Robert Young aboard the lobster boat he uses to catch lobster for his Vinalhaven Smoked Lobster. Photo courtesy of Robert Young

Smoking lobster is popular among Vinalhaven lobstermen, according to Robert Young, a lobsterman who started doing it 15 years ago and now has a business called Vinalhaven Smoked Lobster.

He smokes his lobster in three small electric smokers — the kind you can buy at Home Depot — using hickory and cherry woods. He tried a big commercial smoker once, but “it ruined the meat,” he said. “It just turned it to raisins.”

Young and his family (his wife and daughters work in the business, too) steam the lobsters, pick out the meat, and then soak it in a molasses-honey-salt brine overnight before smoking it. While some argue that lobster already sits in its own natural saltwater brine, Young says brining it adds the salt content needed to preserve the meat.

Young says smoking lobster is costly. To begin with, it takes more than 14 hours to smoke 90 pounds of lobster, he said, requiring manpower for that time. Some days, Young smokes lobster until midnight or 1 a.m., then is back on the water hauling traps at 5 a.m.

Next, a lobster loses 30-33 percent of its water weight during smoking. “And that jacks the price right up,” he said.

After the meat comes out of the smoker, the Youngs package it in safflower oil in jars, which helps rehydrate the meat. It keeps for 90 days in the refrigerator.


“Everybody does it differently,” on the island, he said. “Everyone has their own recipes.” Although smoking lobster is popular on Vinalhaven, Young says he has met lobstermen who live in Stonington, on the mainland, who have never even heard of it.

Any pieces of lobster that get a little too dark in the smoker, or stained by the brine, Young blends with cream cheese for a spread.

The hickory-smoked lobster and spread have a much stronger smoky flavor than the cherry-smoked products, which taste sweeter.

Vinalhaven Smoked Lobster spread. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Young’s wife has used the smoked lobster pieces in mac and cheese, risotto and lemon fettucine alfredo. The Food Network has purchased the product a few times, Young said, to use in a corn chowder. But Young has had difficulty selling his Vinalhaven Smoked Lobster to wider markets. “Our product is expensive, I’m not going to lie,” he said.

Vinalhaven Smoked Lobster packed in oil. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer  Buy this Photo

An 8-ounce jar of cherry-smoked lobster sells on Young’s website for $31.50; a 16-ounce jar for $54.50. The smoked lobster spread costs $15.25 for 8 ounces, and $24.25 for 16 ounces.

Young has given out samples of his smoked lobster to many Maine restaurants and seafood retailers and has tried selling at farmers markets on the mainland. But it’s hard to find time to leave the island and shipping from the island is expensive. His sales have been about $92,000-95,000 in his first three years, but he’s put more than $150,000 into the business. What he needs is volume from larger accounts, he says, to keep the business running.

And, maybe, more Mainers discovering the joys of eating smoked lobster.

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