How to Buy Live Maine Lobsters & 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 lobster. Although more expensive, you’re more likely to have success with cold water tails. The problem is when buying lobster tails, it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference unless marked or you ask.
When buying live lobsters, it’s much easier. Cold water lobsters have large claws in the front where warm water lobsters, also called “spiny lobster” or “rock lobsters” do not.
You may also notice colder water lobsters have whiter meat and are often thought of as more tender because the grow more slowly in colder waters. 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 who 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?
Other parts of the world where you’ll find cold water lobsters are Southern Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Warm water rock lobsters come from Florida, the Caribbean and Latin America.
Most likely unless you are in the area, you’re not going to 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 and 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 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 is dependent on the temperature of the water and how clean it is. Therefore you want to know exactly 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. Be sure to ask before purchasing.
Shipping or Lobsters – What Are You Really Paying For?
It can get really confusing when comparing prices online because of shipping. One company may charge a flat rate, others charge the actual shipping fee and then others will say the shipping is free but really 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 when you are looking for the best prices online, calculate the cost of two lobsters weighing about the same with shipping. This way you will be able to compare apples to apples or should I say lobsters to lobsters.
Know How Your Lobsters Will Be Shipped
You may not realize it, but the cost of shipping lobsters to you is a big part of the overall 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 live lobster that is perishable, it is very important 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 going to be a problem. They will even go aboard 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 of a Lobster?
During the winter months, especially January, February and March, Maine lobsters are more expensive. The harsh, cold winters makes them harder to catch plus they tend to travel further out 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 all makes for lower prices and a great time to have a lobster feast at the beach or anywhere for that matter.
Lobsters molt, shed their shells and grow new ones. When the shell is soft, the lobsters are more easily killed or damaged. 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. If the return policy is not posted on their web site, call and ask before ordering.
You definitely want to work with a lobster company that offers great customer service. These are perishable food items and there are lots of questions you may need to have 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 who will be there to answer your questions.
If Lobsters Live in Water, How Come They Can Stay Alive In a Refrigerator For a Day or Two?
Ian told me, ” Lobsters are unique in that they can get oxygen from both the water and the air. Like most shellfish they can become exposed on the beach or rocks during low tide. The lobster has evolved so that it can survive outside the water until the tide returns. (Normally around 8-10 hours).
If a lobster is kept in cold damp area, it can survive for up to 48 hours. We obviously 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 its best to eat the lobster the day it arrives, it can be cooked and eaten later. Boil or steam the lobster as you normally 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 can be frozen and stored for up to a week.
Lobster tails are often steamed and then frozen in a commercial freezer. Many places buy large quantity of lobsters when the prices are cheap and then freeze the tails for months at a time.
“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. It really 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.
Personally, I don’t really think it makes a difference.”
Bigger or Smaller – Which is Best?
“Here in New England, most of our walk in customers, who have been eating lobster all their life, order small 1.0 lbs or 1.25 lbs lobsters. Where as most of our web site customers order larger 2-3 pound lobsters.
I always tell people that 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.”