August 1, 2012

Soup to Nuts: Lobster bake 2.0

The classic Maine summer feast has evolved in myriad ways from its fire-pit-on-the-beach beginnings.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

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Courtney MacIsaac, right, is the owner of the Maine Lobsterbake Co., which caters a lot of corporate events and wedding-related gatherings. She and server Cheryl Scribner-Rocha survey a steamer filled with lobsters and corn at a recent bake on Peaks Island.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Courtney MacIsaac perpares strawberry shortcake for dessert.

Additional Photos Below


A LOBSTER BAKE is a messy meal, and most people don't want to deal with the clean-up. Courtney MacIsaac of Maine Lobster Bake Co. composts all the waste from her lobster bakes. On Peaks Island, any leftover food goes to the local pigs, while strawberry tops and corn husks go to the horses. On the mainland, she takes the waste to Alewives Farm, including compostable plates and bowls. The rubber bands are taken off the lobster claws before they go into the cooker, and MacIsaac gives them back to her lobstermen so they can reuse them.


YOU CAN FIND contact information for companies that put on lobster bakes, including the ones mentioned in this column, at

Wolfe's Neck Farm in Freeport is also throwing weekly lobster bakes this summer that are open to the public. For more information, go to


People carry around a lot of romantic notions about Maine that aren't necessarily so.

All of our from-away friends think we live right next to lighthouses, for example. They think we know Stephen King personally. And when we want lobster, we gather all our friends and family for a merry party at the beach, like the Maine version of a Target commercial, and throw a lobster bake over an open fire.

Yeah, right.

If only they knew that most modern lobster bakes are thrown by caterers in our own backyards, using metal steamers instead of stones and wood fires, and salt instead of seaweed layered between the lobster and the clams and the corn, to give the food smoky, briny touches of flavor.

No fire permits necessary.

Sandy Oliver, a food historian who lives on Isleboro, says she's willing to bet that in every Maine coastal town there's still two or three people who are known for throwing a lobster bake the old-fashioned way, but most people just don't want to go to the trouble anymore.

"It's very labor-intensive," she said. "You're hauling rocks, you're hauling wood, and you have to go out and harvest seaweed and haul that to wherever it is you're going to have this bake. You could have it in somebody's field. It doesn't have to be at the beach."

Lexi Schaffer, who works at Foster's Downeast Clambake in York Harbor, said the business has been getting a lot of calls this summer, for some reason, from people asking about traditional or open-pit lobster bakes right on the beach. When she tells callers they're just a mile from the beach, they usually book anyway and have a good time.

"It's been a little while since we've done one directly on the beach," she said. "We do cater on the beach, but cooking with permits and everything, it's become kind of difficult."

If it's the menu and not the venue that makes a Maine lobster bake authentic, most caterers offer a traditional version of the meal that includes lobster, clams, corn, potatoes and some kind of dessert -- usually something with Maine blueberries.

Back in the day, a traditional one-pot lobster bake also included eggs. When the eggs were done, you knew the lobster was ready too. And at some point, people started throwing in hot dogs.

These days, you can get lots of extras that give the lobster bake a more modern twist.

"Everyone has their own opinion about how to do a lobster bake," said Courtney MacIsaac, owner of the Maine LobsterBake Co., who caters a lot of corporate events, weddings and rehearsal dinners. "I have so many people that work with me, and everybody's always trying to improve it and say 'do it this way, do it that way.' That's what makes it fun."

This year, she said, the trend has been for customers to ask for something very traditional. MacIsaac includes clam chowder on her menu, and customers can substitute Bangs Island mussels for clams. She also serves watermelon slices and a choice of strawberry shortcake or blueberry cake made from her mother's recipe. She offers traditional cole slaw, but also a tomato cucumber dill salad and a kelp salad.

"This year, 97 percent of the people want clams," MacIsaac said. "Not everybody eats the clams, either. Usually about 95 percent of the people at the party eat mussels, and only about 60 percent eat the clams."

MacIsaac also offers lots of other add-ons, such as smoked seafood platters, cheese platters, shrimp with a green chili pesto, goat cheese roulades and caprese salad skewers.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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At the recent annual feast thrown by the Portland law firm Thompson & Bowie LLP and catered by Maine Lobsterbake, Tom Marczak, left, Roy Thompson and Mark Franco dig in.

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Cheryl Scribner-Rocha, Courtney MacIsaac and Jim Dinsmore plate servings of lobster and corn.

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Maine Lobsterbake head chef Jim Dinsmore loads the food into an insulated container to keep warm until dinner is served.

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Courtney MacIsaac stirs the clam chowder that will be the first course.


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