Rock vs Maine Lobster: What’s The Difference?

Claws up and let’s dive into the fascinating sea of lobster. There are two main lobster varieties harvested and sold in the US—Rock vs Maine lobster—but it can be difficult for first timers to know which type is the hands-down best choice for home cooks. Don’t worry; we’re here to answer all your questions.

We’re covering everything you need to know about these two prominent lobster species and which one we New England-born lobstermen think is the best.

Difference Maine lobster versus Rock Lobster
Maine lobster Tails (front) versus Rock lobster tails (rear). Photo courtesy of Capt. Ron Dimpflmaier.

The B-52’s might’ve sung about Rock Lobster but this article will cover everything you ever wanted to know or didn’t think to ask about the uniqueness of these two species of crustaceans. By the time you’re done reading this you’ll be able to dazzle your friends with all of the lobster facts while serving up piled high buttery Lobster Rolls. Here are just a few of the of the highlights we’ll cover.

  • Which variety of lobster has more meat
  • The differences in flavor and texture
  • The best ways to find and prepare Maine vs Rock Lobsters

By the end, there won’t be any confusion about which variety of lobster is the all-around best—and which you should definitely look for when shopping. So get that butter melting, pull out your lobster crackers, and let’s swim through the basics.

Rock Lobster vs Maine Lobster: What’s in a Name?

It all starts with a name. The common names of both rock lobsters and Maine lobsters are the first indicator to not only their preferred habitats, but also what makes them unique. You’ll likely find rock lobster also called “spiny lobster”. Why? Unlike Maine lobster that protects itself with its impressive claws, rock lobsters fend off predators with forward pointing spines that cover their body.

In addition to being called rock lobster and spiny lobster, you can also find them listed as Caribbean spiny lobster, Florida lobster, and langosta espinosa.

Maine lobster sometimes is sold as “North American Lobster” or even “Canadian Lobster”. They can also be called true lobster, Atlantic lobster, and Northern lobster. Watch those names—they can be confusing!

Culinary Differences

Not only do they have different names, but they also have completely different characteristics when cooked. There are massive differences from both the portions prepared to the texture, and finally the flavor.

You might be thinking, “lobster is lobster, it tastes great no matter what!” Smoked lobster, steamed lobster, and baked lobster are all decadent, but there is a decided difference when serving up rock vs. Maine lobster.

While lobster is a delicious, meaty seafood variety that can be enjoyed in dozens of tasty ways, from buttery croissants to creamy mac and cheese and much more the flavor, texture, and parts used of Maine and rock lobster are different. To begin with, if you love the succulent lobster claw, your only option is the Atlantic lobster from the north. That’s right––spiny lobsters don’t have claws! The only edible portion is the tail.

When it comes to comparing just the flavor and texture of the tail meat, rock lobster is much firmer, grainier, and has a brinier flavor. On the other hand, Maine lobster is more delicate in both flavor and texture with a sweet, clean flavor.

In addition, Maine lobsters are the largest around, and under their smooth dark red shell is some of the best tasting seafood you can find. With a flavor profile that goes unmatched, it is no wonder why many prefer it over other species of lobster. 

That doesn’t mean the Spiny lobster is bad. In fact, when prepared in certain ways, it’s really good. It is just not as good as Maine lobster. Spiny lobsters have very little meat and are smaller than Northern lobsters. Rock Lobsters also have a more muted flavor compared to the Atlantic Lobster and require more seasoning to get a good dish. 

Difference Rock lobster versus Maine lobster

Maine Lobster 101

Now that we’ve dived into some of the name differences and the different ways they cook up, lets break them down by species, starting with the Maine lobster. Here is the run-down of what home cooks need to know about Maine lobsters and where to find them. The technical species name for Maine lobster is Homarus americanus

Maine Lobster versus Florida Lobster
Florida Lobster tails (top of picture) compared to Maine lobster tails. Photo courtesy of Capt. Ron Dimpflmaier.

Where Maine Lobsters are Native

As you might guess, Maine lobsters are found in Maine. They’re also known as North American and Atlantic lobsters because they live throughout the icy cold waters of the northeast. They inhabit the cold waters of the Atlantic and contrary to the myth of mating for life and that episode of Friends, they prefer to live singularly. Young and juvenile lobsters can be found around coastal seaweed and rocky areas to avoid predators while adult lobsters migrate to deeper offshore areas.

These tasty crustaceans are found as far north as Labrador in Canada and as far south as North Carolina. However, most are collected just north of New Jersey to Maine. They usually dine on clams, sea urchins, crabs, snails, small fish, and if hungry and desperate enough, other lobsters. Maine lobster is so irresistible they can’t help but pull an occasional Hannibal Lecter. Unlike Hannibal, we recommend pairing this delicacy with a dry rosé and not chianti.

