Buying Lobster from Maine & NOT Get Ripped Off
If you have ever thought about buying a live lobster to cook at home, here are some particulars you'll want to know before taking the plunge, so you don't take a bath.
If you read my article on buying lobster tails, you'll see that I am a fan of cold-water lobsters over warm-water lobsters. Although more expensive, you're more likely to have success with cold water tails. Unfortunately, when buying lobster tails, it's sometimes hard to tell the difference unless marked or you ask.
When buying live lobsters, it's much more manageable. Cold-water lobsters have large claws in the front, whereas warm-water lobsters, also called "spiny lobsters" or "rock lobsters," do not.
You may also notice colder water lobsters have whiter meat and are often thought of as more tender because they grow more slowly in colder waters. On the other hand, because of their exposure to warmer water, spiny lobsters tend to grow larger.
Where Do You Find Cold Water Lobsters?
The most obvious answer is Maine but let's not forget about Maine's southern neighbor New Hampshire which also catch lobsters out of the same waters as Maine. Did you know that Maine accounts for almost half of the nation's lobster catch?
Southern Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa are other parts of the world where you'll find cold-water lobsters. Warm water rock lobsters come from Florida, the Caribbean, and Latin America.
Unless you are in the area, you will likely not find them live.
Speaking of a Real Life Lobster Expert
I've had the good fortune to speak with Ian from Sagamore Lobster. They have been selling live lobsters for over thirty years, catch lobsters daily in the cold Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire, and sell them in their store in New Hampshire.
Not knowing that much about lobsters, I asked Ian a bunch of questions that should give you some basic lobster knowledge and help you from getting ripped off the next time you order a lobster online or in a market, for that matter.
All Lobsters Are Not Created Equally
Lobsters are shellfish, which means they filter the water they are in to eat and breath, so their taste depends on the water's temperature and how clean it is. Therefore you want to know precisely where your lobsters are being caught.
Just because a company says it's located in New England doesn't mean the lobsters are coming from Maine or New Hampshire. So be sure to ask before purchasing.
Shipping or Lobsters - What Are You Really Paying For?
It can get confusing when comparing prices online because of shipping. For example, one company may charge a flat rate, others charge the actual shipping fee, and then others will say the shipping is free, but it is built into the price of the lobsters.
Ian told me if you, the customer, knew the actual shipping cost, you might not be so quick to purchase a lobster online. They do get discounts because of volume, but it still is expensive.
For example, shipping a 10-pound package overnight from Maine to California costs about $100 dollars.
So when shopping for lobsters online, be sure to understand how much they are charging you.
He suggests that when looking for the best prices online, calculate the cost of two lobsters weighing about the same with shipping. This way, you can compare apples to apples or, should I say, lobsters to lobsters.
Know How Your Lobsters Will Be Shipped
You may not realize it, but shipping lobsters to you is a big part of the cost. Make sure the company sending you your lobsters uses a reputable carrier.
Ian told me they like using Fed Ex over UPS or DHL. From his experience, they have better customer service, and their ability to deliver on time is superior.
Because you are shipping a perishable live lobster, it is essential that your lobsters are shipped to you in the most expedient manner.
Sagamore Lobsters have partnered with a shipping logistics company that tracks their packages and updates them if there is a problem. They will even board the Fed Ex plane if there is a delay due to weather and remove the lobsters and place them in refrigeration.
What Can Affect the Price When Buying Lobster?
Maine lobsters are more expensive during the winter months, especially January, February, and March. The harsh, cold winters make them harder to catch, and they tend to travel further into the ocean, making them more expensive to collect.
On the other hand, during the summer months and early fall, the lobsters are more plentiful, the water is calm, and the weather is beautiful. This makes for lower prices and a great time to have a lobster feast at the beach or anywhere.
Lobsters molt, shed their shells, and grow new ones. The lobsters are more easily killed or damaged when the shell is soft. The shell is soft in the summer and hard in the winter. So even though the prices are higher in the winter, it may be a better time for ordering.
What If One of Your Live Lobsters Dies?
Ian says it doesn't happen often, but it does happen, so be sure to check to find out what the company's return policy is before you place your order. Make sure you can get your money back, all your money.
Not just the cost of the lobster but the cost of shipping too. Call and ask before ordering if the return policy is not posted on their website.
You want to work with a lobster company that offers excellent customer service. However, these are perishable food items, and you may need to have many questions answered.
- What if your lobsters arrive, and you find a dead one?
