Lutjanus goldiei displays distinct characteristics, including a relatively deep body with a standard length measuring 2.2 to 2.8 times its depth. It exhibits a steeply sloped forehead and features a preoperculum with a faint incision and knob. The vomerine teeth form a crescent-shaped cluster without extending rearward, while the tongue bears tiny, grain-like teeth. Notably, the fish boasts a large eye with a reddish-yellow iris and a sizable black pupil.
The dorsal fin comprises 10 spines and 13 to 14 soft rays, with both fins' rear profiles taking on a rounded shape. The anal fin, on the other hand, possesses 3 spines and 8 soft rays. The pectoral fins contain 16 to 17 rays, and the caudal fin is truncate in shape.
In terms of size, this species can reach a maximum total length of 100 cm (39 inches), although a more common length is around 60 cm (24 inches). The heaviest recorded weight for this species is 19.2 kg (42 lb).
Papuan black snappers exhibit two distinct color phases: one with a completely blackish body and another with 6 to 7 broad greyish bars on the flanks. Juvenile individuals are characterized by their barred appearance.