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The great lobster roll battle pits Maine vs. Connecticut: Which is better?

New England makes a mean lobster roll. Which style is better, Maine or Connecticut?

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Anyone who’s spent time in coastal New England is undoubtedly aware of the region’s deep-seated love for cooking lobster. While most lobster fishing occurs in the far-northern state of Maine, chefs throughout the Northeast make use of this delicious crustacean, creating everything from lobster mac and cheese to classic Lobster Thermidor to the handheld wonder known as the lobster roll.

Primarily filled with the tender and flavorful meat of the lobster knuckle (with some claw and tail meat to round it out), a lobster roll typically comes in one of two styles: the Maine lobster roll and the Connecticut lobster roll. These New England inventions feature drastically different preparations, temperatures, and tastes. As a result, they each have passionate fans and equally passionate detractors. But in the Maine vs. Connecticut lobster roll battle, is there a clear winner?

To answer this question, we surveyed a group of pro chefs and came up with five lobster roll judging categories. To see how each version stacks up against the other, read on. And make sure to take a look at the best seafood delivery we’ve found online.

What’s the difference between the Maine lobster roll and the Connecticut lobster roll?

Deane Bayas/Pexels

The Maine lobster roll and the Connecticut lobster roll involve different temperatures and different condiments. The Maine lobster roll is served cold, with the lobster meat gently seasoned with salt and pepper and dressed in a light coating of mayonnaise, sometimes bolstered by the addition of finely chopped celery. The resulting lobster salad then gets packed into a grilled and buttered bun (preferably a top-sliced New England hotdog bun). The Connecticut lobster roll, on the other hand, includes hot lobster meat topped with warm butter.

On the topic of flavor

lobster roll close-up
Ma-no/Getty Images

When properly executed, both the Maine lobster roll and the Connecticut lobster roll do a beautiful job showcasing the flavor of the lobster itself. A perk to the Maine lobster roll comes from its cold service; “the chilled lobster meat doesn’t lose its natural salinity through the quick steaming,” explains chef Julian Garriga of Seawell Fish n’ Oyster in Miami Beach, Florida.

On the other hand, heat can work to the Connecticut lobster roll’s advantage. “If you want to inject a little bit of science in it, certainly when things are hotter you can taste their flavors better,” The Food Lab author J. Kenji López-Alt told The Boston Globe in a pro-Connecticut lobster roll argument.

While a well-made Maine lobster roll achieves a perfect balance with the rich mayo and the salty-sweet lobster meat, it’s also very easy to go overboard with condiments here, which results in a sandwich filling dominated by mayonnaise rather than a true showcase for the lobster. The Connecticut lobster roll, however, truly allows the lobster to take precedence, with the hot butter highlighting the natural flavor of the meat with no risk of elbowing its way to the forefront.

“I am gonna have to hold the mayo and go with the Connecticut lobster roll. The buttery, toasted New England roll stuffed with lots of warm, bright red, sweet lobster meat doused in butter [is] pure lobster bliss. I love the simplicity of the Connecticut roll and how the decadent flavor of the lobster meat and butter just makes everything taste better!” said executive chef Hannah Hopkins of Bésame Steamboat in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Advantage: Connecticut lobster roll

On the topic of variety

lobster roll
Foodcollection/Getty Images

As with any successful sandwich, a lobster roll benefits from textural contrast and a blend of harmonious flavors, all working together to create a perfect bite. In this regard, the “lobster salad” model of the Maine lobster roll tends to come out on top. “I like the contrasting textures and temperatures [of the Maine lobster roll]. You have the hot buttered and griddled split-top bun contrasted with the chilled lobster salad,” says executive chef Matt Hull of Zynodoa and formerly of BLU Point Seafood Co. in Staunton, Virginia.

Chef Ryan McCaskey of Michelin-starred Acadia in restaurant-heavy Chicago and Acadia House Provisions in Stonington, Maine agrees, adding that “the balance of the sweet lobster meat and creamy, tangy mayo is perfect on top of a buttered bun.”

Advantage: Maine lobster roll

On the topic of seasonality

connecticut lobster roll
Connecticut lobster roll Getty Images

Lobster rolls are frequently considered a summertime-only dish, but diners who can’t get enough of this seaside delicacy often find their cravings extending into other seasons. Therefore, there’s an undeniable demand for lobster rolls that can be enjoyed in cooler temperatures … and the warm Connecticut lobster roll is perfectly suited to this goal.

