Everything You Need to Know About Hard and Soft Shelled Lobsters

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soft shelled lobsters
Photo by Vera Kratochvil licensed under CC0

You visit the local fish market or grocery store or want to buy lobster online, only to come across terminology you don’t understand. What in the world is a hard-shelled lobster or soft-shelled lobster, and what’s the difference? Does it matter? Isn’t a lobster a lobster?

You’d think so, but no. There are different types of lobster – more than you think, most likely. Some are from Maine and the eastern Atlantic coast, while others come from the west coast. Some are spiny, and some are clawed. And, some are hard-shelled while others are soft-shelled.

Believe it or not, the shells can make a big difference in the taste and size of your lobster.

What’s a Hard-Shelled Lobster?

Like its name suggests, the hard-shelled lobster has a harder shell than its soft-shelled sibling. But why?

To keep it simple, the harder the shell, the more time the lobster has had to grow, giving the shell more time to harden. You’ll typically find hard-shelled lobsters in colder environments, or during colder seasons, as the shells harden to keep the animals protected from the elements.

As for Maine lobster, you’ll find these tough guys more easily in the late fall and winter months when the water turns frigidly cold.

What’s a Soft-Shelled Lobster?

It’s no surprise, then, that soft-shelled lobsters are more prevalent in warmer seasons. A soft-shelled lobster will have just recently molted or shed its thicker shell, to allow the lobster to get bigger and grow a new one once it starts getting colder. The shells on these crustaceans are much softer and easier to bend, and usually don’t look quite as tough and rugged as those on hard-shelled lobsters.

Benefits of Hard-Shelled Lobsters

Hard-shelled lobsters are generally larger than soft-shelled lobsters, so if it’s the size you’re going for, these are your pick. It’s not uncommon to find hard-shelled lobsters that are three pounds and have more claw and tail meat, while soft-shelled versions tend to look a little leaner and weigh between one and two pounds.

These lobsters also have very little water in their shells because they’re so full of meat (yum!), meaning less cleanup for you at dinner time.

Benefits of Soft-Shelled Lobsters

Soft-shelled lobster meat tends to be more tender than the meat from harder shells because it gets naturally brined with salt and there’s a lot of water content between the meat and shells. These lobsters are also easier to open; you might even be able to crack the shell with your hands instead of breaking out the cracking tools!

Softer shells are often more affordable, too, but the tradeoff is that you’ll get less meat out of each one, so you’ll need to decide if price or meat is more important to you.

Conclusion: Hard vs Soft Shelled Lobsters

The flavor is one thing we haven’t talked about yet. Which one tastes better? Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut answer for this one, as it’s a subjective topic. If you like a sweeter, saltier flavor, then soft-shelled should be your pick. For a heartier, fishier taste, a hard-shelled lobster is your go-to.

One thing is for sure no matter what type of lobster you choose: They’re all delicious.

When you order from Maine Lobster House, you’ll get live lobster delivered to your door. Our lobster comes right off the coast of Maine for the authentic Maine flavors you know, love, and crave. Head to our website to see everything we have to offer and be sure to sign up for our mailing list for drool-worthy deals.