What Size Lobster to Buy? Pick the Right Size Lobster

As experienced lobstermen and passionate home cooks, we’re frequently asked, “What is a good-sized lobster to buy?” It’s a question every cook needs to answer before preparing a special meal for one, two, or twenty—and we’ve got all the answers.

Let’s compare lobster sizes and meat density to find the best size (and number) for your next lobster meal. To help you get the exact right number, we’ll discuss… 

  • The amount of meat in different parts of the lobster
  • How chicken, jumbo, and other lobster sizes stack up in flavor
  • What counts as a “serving” of lobster

What size lobster to order will depend on your budget, your menu, the occasion and the size of your event—let’s put all those pieces together to find the best lobster size for you.

Side note: LobsterAnywhere ships freshly caught Maine lobsters ranging from 1 ¼ lb. each, (the size you might find at a Boston seafood restaurant), all the way up to a 10-12 lb. monster lobster (for super special occasions).

Sizing Up Maine Lobster: How Live Lobsters are Graded

Maine is famous for the supply of succulent lobsters they produce year after year. This natural resource is protected by a series of laws, rules, and regulations that help the state of Maine maintain a healthy and flourishing population of lobster. Protecting the population means that for many more years to come, Maine will continue to provide us with this tasty delicacy!

Lobster Grading and Sizes
Lobster Grading and Sizes

One of the protective systems in place is the Grading system for live lobsters, which helps lobster lovers like yourself know how much meat you’re buying. This naturally has a big impact on the price of the lobster, so understanding how gradings work will help you wrap your mind around both serving sizes and pricing.

Here is a look at how lobsters are sized and graded in the beautiful state of Maine.

First, We Measure the Lobster Size

Legal Lobster

Once caught, a lobster’s size is determined using the state of Maine’s double-sided gauge. The carapace or body of each lobster is measured using this gauge. To do so accurately, the length is determined by measuring from the rear of the eye to the rear of the shell or carapace. The minimum legal length is 3 1/4 inches. The maximum is 5 inches. Anything below the minimum or above the maximum is to be immediately returned to the water where they were found. 

Ignoring these regulations is costly and penalties for each violation are steep. Once the length of the lobster has been determined, and it meets the appropriate standards, it can be graded and then sold.

Next, We Grade the Lobster for Quality

Grading a lobster is the next step in determining the meat content and quality. No matter the time of year, lobsters are graded to weed out damaged and weak lobsters. 

Here’s the rule of thumb to keep in mind: the lower the grade, the softer the shell and less hardier the lobster. Lobsters undergoing molting have softer shells and are generally weaker with lower meat content than a hard-shell lobster.

Measure Lobster Size
Grading Lobster Size

No matter the time of year, lobsters are graded to weed out damaged and weak lobsters. The lower the grade, the softer the shell and less hardier the lobster. Lobsters undergoing molting have softer shells and are generally weaker with lower meat content than a hard-shell lobster.

Soft Shell Lobsters

Soft shell lobsters are not shipped due to their weak and fragile nature. Plus, the meat yield is about 10% less than a good hard-shell lobster. Here’s where you can learn more about why you will always want to buy hard-shell lobsters.

Hard-shell Greatness: Find out what makes a hard-shell lobster, the best lobster. Difference between soft-shell and hard-shell lobsters.

Hard Shell lobster

Hard shell lobster will always be the most popular due to the quantity and quality of the meat. When cooked, hard lobster shells turn bright red to orange color. Its white flesh is firm and dense with a sweet, buttery flavor. 

Hard shell lobsters are the industry standard for quality with a higher ratio of meat to shell, which means better value for your hard-earned dollars. Typically, the meat only makes up about 20% of the lobster by weight, but in a hard shell lobster, it’s nice and thick throughout the tail and claws.

Grade A Lobsters

The best lobsters are Grade A. The highest grade is given to those with hard shells with the highest meat density. These Grade A lobsters, unsurprisingly, fetch the highest price. If you’re after a premium lobster experience, this is it.

Grade B Lobsters

The next is grade B. These are generally lobsters that are caught in the summer. Their shells are firm or medium hard, indicating that the molting process was not very recent, but the hard shell is still forming. The meat in these lobsters is not as robustly flavorful as in Grade A, but they are still delectable!

Culls

If you are looking for a deal on live lobster, ask if culls are available. Culls are lobsters that are missing one claw. Culls are usually less expensive and a good choice for a recipe calling for cooked lobster meat.

