How to Buy Lobster
FOCUS LESS ON COLOR…
Habitat influences the shell tones of a live lobster, which can range from browns and blues to greens or even violets. But all varieties (except the rare white lobster) will turn red when cooked due to a carotene-like pigment in their exoskeletons.
…AND MORE ON SIZE
All Maine lobsters sold will have a carapace (the part of the shell that covers the head and legs) between 3¼ and 5 inches long, and will weigh between 1 and 2 pounds. The tastiest though are in that sweet spot between 1 and 1½ pounds.
COUNT LEGS AND ANTENNAE
Missing legs or claws, or short antennae, may indicate that lobsters have been in a tank for a while, where they’re prone to fighting and cannibalism. Look for lobsters with all extremities intact, which may help indicate freshness.
LOOK FOR “SOFT” OR NEW SHELLS
Lobsters molt—or shed their old shell and grow a larger new one—dozens of times during their lives, up to 25 times in the first five to seven years alone (which is about how long it takes for them to reach 1 pound). After that, most will molt around early summer each year. The meat is at its moistest and most delicious just after, from July through October, when it’s had a few months in a softer shell and soaked up more briny juices from the ocean. Most lobsters you buy from Maine during this time of year will have new shells, says Cyrus Sleeper, a lobsterman in Sprucehead, Maine. But, to make sure, look for bright orange underneath the raw claws, a shell that deforms somewhat easily when poked or squeezed, and a shell that contains few dark scratches, a sign they’ve been dragging it across the ocean floor for a while.