says 5ounce lobster tails does this include the shell in this weight

  11. Chad says:

    Making a bisque with tails, just came across one that I thought was discolored (pink) with a dark intestinal track pocket….I tossed it in haste, nobody wants to get food poisoning from bad fish.

    Are there techniques to test whether or not lobster tails are safe to eat in the future??

  12. Jimmy says:

    Some paragraphs read almost verbatim to this one, I don’t know which was the original.


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