Everyone should learn how to shuck oysters. If you’ve never done it before, it might seem intimidating—a sharp knife and curved shell can leave little room for error—but with the right equipment, some patience, and proper technique, it’s very easy. If you can confidently open an oyster, there will be more opportunities for you to enjoy the shellfish, especially at home. Not only does this have a financial upside (oysters are often much more affordable when you buy and shuck them yourself), but shucking oysters is also guaranteed to improve any party. Crack open a few dozen oysters, serve them to friends, pour some drinks, and everyone—including yourself—will inevitably have a blast.
From Our Shop
Buy Some Oysters
First, you obviously need oysters. Luckily, regardless of where you live, you’ll have them tomorrow if you buy them from an oyster farm with online delivery like Island Creek Oysters or Copps Island Oysters. If you’re curious about online oyster delivery and how it works, this article explains the logistics and benefits of direct-to-consumer oysters.
Get The Right Knife
It’s important to have the right knife for the oysters you’re shucking. For Chris Bennet, CEO of Island Creek Oysters, size is the first thing to consider. “If you’re doing smaller oysters, you want a more delicate knife,” he says. “Whereas if you’re shucking gulf oysters—or some giant oysters from coastal Washington—you want a big, hardy knife that can really handle the thick shell.”
For Chris, an oyster knife should always have a sharp tip, regardless of size. “Having a knife that is, at the very least, sharp on the tip, is super important. [This way] it is small enough to easily enter in between the two shells—the top and bottom—without a lot of force.”
This 6.5-inch oyster knife in the Shop has a sharp tip, an easy-to-grip handle, and is neutrally sized, meaning it’ll work for both big and small oysters. If you’re in need of a knife today, your local fish market likely sells one.
Grab a Towel or Gloves
When shucking, your first priority is to not cut yourself. There are two ways to prevent this. Either buy a cut-resistant, shucking glove—they’re cheap (around $20), last forever, and will protect your entire hand from being cut—or, the way I prefer to shuck, grab a thick kitchen towel that you’re comfortable getting very dirty. Either way, having one of these two pieces of safety equipment is non-negotiable when shucking oysters.
Clean Your Oysters
When you buy oysters, some of them will be covered with sediment. Take the time to clean the shells off by scrubbing each oyster with steel wool under running, cold water. Swallowing bits of sand and dirt is annoying, so make sure to do this thoroughly.
Shuck Your Oysters
You’ve got clean oysters, a knife, and either a glove or towel to protect your hands—you’re ready to shuck. If you’ve never opened an oyster before, please watch this tutorial Chris made a few years back. It will give you the baseline knowledge necessary to shuck your first oyster. If you’ve opened an oyster before—or prefer written instruction—here’s the mental checklist I go through when shucking:
1. Find The Oyster’s Hinge: An oyster has a top and bottom side. The top side is flat, the bottom side is cupped. When shucking, you want to be looking down at the top side, while the bottom side faces the floor. Between the two sides—and opposite from the lip of the oyster—you’ll find the hinge. (If you look at the photo above, it is the part of the oyster closest to the tip of the index finger)
2. Place Your Knife Tip In The Hinge: Place the tip of your knife in the hinge at roughly a 45-degree angle. Once there, work your knife further into the oyster by gently twisting and wiggling the knife.
3. Pop The Top Shell: When your knife is far enough into the oyster, you’ll feel its hinge give. From there, turn the knife perpendicular to the oyster to create space between the top and bottom shells.
4. Drag Your Knife Across The Top: To fully separate the top and bottom shells, return your knife parallel to the oyster and drag it across the roof of the top shell—similar to how you would remove the skin of a fish. Once you work the knife all the way across the oyster, you will be able to remove the top shell.
5. Cut The Adductor: Every oyster has an adductor muscle that tethers its meat to the bottom shell—this needs to be cut. Find the adductor (it is on the bottom left of the oyster pictured above) and drag your knife across its bottom. When completed, you’ll have an oyster that is ready to be enjoyed.
Enjoy Your Oysters
You did the hard work, now it’s time to enjoy your oysters. There are many ways to garnish oysters—mignonette, lemon, and hot sauce are the most common—and even more drinks that pair well with them. Personally, I prefer mine plain and with a cooler of cold, light beer nearby. Of course—like anything—you should enjoy your oysters (especially ones that you shucked yourself) however you want to.