Why You Should Squeeze Lobsters Before Buying

Fresh lobster is a favorite culinary indulgence of many seafood lovers. Its firm, slightly sweet meat shines in loaded lobster rolls, rich lobster-topped mashed potatoes, or simply dipped in drawn butter. Whether you're preparing it at home or treating yourself at a seafood restaurant, lobster feels like a true extravagance — which makes sense, given the crustacean's perennially high price tag. 

With the average price per pound of live Maine lobster running about $27, according to Crabbing Hub, you're going to want to know exactly how to pick out a fresh and delicious lobster. According to Lobster Anywhere, looking for a lively lobster is a good bet, because an active lobster indicates that the animal was recently caught and is in good health. But beyond just looking at the lobster in its tank, you're going to want to actually touch it — or ask your vendor to — in order to ensure that it has a firm, hard shell.

Hard shell lobsters have a better taste and texture

Did you know that lobsters grow and shed shells as they age, a process called molting? According to the University of Maine, molting will occur about 25 times in the first year of a lobster's life, and then once or twice a year after that. When a lobster is growing a new shell after molting, it will be soft. According to America's Test Kitchen, you want to avoid buying a lobster whose shell is soft and new, because hard-shell lobsters are meatier and have a better flavor. 

You can gently squeeze a live lobster (or ask your fishmonger to do so) before buying. A hard shell will hold up to pressure, while a soft shell will yield easily. Harbor Fish Market explains that hard shell lobsters also contain more meat per pound because the animals have filled out all of their available shell space. That means there's less water within the shell and makes for a less messy eating experience when you crack the lobster open. 

The company writes that hard shell lobster season typically runs from November to December through June to July, while soft shell season runs from July to August through October to November. These dates vary from year to year, depending on the temperature of the water the lobsters are harvested from. So if you're looking for a hard-shell lobster, schedule your no-holds-barred seafood meals for the months between the fall and the early summer.