Maine vs Connecticut: Which Lobster Roll Reigns Supreme?

A lobster roll with lettuce in a bun, placed on a wooden board with a red checkered cloth. Insets show a dish of mayonnaise with an egg and a plate with butter and a knife.

If there’s one thing that screams “New England” louder than a Boston accent, it’s the legendary Maine lobster roll. This handheld delight is as iconic as Maine’s lighthouses and rocky coastlines. But how did this state crustacean transform into the must-try sandwich it is today? Let’s crack open the shell and find out!

Mention a trip to Maine to anyone who is familiar with New England, and you will likely hear them mention the Maine lobster roll or a “lobstah” roll. Lobster rolls are probably as old as lobster fishing itself. Here’s how the state crustacean turned into a favorite handheld sandwich.

Close-up of a lobster roll in a food tray with text asking for a style preference: "Maine," featuring mayonnaise and egg, and "Connecticut," featuring butter.

    

Do You Love Lobster Rolls?

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Close-up of several live lobsters with long antennae and speckled shells, grouped together in a tank.
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Maine and Lobstermen (and Lobersterwomen)

When you think about Maine, you probably think about lobster. And moose. And Stephen King. But mostly lobster. After all, about 90% of the lobsters consumed in the United States come from Maine.

You probably also associate luxury with lobster. After all, lobster is usually one of the most expensive items on the menu when you eat at a restaurant. It’s like the caviar of the crustacean world, only with more legs. Even if you want to cook lobster at home, you’ll pay handsomely for it — usually three times the price of beef or chicken. Because lobster rolls are pretty pricey, it may be hard to imagine the dish’s humble beginnings. 

But first, let’s deconstruct a lobster. The lobster tail is the most popular part of the crustacean. It’s usually the meatiest part of the animal and what chefs like to broil, bake, steam, or stuff for a swanky seafood platter. But other parts of the lobster are still quite tasty. As the legend goes, they would cook up the unsellable portion of their catch (think claw meat and knuckle meat) and eat it on bread. Thus, the lobster roll was born. However, lobster rolls are typically the most expensive item on a sandwich menu today. (Yes, even in Maine.)

 

A display of whole lobsters on ice with a sign labeled "Lobster" in a seafood market.
Photo Credit: Unsplash.

Battle of the Lobster Rolls

Even though we’re talking about Maine and its connection to lobster, interestingly, there are two types of lobster rolls: Maine and Connecticut. It’s the East Coast’s version of the great pineapple-on-pizza debate.

So, what’s the difference? Traditional Maine rolls are served cold with the cooked lobster meat in a mayonnaise sauce. Connecticut rolls also feature cooked lobster meat but are served warm with butter as the sauce base.

A lobster roll with lettuce on a bun is placed on a red checkered napkin with lemon slices in the background.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

The Maine Lobster Roll

Maine-style lobster rolls are simple. Take a toasted New England top split hot dog bun and add a heaping amount of cooked lobster meat — fresh if possible — and just enough mayonnaise to coat the lobster mixture. If you are feeling fancy, substitute brioche or some other bougie bread for the bun.

Or, you can add flavorings along with the mayo. Consider these additions:

  • Celery
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Lemon zest
  • Shallots
  • Fresh herbs like chives or dill

By all accounts, the Maine version of the lobster roll is the original. According to The Chicago Tribune, in 1829, Lydia Maria Child published a cookbook that includes a lobster salad recipe that is essentially the filling for a Maine lobster roll.

Today, you can find Maine rolls with a variety of mayonnaise infusions, including jalapeno, lime, chipotle, and curry. Whenever we’re near Portland, we’ll pick up a wasabi-infused Maine lobster roll at one of the two Bite into Maine food trucks in southern Maine.

 

A lobster roll garnished with green chives is served in a bun next to a pile of potato chips on a white plate with lemon wedges.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

The Connecticut Roll

Supposedly, the first lobster roll in Connecticut was served in 1929 at a restaurant in the town of Milford. Legend has it that the owner was looking for a pleasing to-go sandwich. So, he piled warm lobster meat into a traditional sandwich and topped it with a butter sauce. However, when plain white bread couldn’t hold up to the juiciness of both the lobster meat and the butter, he substituted something more substantial: a bun.

Like the Maine roll, the basic Connecticut recipe is simple. Take a top-sliced hot dog roll, pile on the cooked warm meat, and douse with warmed butter. There can be variations in the butter sauce, such as using brown butter.

Oftentimes, it is the fact that these lobster rolls are served warm that hooks people. Take Susannah Brinkley Henry of Feast + West, who would pick the Connecticut-style lobster roll over Maine style any day of the week.

“I prefer the warm temperature of the Connecticut roll and love that it is slathered in melted butter. The best ones I’ve ever had were at Eventide and High Roller in Portland, Maine,” says Brinkley Henry. “Occasionally, I get one from a local food truck in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I live. They are expensive and not as fresh, but that’s the price one pays for not living in Maine.”

Making Lobster Rolls at Home

You can always try making homemade lobster rolls in your kitchen. The good news is that you only need a few simple ingredients to make amazing lobster rolls. The bad news is that lobster is expensive, even when you buy it at the grocery store or the seafood counter at Costco. At the time of this writing, cooked lobster meat was close to $50 per pound at the supermarket, and you’ll need a quarter pound of lobster per roll. But when ordering a lobster roll at a restaurant, it’s not unheard of to pay north of $30 for a single roll. So, making one at home would be cheaper, even though it is still pricey.

In addition to fresh lobster meat, you will need a bun to serve it on. Don’t reach for any old hot dog bun, though. You want one with a flat bottom that can stand up on its own. In the store, look for ones labeled New England style. They go by other names, too, including:

  • Top-loading hot dog buns
  • Split-top buns
  • Top-sliced
  • Frankfurter rolls
  • Frankfurt rolls

Then, you’re left with the decision of which kind of lobster roll to make—Maine or Connecticut style. Do you want to chill the cooked lobster meat, mix it with mayonnaise, and serve it cold like you would tuna or chicken salad? Or will you serve the lobster meat warm with butter that you’ll pour over the meat and the bun? 

A chalkboard lists differences between Maine and Connecticut lobster rolls. Maine: cold with mayo dressing, celery, lemon juice, herbs, and creamy flavor. Connecticut: warm with drawn butter, lemon juice, rich and buttery flavor.

Maine Lobster Roll vs Connecticut: Which Lobster Roll is the Best?

The good news is that one person can like both kinds of delicious lobster rolls. One day, you might be in the mood for a cold lobster roll and prefer a Maine roll. Another day, you may crave a warm sandwich and choose a Connecticut roll. The great news is that you can easily find both varieties across the Pine Tree State, from Maine’s lobster shacks to its finest seafood restaurants.

My recommendation? Dine with a friend, order one of each, and split them so you can try both! Then, you can decide if you’re on Team Maine or Team Connecticut. Just remember it’s ok to be on both!

Portions of this article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.

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2 thoughts on “Maine vs Connecticut: Which Lobster Roll Reigns Supreme?”

  1. This article makes me want to go back to the east coast to get a lobster roll. One of our favorite places to get lobster rolls is the lobster pound in Belfast, Maine (I guess that makes us Maine lobster roll fans).

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