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Buying Lobster Tails Guide

Learn what to look for when buying lobster tails



Frozen lobster tail

Are Thinking About Buying Lobster Tails? Whether you serve them alone or with a steak (Surf and Turf), you will want to read this article so you don't spend more than you have to when it comes to Delicious Lobster Tails.

Warm or Cold Water Tails ?

When it comes to lobster tails, the first and most likely the most important decision you will make is whether to buy warm water or cold water tails.

Warm-water lobster tails are mainly from Florida, the Caribbean, Cuba, Nicaragua and Latin America.

Cold-water lobster tails are commonly found from Maine, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa

According to an industry expert: 1 out of 5 warm water tails that he handled while in the restaurant business were bad. What does he mean by bad? The tail stays mushy after being cooked it doesn't firm up firms up but falls apart easily has an ammonia odor

Experience with cold water lobster tails?

Over his 25 year experience and having cooked more than 10,000 lobsters, he figures he only had 5 bad ones. That's some difference. It tells me if you want to avoid a disappointment when making a special diner, you want to buy cold water tails.

Yes, you will pay more for cold water tails. Atleast $5.00 difference per pound or more but I think of it as buying an insurance policy. It will end up costing a lot more if you end up throwing one of the tails away besides ruining a beautiful dinner.

How can you tell the difference between warm water and cold water tails?

Ask before you buy:. If you buy from the a seafood counter then ask. If you are buying the lobster tails in a package, Read the label carefully. Generally if the package stats only: Lobster Tails, assume they are warm water. You want to know specifically if they are from water water or cold water tails. If the seafood clerk doesn't know, it might be a wiser idea to find a more reputable source of lobster tails. If you can’t find lobster local, then for a premium you can order lobster online.  Check out the Lobster Market.

Check their shells: Caribbean warm water tails have distinct yellow spots and a yellow band across the tail. Australian tails don't have these markings.

Warm Water Lobster Tail

Spiny Lobster Tail

Spiny Lobster Tail

Cold Water Lobster Tail

Maine Lobster Tail

Maine Lobster Tail lobster 

Quality and Taste Differences

There is a definite difference in taste and quality between warm and cold water tails. The cold water tails have whiter meat and are considered more tender because they grow more slowly in colder water. Most people will tell you the more expensive cold water tails also have a cleaner more succulent taste.

Clawed or Unclawed?

Most of us think of live Maine lobsters with those two large, meaty claws when we think of lobsters. You buy them live in many supermarkets today or have them sent to you via the Internet. If a Maine lobster is missing a claw, it is called a "cull".

Spiny lobsters, also called Rock Lobster, have no claws but hard shells and very long antennae. They come from both warm and cold water climates and are the most the source for frozen lobster tails. There are more than 40 species of clawless lobsters found around the world. They can grow as large as 15 pounds but most range from 1 to 5 pounds.

Maine Lobster Tails are harder to find because they are more expensive. The Maine lobster outgrows their tail meat after they reach one pound so the bigger the lobster, the less tail meat. In a one pound lobster, there is about 6 ounces of meat in a Maine Lobster tail but 7 1/2 ounces in a New Zealand clawless tail.
How to buy frozen lobster tails.

If you see lobster tails at some unbelievable price, they most likely are warm water tails or you will pay for what you get. If they are not marked warm water or cold water and no place of origin given, assume they are warm water tails.

If you see discoloration in the flesh, especially black spots, figure they were not handled properly. If the tail has a grayish color, it is a sign the lobster wasn't alive during processing.

Any signs of yellowing or dull meat should be avoided. Ask your fish purveyor if the tails have been soaked in sodium tripoyphosphate prior to freezing. If it has, don't buy them. Look out for "glazing". This is when water is injected between the meat and the shell before freezing. It adds up to 20% additional weight to the tail so you pay more for less. Typically only done to warm water tails to protect during storage. The best time of year to buy lobsters is during the winter when prices tend to be lower.

Click here to learn how to cook lobster tails

Another interesting lobster tail story

In Reply to: Cooking Lobster Tails posted by Joseph A. Gargano on December 23, 1999 at 18:56:52:

"Ok here is the deal!!! We do not have a calling for lobster all the time but when we do we go
: with the best!!! We ordered about 130 cold water tails... What makes the tail "Mush" after 
: being cooked????? This is upsetting. A majority of people didnt have a problem. We did
: have five come back. I checked them and they have the consistency of a grainy paste. It
: is like it decomposed!!! My father who has done this since forever says that that means they 
: are old... I had guests that think its from over cooking. Help me out here!!!"

I read your problem regarding your mushy Cold Water Lobster Tails. My first question would be are you sure you received “Cold Water” Lobster Tails? Many tails are sold as “Cold Water” type or North Atlantic Cold Water Lobster and many other names which are created to sell Lobster Tails. True “Cold Water” Lobster Tails come from South Africa, New Zealand and South Australia.

Now as to why the tails turned mushy-Lets start with the tails which are marketed as North Atlantic or Maine Lobster Tails. This species “Homarus Americanus” will produce a mushy tail if the tail is taken from dead Lobsters-It is true that these crustaceans are caught in cold water but they are not included in the “Cold Water” class.

Now for the “Warm Water” spiny Lobster Tails. These type of tails are the type in which mushy tails are most often found. The Lobster in order to molt (to shed an outer covering) has to remove and store the calcium which is in its shell. The removal allows its present shell to soften. The Lobster pumps in water between the softened shell and its new shell, which is soft. The old shell will split and the new shell will start to harden. The calcium which the Lobster has stored in the meat of its tail is used to help harden the new shell. If a Lobster is harvested while the calcium is stored in the tail, this tail will be mushy. It is possible to look at a Lobster and tell if the Lobster is ready to molt-a look at the eyestalks will be a good indicator. The eyestalk will be cloudy if the Lobster is getting ready to molt.

The producers of “Cold Water” Lobster have very good Quality Control-they will not accept any molting Lobsters-warm water tails are most often produced in countries which are interested in money “if you catch it we sell it, & the guy on the end of the line takes the hit”.

As you well know, be sure your supplier is giving you what you are paying for-it is very uncommon to get a mushy true Cold Water Lobster Tail. To Conclude, an over cooked Lobster Tail will not be mushy but will get tough as the muscle shrinks as the cooking time goes along.


Cooked Lobster Tail