“In later spring and early summer, when the weather is cooler, I crave a Connecticut-style lobster roll. It’s slightly warm, buttery, and served on a warm bun that really allows you to taste the sweetness of the lobster,” executive chef Bill Telepan of Oceana in New York City explains. Executive chef Brian Dando of ArtBar in Cambridge, Massachusetts also prefers the Connecticut roll when the summer warmth subsides, telling The Manual that “in the colder months, I tend to lean toward the Connecticut style of warm lobster meat; there’s something so comforting about a toasty brioche roll, soaked in butter and topped with sweet decadent lobster.”

Advantage: Connecticut lobster roll

The refreshment factor

The Portland Head Light is a historic lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.
Ken Lund/Flickr

The Connecticut lobster roll may feature more seasonal flexibility, but if you’re of the opinion that seafood is best suited to a crisp and clean repast, then you’ll likely enjoy the cool temperature and satisfying tang of the Maine lobster roll. “In the summer [especially], I long for the Maine style, which is cold and refreshing. It also reminds me of summer trips up to Maine and out east to Long Island, where I would always insist on having a few lobster salad rolls,” says Telepan.

Advantage: Maine lobster roll

Taking into account tradition

maine lobster roll
Maine lobster roll Rez Art/Getty Images

Contrary to popular belief, the lobster roll got its start in Connecticut. However, the Maine version quickly became a hit throughout New England and ultimately spread to other regions of the United States, and most lobster-roll eaters now consider the Maine-style roll the sandwich’s Platonic ideal. The cultural impact of the Maine lobster roll in the northeastern U.S. can’t be denied, and New Englanders like chef Brian Poe of  Parish Café and Tip Tap Room in Boston stand firmly behind this shoreline classic. “I feel confident that the state that has a lobster named after it (Maine Lobster), the state that has a gulf named after it (the Gulf of Maine) and the state that I know wears the Red Sox hat with unanimous pride is the state/style in which I would like my lobster roll to be consumed,” Poe tells The Manual.

Advantage: Maine lobster roll

Which is more expensive?

Lobster is expensive stuff, and that’s been the case for quite a while now. These days, lunch-goers could expect to shell out $40 for a single roll. Really, it’s a story of supply and demand, with the former losing out to the latter. Climate change and overfishing are not helping the lobster’s cause. And, because it’s been considered a delicacy for as long as we can recall, lobster tends to invite a higher price tag.

Interestingly, lobster used to be abundant and considered the food of the poor. Not so much today as it has taken on the reverence of caviar or fine wine. Another factor that contributes to the price is the fact that most lobster is wild-caught, meaning the crustacean is often not farm-raised en masse.

Advantage: All even

Conclusion

Stewman’s Lobster Pound (Alicia Dauksis/Shutterstock) Shutterstock

Both the Maine lobster roll and the Connecticut lobster roll make an indelible impression on New England cuisine. And, because they’re both exceptional sandwiches, selecting a “winner” really comes down to personal preferences. While this writer openly admits to having a bias toward the Connecticut lobster roll (I’m a Nutmeg State native, gimme a break!), according to the standards of this survey, the classic cold Maine lobster roll ekes out a narrow victory.

At the end of the day, a lobster roll made with impeccable ingredients will taste tremendous, regardless of its specific preparation style. As owner Paul Barker of Pauli’s in Boston very eloquently puts it: “[A good lobster roll] comes down to ingredients, preparation, and mood. Is there knuckle and claw meat, or mostly tail? Where is the lobster from? Is the bun butter-grilled brioche, or enriched white bread? If you go cold, is the mayonnaise version slathered in mayo, or simply lightly touched? There are so many variables, and as someone that has literally prepared both versions thousands of times, [I can say this]: if great ingredients are being used and it’s done right, the Maine lobster roll and the Connecticut lobster roll are both some of the best-tasting things you can have in-season.”

Want to stay on topic? Be sure to check in on the tinned fish craze and, if you need a lobster on the other side of the country, read about the California spiny lobster. Get the bread and butter ready.

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Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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