Posted on 5/10/2017

What You Need to Know About Fresh Seafood



Fresh seafood and Topsail Island go hand-in-hand. From locally-caught fish to succulent shellfish, seafood lovers can satisfy all of their cravings right here on the island. Whether you catch it and cook it yourself or enjoy it served up just as you like it at your favorite Topsail restaurant, there are so many ways to take advantage of Topsail's coastal bounty. 

So what do you need to know about fresh seafood here on the island? We're so glad you asked. Here's your guide to everything you need to know about Topsail's fresh, local seafood.

What to Look for When Choosing Fresh Seafood


Buying the freshest locally caught seafood is beneficial to you and to the local economy. Knowing where your food is coming from gives you peace of mind that you're eating freshand healthful, while also supporting the local fishermen and area businesses. You may not be familiar with what to look for when it comes to shopping and buying local seafood. You may even feel intimidated or overwhelmed with all of the options—but it doesn't have to be that way! We can help.

So what exactly do you need to know when choosing fresh seafood from a local fish or seafood market? There are just a few things to keep in mind.



  • It's important to buy from reputable establishments with high quality standards and safe handling processes.
  • Fish and seafood markets should have a clean, organized and pleasant appearance and aroma.
  • Seafood needs to be kept right around the 32-degree Fahrenheit mark for optimal freshness, so be sure the fish market has adequate refrigeration and/or ice.
  • Seafood is highly perishable so it should be the last stop on your shopping trip. Avoid cross-contamination by keeping seafood separate from your other food and groceries.


 (Photo Credit: JM's Place Seafood & Grocery)

Now that you know the basics, here is a little more about what to look for when selecting your fresh seafood.   



Whole Fish

Whatever the variety, whole fish have certain characteristics that indicate freshness. They should have bright, clear, full eyes that are often protruding. As the fish loses freshness, the eyes become cloudy, pink, and sunken. The gills should be bright red or pink. Avoid fish with dull-colored gills that are gray, brown, or green. Fresh fish should be free of loose or sloughing slime. The flesh should be firm yet elastic, springing back when pressed gently with the finger. With time, the flesh becomes soft and slips away from the bone. The skin of a fresh, whole fish should be shiny with scales that adhere tightly. Characteristic colors and markings start to fade as soon as a fish leaves the water, but the skin should still have a bright, shiny appearance.

Fish Fillets or Steaks

Note that fillets and steaks should have firm, elastic flesh and a fresh-cut, moist appearance, with no browning around the edges. Fillets separate if they are left too long in the case. The flesh should be almost translucent – as if you can almost see through it. There should be little evidence of bruising or reddening of the flesh from retention of blood. Prepackaged steaks and fillets should contain a minimum of liquid. Fish fillets stored in liquid deteriorate quickly.


They may be sold live, cooked, or fresh-shucked. Each form and species has different quality signs to examine. Live clams, oysters, or mussels should have shells that look moist and are tightly closed. If the shells gape slightly, have your retailer tap them. If the shells do not close or are cracked, do not purchase them. The bottom shell of an oyster should be well cupped – a sign that the oyster inside is plump and well formed. The "neck" or "snout" of soft-shelled clams should show movement. The meats of fresh-shucked clams, oysters, or mussels should be plump and covered with their liquor. Their liquor should be clear or slightly opalescent (slightly milky or light gray) and free of shell or grit. There should be no strong odor.

Crabs and Lobsters 

Live crabs and lobsters should show leg movement, and the tail of lobsters should curl tightly underneath the body and not hang down when the lobster is picked up. Lobsters and crabs will not be very active if they have been refrigerated, but they should move at least a little bit. Cooked lobsters or crabs in the shell should be bright red and have no disagreeable odor. Picked lobster meat will be snowy white with red tints, while crab meat is white with red or brown tints, depending on the species or the section of the body it was picked from. Cooked, picked lobster or crab meat should have good color and no disagreeable odor.


Raw shrimp meat should be firm and have a mild odor. The shells of most varieties are translucent with a grayish green, pinkish tan, or light pink tint. The shells should not have blackened edges or black spots – this is a sign of quality loss. Cooked shrimp meat should be firm and have no disagreeable odor. The color of the meat should be white with red or pink tints.

(Source: Guide to Selecting Seafood)

Where to Find Fresh Seafood on Topsail Island

Now that you're well versed in what to look for when choosing fresh seafood, here's where to find in on Topsail Island! We've rounded up some of the best places to find local seafood and included some of our favorite Topsail Island seafood markets and boat-to-table restaurants. 


