Calling all lobstah lovers: it may come as a surprise, but prime lobster eating (and buying) season is actually right … now.

By Alex Van Buren
September 30, 2015
Credit: Getty Images

The word “lobster” may conjure red-and-white picnic tables, Fourth of July fireworks, and Labor Day feasts, but lobstermen and women have a secret: Right now is actually the best time to eat those cantankerous crustaceans.

Why? Ralph Gorham of Brooklyn’s Red Hook Lobster Pound tipped this lobster lover off a few years ago: The meat, he asserted, is at its sweetest this time of year, when soft-shell lobsters are ubiquitous. “Soft-shell” lobsters have recently molted; they are known to discard their shells up to 30 times throughout their lives. During that post-molting period, the lobster is initially called a “jelly” (and smartly hides from predators), and is then called a “soft-shell.” It’s quite delicate until that familiar hard shell is fully formed.

The majority of lobsters you’ll buy in Maine right now—between July and December, depending on the year—are soft-shells, says Bret Taylor, co-owner of Taylor Lobster Company in Kittery, Maine. His soft-shells, which he sells wholesale and ships, were key to the best lobster roll I sampled on a recent Maine trip—a super-sweet, barely dressed all-claw number at Bob’s Clam Hut just down the road.

According to Dianne Parker, self-proclaimed "chief cook and bottle washer” at Young's Lobster Pound in Belfast a few hours north, that sweet meat is because when lobsters shed shells to grow, “before they grow a quarter pound and fill the [new] shell out with meat, they fill it with juice.” More juice in between the meat and the shell, she says, entails “meat [that’s] sweeter-tasting, and a little softer."

Not only that, but cheaper to boot. The long trail of non-Mainer traffic may dissipate as leaves turn and winter looms, but soft-shells tend to be a few bucks cheaper than hard-shells in price, says Taylor. And the lobster catch is “most abundant in Maine from August through November,” meaning that pounds and restaurants typically pass those savings along to customers.

And why is now better than July? According to Taylor, those same soft-shells “begin to fill out a little bit more, so there's more meat per lobster.” Yum.

Soft-shells will start disappearing as the December holidays approach, so although nothing screams “fancy holiday feast” like a huge red lobster, don’t miss your chance: “Prices trend up around the holidays,” says Taylor, “and continue right through May or June. The fall months are the best priced months for lobsters.”

So get cracking.