Culls are divided into two grades. The first is grade is Market. This means that these lobsters can be sold at local markets and to local customers. The next grade is called Canners. These are low-quality lobsters that are cooked for meat at processing plants.

How Much Lobster Meat in a Lobster?

On average, live lobster contains about 20% meat, with the remaining 80% being made up of shell and waste. The meat percentages change based on the season, with the Grade A lobsters of the fall and winter containing the most meat. Grade B lobsters caught in the summer months are likely to only contain 15% meat by weight.

Lobster SizeLobster Meat (Low End)Lobster Meat (High End)
1.25 lb / 20 oz3 ounces4 ounces
1.5 lb / 24 oz3.6 ounces4.8 ounces
2 lb / 32 oz4.8 ounces6.4 ounces
5 lb / 80 oz12 ounces16 ounces

Here’s an estimated meat yield broken down by different lobster parts:\

  • 15% Lobster Tail
  • 10% Claw Meat
  • 3% Knuckle Meat
  • 2% Leg Meat

This high meat content of the lobster tail is why many people opt to go straight for the pre-prepped and frozen lobster tails. Half the meat is there, but it’s far less than half the work to cool and eat!

How Much Lobster Per Person?

Calculating the right amount of lobster to cook for guests can be a bit confusing and frustrating. Most of the confusion comes from the differing measurements. Lobster weight by carapace length varies throughout the year since lobsters molt and shed their shells. On average a good hard-shell lobster will yield about 19-22% cooked lobster meat. Soft shell lobsters will yield much less meat per pound than hard shell lobsters. 

At LobsterAnywhere, we do not ship soft shell lobsters caught in the summer months due to their low meat content and fragile state.

You can get a good idea of the cost of meat per pound with a simple formula using the price per/lb. of live lobsters multiplied by the number of lobsters needed to make a pound of cooked meat.

A 1 lb. hard-shell lobster, for example, will yield 3.36 oz. of cooked meat (Based on a 21% yield).
To get a pound of meat, divide 16 oz. (1 lb.) by 3.36 oz.
So you’ll will need 4.76 1 lb. lobsters for 1 pound of cooked meat.

Cost Formula:
$ x/lb. (live) x 4.76=$_/lb. meat      

So What is Considered a Serving of Lobster?

The typical serving of lobster is generally counted at four ounce of meat. For example, a good Maine lobster roll will be piled high with about 4 oz. of fresh cooked lobster meat. The chart below shows the meat yield differences between a hard shell and soft shell lobster and the number of lobsters needed to yield a pound of cooked meat.

Lobster Meat Yield
How many lobsters yield a pound lobster lobster meat?

It would require about five 1 lb. live lobsters to make a pound of cooked meat.

How much lobster meat is in a 1.5 lb. lobster?

You will get a little over 6 oz. of cooked lobster meat in a 1 1/2 lb. live lobster.

How Much Lobster to Order for Your Next Meal

What is the best lobster size for eating? For the true lobster, experience each person should crack into his or her own individual lobster. No sharing allowed, unless you order a large jumbo lobster! These larger lobsters not only weigh more but will have a higher proportion of meat. Hence, they will cost more per pound. Sometimes the real big lobsters can be cheaper per pound than smaller Select lobsters.

Lobster Size Chart

Graded lobsters are sold by size and by shell quality. While lobsters are graded by size it is best to buy healthy, stronger lobsters instead of ones that are a specific size.

Live Lobster Sizes

Lobster Name & SizeWeight
Chix 1.0 – 1.25 lb.
Quarters 1.25 – 1.49 lb.
Halves 1.50 – 1.75 lb.
Deuces 2.5-3 lb.
Small Jumbos Over 3.0-4 lb.

Did you Know? It takes about 6-8 years for a lobster to reach a market weight of 1 pound.

Chix or Chicken Lobsters

A chicken lobster (also called “chix” in the trade) is a small lobster that weighs just over one pound—the smallest legal size. In New England tourist sports, these chicken lobsters are often featured on restaurant menus as a “twin lobster special”, featuring two of these little guys.

At LobsterAnywhere, we do not ship small lobsters under 1.20 lbs, nor do we ship soft-shell lobsters, known as new shell lobsters— crustaceans that recently shed their shell. We believe it’s just not worth the work shucking a chicken lobster when you can crack into a bigger one full of meat.