Surf City Crab

Surf City Crab is a fresh seafood market located at 508 Roland Ave in Surf City, just past the swing bridge on the left. If you're looking for a wonderful selection of fresh Topsail seafood right off the boats, then you won't be disappointed with the selection of seafood, the quality and freshness of the products and the friendly, knowledgable staff. From finfish to shellfish, and even some items you might not expect like crawfish and octopus—you want it, they've got it. Check it out next time you're on the island. Surf City Crab is loved by locals and vacationers alike. Two claws up!


The Crab Pot 

Dubbed "the next freshest thing to cooking underwater", the Topsail Island Crab Pot located on the causeway in Surf City offers up delectable fresh seafood among other favorites like steaks, burgers, hot dogs and the ever famous Frogmore Stew. Family friendly and seafood lover approved!



The Bistro at Topsail

At the Bistro the menus change daily, allowing you to take advantage of the freshest, local and seasonal ingredients. The Bistro menu features contemporary takes on Southern and Coastal classics, house charcuterie, prime steaks and local seafood. They employ the help of local farmers and fishermen giving you a boat-to-table dining experience that won't be soon forgotten.

(Photo Credit: The Bistro)


Topsail Steamer 

Topsail Steamer offers seafood steamer pots prepared with fresh local seafood, meats, veggies and home-made spices to take home, steam, eat and enjoy. The ready-to-go Bay Buckets come in a one-time use pot with easy to follow instructions. Choose a signature Bay Bucket or build your own. There motto is "No Toil, Just Boil!" What better way to bring fresh local seafood to the beach, to your vacation rental or just about anywhere indoors or out? Try it! 


JM's Place Seafood & Grocery

JM's is a combination seafood market, specialty grocery store and pub all rolled into one convenient Surf City location. It's where the locals go and you should try it too! Word has it that the bacon-wrapped scallops are to die for. Stop by for a cold beer and then take some fresh, delicious seafood home with you. Got questions? The knowledgable and friendly staff can help you out.

Daddy Mac's Beach Grille


Daddy Mac's is located in the heart of Surf City, on the beach with awesome views of the Atlantic Ocean and Surf City Pier. The beach grill offers a separate lunch and dinner menu that include the freshest seafood, as well as burgers, sandwiches and salads for lunch and quality steaks, excellent pasta dishes and other local favorites.


Beauchaine's 211

Beauchaine’s offers causal fine dining on the island and is a welcoming place to relax for a drink, enjoy a date night, have a family dinner, or for special celebrations. Because it’s a popular favorite on the island, reservations are strongly suggested. They offer a nice selection of land and sea options to please every palate. 


Beach Shop and Grill

The Beach Shop and Grill believes in using fresh, local ingredients to create rustic, low-country inspired dishes. The menu reflects their passion for creating dishes from scratch including all of their desserts. The Beach Shop and Grill is a landmark in Topsail Beach, NC. It began as Warren’s Soda Shop in 1952 selling hamburgers and hot dogs. The tradition of a fresh, hand-pattied burger is maintained along with other signature dishes such as Shrimp and Grits with Andouille Sausage and Mile High Key Lime Pie.


More Restaurants to Try on Topsail Island 



Check out more of our favorite local restaurants on Topsail Island here. Plus, read up on these new Topsail restaurants to try in this article from the Star News Online.


Preparing Seafood in Your Topsail Rental Kitchen 


Preparing fresh seafood in your Topsail vacation rental is easy! You have everything you need to whip up a fresh and fabulous meal right within your grasp.

Now that you know where to go for local seafood, take it up another level with fresh accompaniments from our Topsail Farmers Markets. They are the best places to find locally grown produce and other artisan-made goods to enjoy with your meals. 

From fresh fruit and vegetables to verdant herbs and homemade condiments, these items are the final touches you need for a totally fresh and absolutely delicious taste of Topsail right in your vacation rental.


Make your shopping list and check it twice! Then head out and experience the best of Topsail's local markets. 

Topsail Island Farmers Markets




Though all of Ward Realty's Topsail rentals are nicely equipped, if you're looking for rentals with spectacular kitchens and facilities you should take a look at these! 


Topsail Rentals with Great Kitchens



Did we miss anything? We hope you find this Topsail Island guide to fresh seafood helpful!



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