How Maine Lobsters are Caught

Maine lobster is caught in much the same way that it was when the fishery first started but with a few modern technologies. Lobster traps, often referred to as lobster pots, are set with a bag of bait usually containing herring or other types of fish. These traps are made up of two areas, the parlour, or chamber where the lobster is caught, and the kitchen where the bait is.

The trap is set from the boat and allowed to soak for two or three days. The lobster pots are all marked by colored buoys unique to that particular lobsterman.

After the soak the lobstermen remove the lobsters that are of legal size and release those that are too small or too large. Female lobsters with eggs are given a v-notch in their tails before being released. This ensures that the reproductive cycle continues.

How to Tell it’s a Maine Lobster

If you’re shopping for lobsters, it’s easy to tell just by sight if you’re buying Maine or rock lobster. If the tank is full of dark reddish-brown shellfish with a smooth body and prominent claws, you’re looking at true lobsters (yet another name for Maine lobsters).

The largest of these animals can grow as big as 25 inches long and weigh up to 44 pounds, which means they’re the heaviest crustacean on earth. Most American lobsters are sold between 1 and 2 pounds and roughly 9 inches long. The common term for a one-pound lobster is a chicken while a two ponder is referred to as a deuce.

In addition to their impressive claws, Maine lobsters have 10 spindly legs (which have a small amount of meat in them), and a long, thick tail. In fact, Maine lobsters are also the longest decapod (10-legged animal) in the world. 

Other Names for Maine Lobster

While Maine lobster is the common name for these mighty crustaceans, that’s not the only name. You may find Maine lobsters sold under other names including:

  • North American lobster
  • Canadian lobster
  • True lobster
  • Atlantic lobster
  • Northern lobster

The Flavor Profile of Maine Lobster

True lobsters are sought after for their unrivaled flavor. These shellfish are remarkably buttery and sweet and their texture is known for being tender yet meaty and satisfying.

The best part for home cooks is that fresh Maine lobster is flavorful enough to shine all on its own with minimal seasoning or prep work. Simply poach, steam, roast, or grill the lobster, add a drizzle of butter, and you have a meal that’s guaranteed to impress. 

You also get the most bang for your buck when it comes to cooking Maine lobster. Unlike rock lobsters where you can only cook the tail, the claws and knuckles of Maine lobster are prized for their sweet, succulent flavor and texture. More sumptuous lobster meat is always the right answer.

If you really want to impress your family and friends invite them over and cook up the freshest of the fresh live Maine lobsters. See this Lobster Cooking Guide for an in-depth tutorial. 

The Best, Lobsterman-Approved Ways to Cook Maine Lobster

You can use the succulent meat of a Maine lobster in a number of ways. The large tails are perfect for grilling. The light, buttery claw and tail meat is also delicious paired with steak or chicken for surf and turf at home. 

And of course, lobster rolls are a classic New England dish that celebrates everything that is delicious about Canadian lobster. Whether you enjoy your lobster smothered in cold mayo Maine-style or hot and buttery Connecticut-style, you truly can’t go wrong with a toasted bun stuffed with succulent Maine lobster. You can even be tailgate ready with handheld mini lobster sliders.

Where to Buy the Best Maine Lobster

All that food talk make you hungry?

Good news: you can have the highest-quality Maine Lobster delivered straight to your kitchen. Our offerings include tails of all sizes, whole live lobsters, and even restaurant-quality lobster rolls ready to serve. 

Fresh Lobster Tail Meat
Received frozen lobster and cooked some up. Delicious! Poaching in butter was wonderful ! Thank you !
Deborah Sawyer USA
Buy Fresh Lobster Tail Meat

Rock Lobster 101

Now that we’ve covered the best, lest dive into the other tailed crustacean to call US waters home. Here’s what you should know about the other lobster species found in the United States, rock lobsters. 

Technically speaking, rock lobsters are actually a whole family of 60 different crawling, water-dwelling animals. The family, Palinuridae, includes langoustes and langoustines, which are similar crustaceans found in South Asia. 

Rock Lobster

Where Rock Lobsters are Native

Spiny lobsters are warm water creatures. They’re found around the world, including the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and Australia. The live in crevices of rocks and coral reefs and tend to only come out at night to feed on snails, clams, crabs, sea urchins, and sea hares.

Florida Warm Water lobsters
Photo of Florida warm water lobsters courtesy of Nicole Stover of BeachGirl Grills.

In the United States, most rock lobster comes from Florida and southern California. This is why you will sometimes hear them referred to as Florida lobsters.

