Here at The Manual, we cast a pretty wide net on what oceanic treats we love (read: all of them, all of the time), but oysters hold a special place in our hearts. Whether it’s enjoying an oyster shooter (or five), popping a bottle of bubbly and going to town on a dozen Kumamotos, or cooked into a dish like Oysters Rockefeller, we can’t help but love them.
Oysters, though … well, they take a little work. You can’t just buy oysters and be good to go. If they’re fresh, you’ve got to shuck them before you can eat them. This may seem like a gargantuan task, but it’s really not.
To find out the best way to shuck an oyster, we teamed up with Toadfish Outfitters — a South Carolina-based company that produces ergonomic and aesthetically pleasing line of oyster knives, shrimp deveiners, and more — and The Macintosh, one of the best restaurants in Charleston.
We’ve included detailed instructions on how to shuck oysters below, but check out the video above to see the technique in action.
How to Shuck Oysters
To get started, stand up in front of a table and place a long, horizontal washcloth in front of you. Roll the side of your non-dominant hand backward until it forms a plush roll.
Grab an oyster and hold it belly down. An oyster is a bivalve (Latin for two bones), which is pretty indicative of its shape. There are two sides to the oyster shell. The one with a bigger curve is the belly, so you’ll hold that side on the bottom with your dominant hand.
There is a natural separation point on the side where you’ll insert your shucking knife. Place the oyster on the washcloth so it’s side-to-side with the rolled washcloth – separation point on the opposite side of the roll. Put your non-dominant hand over the shell and with the other place your shucking knife into the separation point. The butt of the handle should go directly into the center of your palm, and fold your fingers around the rest. Never grip sideways.
Slowly, but with pressure (about 3-4 pounds), wiggle the knife into the natural separation point to break the ligament. The break is the most difficult part, and it takes 20-30 oysters to really get a feel for it. If you’re wondering why you use the washcloth starting out, it’s to protect your hand in the event that the knife misses the oyster and slices you. So don’t get brave when you’re starting out.
After the ligament is broken, you’ll clean the abductor muscle from the top shell by weaving the knife across the opening toward you. During this step, you’ll want to run the knife over the top of the oyster.
Now the top should be off. Take your shucking knife and, in one full scooping motion, cut the bottom of the oyster. Drop the shucker, dress it to your liking, and down that baby!
(Once you get this shucking technique down, why not learn how to grill oysters, too?)
Tips and Tools for Shucking Oysters
Keep in mind, the most dangerous part of shucking isn’t cutting yourself with the knife, but cutting through the shell and into your hand and getting shell fragments into your blood. If you accidentally eat some shell fragments, it’s no sweat. That’s because our digestive system and blood system are very different. When these fragments get into your bloodstream, it can’t control the bacteria, and without attention, you could end up losing some of your fingers to sepsis. In the event of this happening, clean up the wound ASAP with alcohol.
Another surprise you may encounter while shucking oysters is opening a shell to find a little crab living inside. This is common, especially on the East Coast. What happened here is that, while the oyster was under water opening and closing to filter water, phytoplankton, and microalgae, a crab forced its way in and decided to stay. But don’t be alarmed. Scoop out the crab with your knife and continue on your way.
Like we said, it should take you roughly 20-30 oysters to really get the muscle memory. And we recommend trying a variety of types. Some will be easier to open than others and nearly all will taste different due to the variance of phytoplankton and microalgae found in different bodies of water. Once you have it down, it’s extremely sexy. Better than driving stick or playing football.
If you need some shucking tools, check out Toadfish’s full lineup here. As an added benefit to their utility, each purchase from Toadfish contributes to environmental causes that help preserve the coastal lands, ensuring that the next generation will also get to reap the beauty and benefits of the area.
Article originally published by Jahla Seppanen on April 17, 2017. Last updated by Sam Slaughter.