- How come the lobster isn't moving?
- How should I cook the lobsters?
- Does it hurt them?
You want to work with a reputable company that will be there to answer your questions.
If Lobsters Live in Water, How Can They Stay Alive In a Refrigerator For a Day or Two?
Ian told me, " Lobsters are unique in that they can get oxygen from water and the air. Therefore, like most shellfish, they can become exposed on the beach or rocks during low tide. However, the lobster has evolved to survive outside the water until the tide returns. (Normally around 8-10 hours).
If a lobster is kept in a cold, damp area, it can survive up to 48 hours. Of course, we don't recommend this because of the liability, but they are remarkably hardy creatures."
What if I Can't Eat the Lobster Right Away?
While it's best to eat the lobster the day it arrives, it can be cooked and eaten later. First, boil or steam the lobster as you usually would, and then remove it from the pot and run cold water over it. This allows the lobster to cool quickly.
Place the lobster in a sealed container. It can be left in the refrigerator for 1-2 days or frozen and stored for up to a week.
Lobster tails are often steamed and then frozen in a commercial freezer. Many places buy lobsters when the prices are cheap and then freeze the tails for months.
"We only keep tails frozen for a week before restocking our supply. This means our tails taste fresher than most of our competitors."
What About Cooking A Lobster?
When I asked Ian which is better, steaming or boiling, he said, " I prefer steaming because it's quicker than waiting for a whole pot to boil. So it comes down to personal preference.
Some people swear by steaming because the lobster doesn't become saturated with water. Other people like to boil lobster by putting salt, onions, and even beer into the water.
I don't think it makes a difference."
Bigger or Smaller When Buying Lobster - Which is Best?
"Here in New England, most walk-in customers, who have been eating lobster all their life, order small 1.0 lbs or 1.25 lbs lobsters. At the same time, most of our website customers order larger 2-3 pound lobsters.
I always tell people they are better off buying two 1-pound lobsters instead of one 2-pound lobster. The reason the small lobsters are better is because of their age.
A 2-pound lobster can be 6-10 years old. The meat gets tougher and less sweet as it ages."
How to Buy Lobster Tails
Online Sources: Lobster & Lobster Tails
Convenience - Selections - Quality - Gift Giving - Corporate EventsSo 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 AnywhereFor 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.
The Crab Place
Know for their crabs but another great resource for live Maine lobsters and other seafood. Greg Cain started CrabPlace.com in 1997 in Crisfield, Maryland, America’s seafood capital by selling and shipping fresh Maryland crab caught daily by local watermen. Their unique packing and delivery processes kept crabs at their freshest, and our satisfied customer base grew quickly. They expanded to selling live Maine lobsters and lobster tails and pride themselves on delivering fresh seafood from the dock to your door, and to your table. They are committed to ensuring that their service is as outstanding as their food. Your complete satisfaction is their goal, and they back that up with their CrabPlace.com Guarantee.
thanks for the info. I won't buy lobsters on line but Liked the info anyway Good to know the biggest is not the best also. I liked that you explained the two types
I am looking for a Lobster purveyor who can sell me the seaweed to cook the lobster in addition to the lobsters. Can you accommodate this?
No mention of Canada? I think we produce the odd one in our waters.
Hi Alistair, I'm just learning about the great lobsters coming out of Canada and will report more as I learn more about that market. RG
Horrible customer service! I purchased a surf and turf dinner for the holidays to be delivered to my parents on December 20th. I received an email confirmation and my credit card was charged....however when I returned to the country on Jan. 5th, I found out my parents never received their gift.
I was shocked that nobody from Maine Lobster contacted me to tell me it hadn't been delivered. I sent them an email along with the order confirmation to ask what happened and received no response. When I called today, they simply said "your credit card was refunded on the 10th." No explanation, no apology. When I asked what happened, I was told that MN had experienced bad weather. When I asked why nobody bothered to let me know or respond to my email, she just said "I don't know." Terrible customer service experience, I definitely wouldn't recommend them!
G. Stephen Jones
Hi Laurie, what company did you have problems with?
Just need to correct you, lobsters are are crustacians not shellfish,related to crabs/crawdads etc. They are not filter feeders but meat eaters. For great shellfish at reasonable prices try "chessie seafood and aquafarms" from Va. Briney oysters and sweet clams.Yum.