Grilled Rock Lobster Tails
Jalapeño-lime grilled warm water lobster tails from Nicole Stover, coastal Florida inspired recipes.

How Rock Lobster is Caught

Unlike Maine lobster, rock lobsters are often caught by hand either from diving, or snorkeling. This includes both hand fishing, and where legal, spear fishing. They can also be caught with nets such as gill nets and trammel nets. Traps are also used in commercial fishing of rock lobsters. Metal, plastic, and wood traps are all used along with bullynetting.

How to Tell It’s a Rock Lobster

First of all, the lack of claws is a good indication that you’re looking at a rock lobster, not a Maine lobster. What rock lobsters lack in claws they make up for in impressive antennae that are used to scare off predators. They use these antennae to create a rasping sound, rubbing them together like a plectrum and file to ward off threats, similar to some insects.

In addition, spiny lobsters earn their name because of the hard spikes running the length of their tail and bodies. As you might imagine, these spikes make holding and preparing the lobsters (live or dead) not so fun for home cooks. 

Spiny lobsters also often have white or black spots on their shell and their tails are often ringed with darker colors. 

Other Names for Rock Lobsters

Just like Maine lobster goes by several different names, so does rock lobster. You may see rock lobsters called:

  • Spiny lobsters
  • Caribbean lobsters
  • Caribbean spiny lobsters
  • Southern lobsters
  • Florida Lobsters
  • Sea crayfish
  • Or even sea crayfish because of their similar shape to spiny crayfish

The Flavor Profile of Rock Lobsters

Rock lobsters are noticeably less sweet than Maine lobsters. Because they live in warmer waters, they’re flavor is brinier, and what some might consider fishier. Where Maine lobsters use their ten legs, claws, and tail to travel the ocean’s depths, the rock lobster uses mainly its tail giving it a more muscular texture. They’re both meaty, but the rock lobster is much firmer, drier, and can easily become tough if overcooked. However, the less sweet, more subtle flavor means that these shellfish are often cooked with bolder sauces and seasonings. If you want a luxurious lobster meal, these aren’t the lobsters you’re looking for. If you want lobster to be a small part of a larger dish, they’ll work well.

How to Cook Rock Lobster

For this crustacean, the only edible part is the tail. Because the spines make handling difficult and since rock lobsters don’t have claws, they are usually sold as frozen tails only. 

You can cook rock lobster similarly to Atlantic lobster, such as by grilling or steaming. But in most cases, you’re going to want something more flavorful to really bring the seafood to life. 

If you grill or steam spiny lobster meat, try adding an herb or spicy sauce such as compound butter or a spicy salsa to infuse the dish with more flavor. Also keep in mind that this is a firmer meat so be careful of pounding it with high heat and over cooking it. It will go from done to rubber quickly.

In China, spiny lobsters are often stir-fried with a sweet and savory soy and ginger sauce to compensate for the more muted flavor of the meat. If the overall dish is your goal and not the standout sweet and succulent flavor of naturally buttery Maine lobster, then rock lobster may be a good choice.

Showdown: Rock vs. Maine Lobster

Expert lobstermen and chefs agree. There is an undisputed Poseidon of the sea in the kitchen when it comes to rock vs. Maine lobster, but both have their places. When it comes to flavor, texture, versatility, and bang for your buck, the best choice every time is Maine lobster

These true lobsters are the most sought-after crustaceans on the market for a reason: 

  • Maine lobsters carry more meat in their robust claws and knuckles, which spiny lobsters are lacking entirely.
  • Atlantic lobsters also have a naturally sweeter flavor that needs little to no seasoning to shine on the plate.
  • They’re easier to cook and handle, thanks to the smooth, spike-free body and less firm tail meat.
  • Their texture is succulent and meaty, never dry or grainy.
  •  You can buy Maine lobsters whole, just the tails, or as tender and flavorful lobster claw and knuckle meat.

The Easiest Way to Get Your Hands on Maine Lobster

Now that you’ve got the run down on rock vs. Maine lobster, we know the craving is real! It’s never been easier to have the freshest Maine lobster delivered directly to your door than with LobsterAnywhere.

At Lobster Anywhere, we believe in selling our customers the finest North Atlantic lobsters we can find. All our lobsters are:

  • Sustainably wild caught
  • Grade A hardshell
  • 100% real lobster with no added preservatives
  • Shipped overnight to ensure maximum freshness.
  • Never batch frozen
  • Live lobsters are caught daily and shipped to you the next day.
  • Overnight delivery. Not only are our live lobsters shipped overnight but so is all of our seafood. You can even pick your delivery date when ordering.

(Grocery stores wish they could compete with us on quality!)Buy fresh premium Maine lobster online and have it carefully shipped to your door ready to enjoy!

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