Lobsters are pretty darn expensive. It’s hard to experiment with a food that makes your wallet noticeably lighter each time you buy it. Because of this, lots of people haven’t taken the time (or spent the money) to learn the differences between various types of lobsters.
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What Are Lobsters?
“Lobster” is a fairly loose term that’s used to refer to a variety of marine crustaceans. When most people in America talk about lobsters, they’re talking about a family of animals called Nephropidae.
These are the lobsters that are found in the North Atlantic that turn bright red when you boil them.
What About Rock Lobsters?
One other type of commonly eaten “lobster” is the rock lobster. This is the type of lobster that’s found off the coast of Florida. It’s also the only kind that’s caught in the Pacific ocean.
These lobsters don’t have big claws like the other kind. While the tail meat is pretty similar in most regards, there’s basically no other meat on a rock lobster.
Canadian Lobster vs Maine Lobster
Lobsters can’t read, nor are they particularly interested in international borders. They don’t swim much either. Instead, they prefer to walk slowly along the sea floor, unconcerned with human affairs. When it comes to travel, lobsters fall into one of two groups: either they live fairly close to the coast and don’t tend to travel more than a mile in any direction, or they live farther out and migrate with each season.
We’re not particularly good at studying lobsters (or underwater creatures in general), but one lobster was tagged in deep waters off the Continental Shelf and recovered over two hundred miles away in Long Island.
The result of this is that there’s not necessarily a real difference between North Atlantic lobsters, whether they were caught off the coast of Maine or Nova Scotia or New Brunswick.
Lobster connoisseurs will tell you that cold water makes a lobster’s shell hard, however, and that Canadian lobsters live in colder water than Maine lobsters. While this is somewhat true, it’s not particularly useful due to the way lobsters shed their shells. In practice, you can’t tell a Candian lobster from a Maine lobster unless someone tells you where it was caught.
It’s worth noting that lobsters can be found as far south as North Carolina. Most (US-caught) lobsters are caught in Maine, Massachutses, and Rhode Island.
Why Thicker Shells Don’t Matter
In order to grow, lobsters periodically shed their old shells. They can’t get bigger on the inside if they’ve got a hard shell on the outside. Immediately after molting, they’ve got very soft, delicate shells that become hard and thick over time.
The thinner a lobster’s shell, the better it tastes.
On the other hand, new-shell lobsters are incredibly difficult to transport.
This means that thin-shelled lobsters are actually much cheaper. If you live in an area where lobster fishing is common, you can take advantage of this to get an incredibly delicious lobster meal for a laughably small price.
Warm Water Lobster vs Cold Water Lobster
This is why the argument that cold-water lobsters are worse than warm-water lobsters (of the same variety, we’re not talking about rock lobsters here) is a bit silly. You can still catch extremely thin-shelled lobsters in Newfoundland or thick, old-shelled lobsters in Massachutses.
Natural variations due to the life cycle of the lobster will have a much bigger impact on the taste and shell thickness than water temperature.
Pacific Lobster vs Atlantic Lobster
The lobsters found in the Pacific are rock or spiny lobsters, not “true” lobsters like the ones found in Maine or Canada. Notably, they lack the large pincer claws found in “true” lobsters. They’re basically only sold as tails (often frozen) because the rest of the lobster has practically zero edible meat.
As far as taste goes, however, there’s not a big difference between rock lobster and “true” lobster, especially when it’s used as part of a complete dish. Lobster pasta or soup tastes pretty identical when they’re made with either type of lobster. They’re also fairly forgiving when it comes to using frozen lobsters instead of fresh.
Frozen Lobster vs Fresh Lobster
You can get frozen Canadian lobster tails, too, as well as Maine lobster tails. Lobster loses its flavor somewhat when it’s frozen, however, so it’s best to avoid these products if you can get live lobsters in your area.
They’re often cheaper, too, especially on the east coast.
Again, you can definitely get away with using frozen lobster for soups, pasta dishes, and anything else where the lobster is mixed into a more complicated dish.
What About Hot Water Lobsters?
Lobsters can live in some pretty warm climates, but “hot water lobster” usually refers to a type of hot water valve that you use in your home’s plumbing. In other words, don’t look for “hot water lobsters” at the seafood market or dig around trying to find an in-depth hot water lobster review to find about an elusive type of crustacean.
The Best Kind of Lobster To Buy
If you have an opportunity to do so, the very best kind of lobster is the kind you’ll find in restaurants and markets where lobster is actually caught. You’ll be able to find delicate new-shell lobster here with incredibly delicious meat for pretty low prices. You can find new-shell lobster all along the northern east coast in fishing villages and even some of the more major cities if you know where to look.
If this isn’t an option, consider what you’re making. If you’re just trying to make a lobster bisque or lobster ravioli, there’s nothing wrong with a frozen rock lobster tail.
If you want to serve a whole lobster, however, nothing will beat a live Maine or Canadian lobster. Be sure to check how the lobsters at your local market are graded and get one with the thinnest shell you can. It’ll taste better, and it might be a smidge cheaper too.