Quarters

If you are throwing a large lobster bake or want to keep cost per person affordable, your best bet is to start with 1 ¼ lb. (550-650g) lobsters, also known as “quarters”. These lobsters are a good size and are usually more plentiful than the larger lobsters. Quarters are also a good choice if you are serving a surf and turf or have plenty of side dishes.

How Much Meat in a Live Lobster? A 1 1/2 pound hard-shell lobster will yield about 1 1/3 cups of cooked meat.

Halves

1 ½ lb. (650-775 g) lobsters are called halves because they’re one pound plus a half. These are NOT lobsters cut in half, they are whole, live lobsters! Halves are a large enough lobster for a “Maine” course lobster dinner.

Deuces: Two Pound Lobsters

Going up in size is a 2 lb. (900-1000g) lobster (known as “deuces”). This is a nice hefty lobster perfect for a special occasion like a birthday or an anniversary. Select grade lobsters are often in high demand and this is reflected in the price. High-end restaurants and steakhouses will always get a premium for Selects.

Jumbo Lobsters

Even bigger in size are jumbo lobsters — 3 lbs. and up. You won’t find these giant lobsters in Maine, because the state restricts lobster catches to a maximum of five inches—these monster lobsters can be as long as nine inches! The penalty for keeping oversized and undersized lobster is a fine of up to $500 for each violation.

Super jumbos are still caught by offshore trawlers in the deep waters off Canada, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. They make an impressive gift for your seafood loving friends or business associates. How about a big lobster for Dad for Father’s Day?

Largest Lobster Caught

Are Small Lobsters Better than Big Lobsters?

There’s a heated discussion around which kind of lobster has the best texture and flavor: the small ones, or the large ones? While some lobster aficionados believe the smaller lobsters are sweeter and more tender, we strongly disagree.

Bigger lobsters tend to be a better value for rich, tender lobster meat than smaller lobsters.

Bigger lobsters give you a better yield, and the meat is no tougher than the smaller ones, unless, of course, you overcook them. You’ll get a lot of sweet meat out of a two, three—even a six-pound lobster. There will be more meat as a proportion of total weight in a larger hard-shell lobster. In most cases you will pay more for Select and Jumbo lobsters due to the high demand and short supply.

Cooking Your Prized Catch: Learn more about lobster cooking times and techniques.

Do Big Lobsters Have Tough Meat? 

One of the biggest misunderstandings around lobsters is that the big ones are apt to be coarse and tough. Not true at all! You’ll not only get more meat with a good hard-shell jumbo lobster, but the meat will be just as tender if it is cooked properly. The problem lies in the lobster cooking times you’ll find on most recipe sites—they’re way too long! See our lobster cooking times for Maine lobstermen-approved techniques. There is also no taste difference between a male and female lobster; the female will have a bigger tail with roe, and the male will have bigger claws.

How to Save Money Buying the Right Size Lobster

LobsterAnywhere sources live hard shell lobsters directly from our lobstermen partners at the docks daily. This catch is super fresh! 

We make it extremely simple to pick the perfect lobster size and quantity—check out the live lobster here.

We’re sticklers for great shipping, so we carefully package our lobsters in cold storage boxes and ship them overnight so they arrive safe and sound.

Our lobsters will not be the lowest price you’ll find online, but they will be superior quality. Simply put, these are the BEST lobsters available, anywhere.

Why Lobster Meat By the Pound is a Great Deal

If you’re making meat-centric dishes like lobster rolls, lobster scampi, or lobster mac and cheese, you’ll save money buying fresh-frozen lobster meat, rather than whole lobsters. This meat is easily stored, quickly thawed and cooked, and incorporates well into dishes where you want that rich lobster flavor, but don’t necessarily need the bright red shell on a plate.

Comments

  1. I have eaten live Maine lobsters for over 60 years and fairly savvy on size and price. My favorite being 2lb. Info obtained from your website was interesting and informative, with numerous facts I was NOT aware of. Thank you for a great web site and the education I received on other pertinent facts concerning Maine lobsters.

  2. I’ve been traveling to Maine in mid to late September for the last 18 years for vacation and lobster. I generally order a single 2-3 pound lobster and have never been dissatisfied with the taste and texture of the meat. This year with Covid I shortened my visit to just five days, but it was still rewarding. Never tried a soft shell and don’t plan on taking the chance for disappointment. After reading all these reviews, I plan to give this company a try and I will give an honest evaluation.

    1. Great question. We think it is negligible. A female lobster will have a wider, fleshier tail (for carrying the eggs). If you are a claw connoisseur also pick a male for the larger claws.

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