Keep on Cookin'
G. Stephen Jones
Hi Dan, yes, they are not shellfish using strict terminology but according to Wikipedia, "The term shellfish is used both broadly and specifically. In common parlance, as in having "shellfish" for dinner, it can refer to anything from clams and oysters to lobster and shrimp. For regulatory purposes it is often narrowly defined as filter-feeding molluscs such as clams, mussels, and oyster to the exclusion of crustaceans and all else."
Thank you for bringing this to my attention and I will fix my copy to reflect this information.
Strange that Ian prefers Fedex in 2012, but only uses UPS in 2014.
Eastern Fisheries is the largest scallop company and own largest scallop fishing fleet. We will start to sell fresh live lobsters and would love to assist any seafood companies that want to buy directly from the boat level. From the ocean floor to your door.
The important thing for lobsters is to make sure that they are fresh. People often drive to the docks to get fresh ones. Lobster does not freeze as well as some other seafood, and it loses flavor when its frozen.
Despite the claims of this article, New Englanders generally regard medium size (2 - 3 lbs) lobsters are generally regarded as the best quality. Seafood markets often charge less per lb. for smaller lobsters to get customers to purchase them.
Jaspar White recommends eating the tail first because it has the lowest quality and saving the claws for last because they have the best quality.
Steamed clams make a great first course before eating lobster so you might want to order steamers too.
I buy Maine lobster tails and claws from my fish market
Sometimes the meat from the tails can be mealy and if I steam or boil it almost dissolves
What is happening?
The Reluctant Gourmet
Not sure Michael, but it's happened to me. I would guess that the lobsters you are purchasing are warm water lobsters meaning they come from locations like the Caribbean and not from cold water like Maine, New Hampshire, Canada. I would check with your market and make sure they are really from Maine but I would also speak with the fishmonger at your market, explain what is happening and see what they have to say. They should at least replace the mealy ones you purchased and if they don't, try another market.
I assume the tails were previously frozen and thawed ("refreshed"). If the original freezing was not done properly, (i.e. too much product was being frozen at the same time so the freezing too place slowly), you could have a mushy product. Even more suspect would be if the product had thawed and was refrozen. That's why it is important to buy your seafood or any product from a reputable supplier.
There are many great seafood suppliers along the New England shores. We've been to many. We're 1.5 hours to the ocean but in prime season coastal traffic is horrific. We find it easier if we have the lobsters shipped to us even at this short distance. I will only order from Captain Vince Seafood dockside operation out of Gloucester, MA. One Memorial Day weekend I ordered about 20 lobsters in advance for a Saturday party. The shipping container made it to the shipper on time (either Fedex or UPS-don't remember) but didn't leave their facility timely enough for the expected delivery date. Captain Vince Seafood sent one of their staff to the shipper to pick the package up and drive it to my house on the Friday afternoon of the holiday weekend in what turned out to be a 7 hour round trip due to traffid gridlock. Now that's service you wouldn't get anywhere else and their lobsters are great!
Atlantic Canada i.e. New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland land three times as many lobsters as are landed in New England, and incidentally, ship huge orders of same to wholesalers in New England and throughout the US. One note about Soft-Shell lobsters, they always contain considerably less meat than Hard-Shell lobsters. Anyone who purchases soft-shell lobsters is ill-informed at best. Cheers
Thanks Reluctant Gourmet for this helpful information about lobsters and how to buy them.
I live in New Hampshire. The going price for live 1 - 1 1/4 lb. lobsters in the local supermarkets has ranged from $4.99 - $6.99 a pound for several years now. Many will cook them for you at no cost. Plenty of seafood companies along the coast will ship live lobsters but you'll pay a fortune. If you do order online, remember, anything over abut $6 a pound is packing and shipping and excessive profit.
I can’t stress enough importance on doing your research about the “New England” label. Make sure that they say that they’re from Maine or New Hampshire. I’ve definitely made that mistake!
What about the weight loss of Lobsters when ordering online? How much do they lose overnight? I ordered 2 - 6 lb lobsters and on arrival one weighed 4.6 lbs and the other 5.2 lbs. They were fresh and delicious but they were not 6 lb lobsters
G. Stephen Jones
Hi Rose, that's an interesting question. I never heard of lobsters loosing weight on overnight deliveries but will check it out. On another note, I've never purchased a 6 pound lobster. Most places sell big lobsters in a range from 4 to 6 pounds. Also, big lobsters are more difficult to cook. By the time the center of a 5 - 6 pound lobster is cooked, the exterior meat will be overcooked. I prefer purchasing 1 - 2 pound lobsters because they are easier to cook and cook more uniformly.