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Which stone-crab size offers the best value?

Mayo: Instead of buying colossal stone crabs, buy mediums and hire a butler to shell them.

Like yachts, sports cars and waterfront mansions, the colossal stone crab claw is a South Florida marker of status and wealth, a way to say, "Who cares about price? I can splurge on extravagant things."

But it also might be a colossal waste of money.

With stone crab season here, I wanted to answer a simple question: Which stone crab size is the best value? So I bought a pound of medium, large and colossal claws last weekend, stripped away the shells and weighed the meat from each size on a digital scale. Then, I took out my calculator and did some math. And then, I ate them.

The results were surprising.

The two colossal claws ($45.99 for the pound) yielded 5.1 ounces of meat.

The five large claws ($34.99 for the pound) yielded 5.8 ounces of meat.

The seven medium claws ($19.99 for the pound) yielded 6.8 ounces of meat.

At those prices, the medium meat cost $2.94 an ounce, the large $6.03 an ounce and the colossal meat a whopping $9.01 an ounce.

In other words, a pound of medium claws produced more meat than the larger counterparts, at a much cheaper price, and tasted just the same, with no discernible difference in sweetness, firmness or texture.

"I'm shocked," says Doug Carter, longtime owner of Delaware Chicken Farm & Seafood Market in Hollywood, where I bought the claws. "I've always known mediums were a better value, but I didn't know it was this much of a better value."

Carter, 78, says he has never conducted an experiment such as this before, relying on intuition and experience in recommending mediums to those on a budget. Mine was only a one-time test, and I need to replicate the results many more times before I go running off to publish my findings in Scientific American or Crustacean Quarterly. I expect future results to vary based on shell thickness and water weight, and after spending $101 on the first go-round, I may have to take out a second mortgage to subject this to rigorous testing.

But it seems I've stumbled upon a valuable initial finding. Namely, you have to be extremely rich or extremely lazy to buy colossals.

"Some people want to do the least amount of work possible," Carter says.

Here's my suggestion. Instead of spending $46 on a pound of colossals, buy $30 worth of mediums and use the leftover $16 to hire a butler to shell them. You might end up with double the meat.

Carter says many customers buy trays of jumbos or colossals for parties, because they look impressive and require less cumbersome peeling by guests. He says mediums "are always a lot cheaper, because [crabbers] catch a lot more of them than any other." That's because smaller crabs are more prone to walk into the narrow-mouthed traps that fishermen set around the Florida Keys, Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Large are the most popular size, Carter says, because "they're usually fuller." That was before I told him my test results.

In my mind, large (which were down to $32.99 a pound at Delaware on Thursday) look like a sucker's play compared to mediums, because you have to do nearly as much work to get the meat. Five claws or seven, what's the difference? You're still going to get your hands dirty.

Colossal claws are a relative breeze to shell. But I did some more math.

With the meat yield at less than a third of a pound, it meant $31.33 of its $45.99 cost went for shells and water weight. Talk about waste.

When you buy an extra-large pizza instead of a medium, you get a bigger pizza. When you go with a large lo mein over small at your local Chinese takeout, you get more lo mein.

But colossal claws may be one of those rare food items where more is less, and bigger is not actually better. Call it the revenge of the little guy. When it comes to stone crabs, the smart money is on medium.

mmayo@southflorida.com, 954-356-4508. Follow my food adventures on Instagram: @mikemayoeats. Sign up for my weekly newsletter at SouthFlorida.com/EatBeatMail.

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