In many ways, buying a lobster tail can be harder than picking a live or whole lobster. There are few opportunities for red flags when a customer can’t see the animal whole or moving around. Choosing the perfect Maine lobster tail requires a practiced eye, knowledge of pricing, and taking the time to get the information you need.

Buying Maine lobster tails isn’t as easy as picking out a cereal. If you’ve never done it, you might not know where to start. This guide is designed to walk you through the process of selecting a lobster tail, whether you choose to buy in person or online.

Why Maine Lobster Tails?

When you buy lobster tails from Maine, you are ordering a cold-water crustacean. By contrast, if your lobster tails come from Florida, the Caribbean, or Latin America, you are likely ordering a warm-water lobster. These variations differ in several crucial ways. Warm-water lobsters are slightly less expensive, but if you’re after the characteristic lobster taste and texture, a Maine lobster is the only option. When cooked, warm-water lobster tail meat will remain soft and mushy, not firm and buoyant like a Maine lobster tail. Even if you manage to get a warm-water tail to firm up, it will easily fall apart. Warm-water lobsters are also known to a slight ammonia odor.

Passing off a warm-water lobster as a cold-water option is easier with tails than with whole or live crustaceans. It is harder to assess the lobster’s variation by just one piece of its body, so the best way to figure out which type you’re purchasing is to do a little research. If a company’s website says, “harvested from the Gulf of Maine,” you’re on the right track. If there isn’t any specification, we recommend calling ahead or taking your business elsewhere.

Sizing Options

Lobster tails are often available in four sizes.

The tails are harvested from whole lobsters that weigh between 1-3 lbs. Lobster tails can comprise any part of a meal – from a decadent side dish to a featured entrée.

How to Buy Maine Lobster Tails Online

When shopping for lobster tails, any signs of yellowing, browning, or spotting should be avoided. Stay away from gray coloring, too, as it means the lobster likely died before the tail was processed, indicating poor-quality meat. Do not buy thawed lobster tails, either, as the meat spoils rapidly; the tail should be thawed as close to cooking time as possible.

If you’re set on buying a cold-water lobster, keep an eye on the price tag. Warm-water lobsters are priced much lower than their cold-water cousins, so if you see a suspiciously cheap tail, it is not likely sourced from Maine.

If you choose to buy your lobster tails online, you might think you have less of an opportunity to check for quality control. This, however, is not the case. An online fish seller is more likely to have the information you need – harvesting methods, dates, and preparation – than the grocery store, and you can always call ahead with product-specific questions.

Cooking Variation

There’s always a bit of trial and error when cooking lobster, but the tail’s size can be a great guide. Below, we have included cooking times for the range of lobster tail sizes.

  • Boiling Times: Small – 4-6 minutes; Medium – 6-8 minutes; Large – 8-9 minutes; Extra Large 9-10 minutes.
  • Steaming Times: Small – 5-8 minutes; Medium – 8-10 minutes; Large – 10-11 minutes; Extra Large – 11-12 minutes.

Maine lobster tails can also be broiled, baked, or grilled.

If you buy large or extra-large lobster tails, we recommend steaming over boiling. As with the largest whole, live lobsters, steaming is often preferred to avoid overcooking the outermost layer of meat. The smaller the tail, the more flexibility you have with cooking method, but a lobster tail of any size will make for an excellent meal.