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Tips for Choosing a Live Lobster

Lobsters are for special occasions. For most people, the chance to enjoy the juicy meat of a lobster is truly a treat and one that isn’t enjoyed all that often, given the generally high cost of one of these delicacies from the sea. 

Furthermore, choosing one can be a daunting task as can taking home your choice and cooking it. Most home chefs don’t know a lot about choosing the right lobster that will produce the best meal. “How should it look?”, “How big should it be?” and “Where should I buy it?” are common questions that the novice lobster chef might ask. 

With a little knowledge about lobsters, anyone can succeed in choosing the right specimen, one that will produce plenty of succulent meat and have diners looking forward to the next occasion where they can indulge in this amazing treat.

Color – Experts agree that while lobster comes in an array of different colors, color doesn’t really matter when it comes to choosing the right lobster for consumption. The ones most commonly eaten in North America are found in the cold waters of the Atlantic near Main and Canada’s Maritime Provinces. Generally, those are black or brownish-green and sometimes have dots of brighter colors on their shell. Lobsters from other locales might be other colors but they all turn bright red when cooked.

Size – The size you choose will mostly depend on how you plan to use the lobster. If it’s going to be the entrée, look for a lobster that weighs around 2 pounds. That will provide ample meat. If you’re eyeing two lobsters of the same weight but different length, choose the one that is longest between the eye socket and the start of the tail as the length of that area determines how much meat you’ll find inside.

Freshness – A fresh, lively lobster in a tank at a grocery store or fish market will be tenacious and put up a good fight when someone tries to nab it. Generally, it will flap its tail and bear its claws if its fresh and has only been in the tank for a short time. Another good way to tell if it’s fresh is to pull on the lobster’s tail until its straight. If it doesn’t re-coil when released, it’s old and likely to be tough.

Male vs. Female – Though it’s a little tough to determine the gender of a lobster at first sight, it is indeed possible to discern one from the other. A male lobster has thicker and stiffer appendages and a female has soft claws. The female lobster tends to have a meatier tail.

Where to buy – Ideally, buying a lobster at a supermarket isn’t the best scenario but if it’s your only choice, follow the guidelines above. However, it’s better to purchase from a specialty seafood store as the inventory turns over more quickly and you’re likely to get a fresher specimen. Many people also purchase lobster online. These are shipped live, often directly from lobster pounds in Maine or Canada. They ship overnight so freshness is usually not a concern. Just be sure you’re there to receive your package when it arrives on your doorstep and cook the lobsters on the day you receive them.

When to buy – You can get a fresh lobster just about any time, but how much you pay for it might depend on the time of year. Peak lobster season is during the summer months, so you’re likely to pay a steeper price from about May through August. Prices drop again in the fall.