Lobster roll rumble: Maine versus Connecticut

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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.

A tray with a Maine lobster roll, potato chips, a pickle spear, and a glass of beer labeled "Lone Pine" on a wooden table.
Lobster rolls in Oguinquit, Maine, restaurant. Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Maine and lobstermen

When you think about Maine, you probably think about lobster. And that would be accurate since, by some estimates, about 90% of the lobsters consumed in the United States come from Maine.

Fresh live lobster.
Photo credit: YayImages.

You probably also associate luxury with lobster. When you go out to eat at a restaurant, lobster is usually one of the most expensive items on the menu. Even if you want to cook lobster at home, you’ll pay handsomely for it. Peruse any supermarket circular, and you’re bound to see that lobster and other seafood costs nearly three times what beef or chicken does.

This holds true when you order a lobster roll at a restaurant, which may be hard to jibe with its humble beginnings. Rumor has it that lobstermen would cook up the unsellable portion of their catch and eat it on bread. Thus, the lobster roll was born. Today, lobster rolls can be one of the most expensive items on the sandwich menu.

Battle of the lobster rolls

Two Maine lobster rolls in toasted buns are placed on a weathered red picnic table with an ocean and greenery in the background.
Maine-style lobster roll next to a Connecticut-style lobster roll. Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Even though we’re talking about Maine and its connection to lobster, interestingly, there are two types of lobster rolls. One is called the Maine lobster roll. The other is the Connecticut lobster roll.

Traditional Maine rolls are served cold with the cooked lobster meat in a mayonnaise sauce. Connecticut rolls also feature cooked lobster meat, but they are served warm with butter as the sauce base.

The Maine lobster roll

A Maine lobster roll in a red and white striped container sits on a weathered red picnic table with a coastal scene visible in the background.
Maine-style lobster roll. Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

The basic Maine rolI is simple. Take a toasted New England top split hot dog bun and add a heaping amount of cooked lobster meat — fresh if possible — and mayonnaise. 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
  • Lemon zest
  • Shallots
  • Chives

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.

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 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. Again, there can be many variations in the butter sauce, such as using brown butter.

A Maine lobster roll placed on a red wooden picnic table.
Connecticut-style lobster roll. Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

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 your hand at lobster rolls at home, but lobster isn’t cheap, even from the grocery store. At the time of this writing, cooked lobster meat was close to $50 per pound at the supermarket. A pound of lobster meat can make about four rolls. However, 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.

A Maine lobster roll filled with succulent lobster meat is served on a red plate placed on a light yellow wooden tray over a table outdoors.
Maine-style lobster sandwich made at home. Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

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 be serving the lobster meat warm with butter that you’ll pour over the meat and the bun? 

Final answer: Which lobster roll is the best?

To be honest, one person can like both kinds of lobster rolls. You just might be in the mood for a cold sandwich — therefore a Maine lobster roll — one day and then a warm one — a Connecticut roll — another day. The great news is that the different varieties can both be found at some of southern Maine’s best restaurants. So go with a friend and order one of each to split. Then, decide if you’re on team Connecticut or team Maine for lobster rolls. It’s ok to be on both.

Leah Ingram shares tips for living in and visiting southern Maine on her blog Southern Maine on the Cheap.

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