Shell Games: Buying Hard Shell Lobsters Online

If you are eating lobster at the end of the summer in New England, chances are you can crack it’s claw with your bare hands.

So what gives? It’s simple — you are cracking into a soft-shell lobster. You will also notice that these lobsters contain more water than usual. In contrast, hard-shell lobsters, less prevalent this time of year, are true to their name. In the end, you’ll want to crack into one of these beauties.

When do Lobsters Shed?

Soft-shell lobsters (called ‘shedders’) usually shed, or molt, in July and September. The only way Maine lobsters can grow is by shedding their shells and growing a new, larger shell. While lobsters don’t shed according to a set schedule, it tends to happen in early July. Their new shells are soft and take several months to harden, explaining why so many soft-shelled lobsters are available in the summer and fall. As the lobster feeds, it adds meat and its shell hardens. A lobster increases in size by about 20% with each molt. Most lobsters shed every year but less frequently as they grow older and larger.

Soft or Hard Shell: Which is Better?

More common in Massachusetts and Maine in the summer months, soft shell lobsters are more difficult to transport alive. While soft shell lobsters have less meat, some feel the meat is sweeter.

Lobsters are at their best when their shells are fully hardened. Hard shell lobsters have been living in their shells for a long period and are considered the industry standard for quality and value. Though the soft-shell are definitely easier to crack, hard-shell usually have more meat and better texture.

FACT: If you squeeze the sides of the lobster’s body; the soft shell will yield to pressure, while the hard shell will be firm, brittle and tightly packed.

Hard Shell Lobsters

When is the Peak Season for Hard Shell Lobsters?

By the middle of April, as the Maine winter has loosened its grip, lobsters move closer to shore. Boats go out, traps begin to fill and high supply means low prices. Unlike summer and fall lobsters, spring lobsters are still swimming in cold water, their sweet meat firm and bursting with concentrated flavors under a hard winter shell. Molting has two main peaks: July and September. The lobster first forms a new shell, complete in every detail, underneath its old one. Just before molting, the lobster drinks in water, which causes the new shell to swell, lifting the top of the midsection of the old shell. Learn more about the lobster seasons.

Which Lobster Travels Best? Go for the Hard Shell!

Lobster dealers sometimes refer to soft-shell lobsters as low quality. It’s not that they don’t taste as good, rather in their weakened post-molt condition soft-shell lobsters don’t transport well. So if you plan to take a Maine lobster across state lines, a hard-shell lobster travels best.

Hard Shell LobstersMeanwhile, though sometimes hard to find through other sellers, hard shell fresh Maine lobster delivery is available year-round from With its thick, solid shell, hard shell fresh Maine lobster is sturdy enough to ship anywhere across the country. You can grill, saute, bake, or even fry the thick, succulent fresh Maine lobster meat that is delivered right to your door.

To learn about how live Maine lobsters are caught, categorized, selected, and shipped, visit our Lobsters 101 tutorial.

Check back for periodic updates on our Lobster Anywhere blog for cool tips on cooking and eating lobster, great lobster recipes, and curious lobster trivia and history. What’s more, we just launched our You Tube Channel. So now you can watch our how to cook lobster videos!

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