Shuck It Don’t Chuck It: Opening Oysters

Photo of five whole oysters

You’re at a restaurant or oyster bar enjoying an assortment of your favorite oysters priced from $2.25 to $3.00 apiece. For me that’s Salutation Cove, Rappahannock River, Fanny Bay, and Blue Point Oysters. I adore oysters on the half shell, and when I have a chance to eat them, they might as well be grapes. Very expensive grapes.

So you might think, why don’t I buy a few dozen of my favorite oyster varieties to snack on during the week? Or, you’ve invited guests over and want to delight them by serving fresh oysters. Buying oysters by the dozen to open at home will certainly save you cash. However, you’ll have to “deal” with them. By that I mean shuck them.

Photo of five whole oysters on a white plate

This post is about liberating your inner shucker and opening oysters. Know that once you shuck your first oyster, you’ll get somewhat of a “God complex.” Not only do you eat raw oysters, but you shuck them too. No one can stop you. 

A good place to start your whole-oyster hunt is at a local seafood shop or large supermarket. The fishmonger should be able to provide more information about the oyster than the price, such as its origin, salinity, the fullness and firmness of the oyster meat, the body of water it’s from, etc. If you live away from bodies of water, you can still get fresh oysters by ordering them. In fact, you’ll likely have a fresher product since the oysters are shipped quickly from the source. 
If you’re able to get oysters locally, start with just a half-dozen oysters. Otherwise, ask among friends and coworkers about buying a share of an online oyster order (typically, an order starts at 5 dozen), and keep a dozen or less for yourself. Here’s how to open them:

Oven Mitt on Cutting Board

1. Safety first. Cover the hand that won’t be holding the knife. You can buy an oyster glove, but I use a quilted oven mitt to protect my hand in case the oyster knife slips.

Hand holding oyster knife

2. Get an oyster knife that you can hold comfortably in your hand. The handle should be substantial and unable to slip easily from your hand. It should have a slight upturn at the tip, which helps to pry the oyster open.

Hand Holding Oyster Cup-Side Down

3. Hold the oyster cup-side down. The oyster is resting in the cup, and by holding it this way, little of the precious oyster liquid is spilled.

Hand Cleaning Oyster with Paper Towel.

4. Clean each oyster with tap water and a paper or kitchen towel, particularly if you will be serving the oysters on the half shell.

Hand Pointing to Lip of Oyster
I’m pointing to the spot where I’ll insert the knife to open the oyster. No matter what shape or size the oyster, each has a similar area.
Hand Shucking Oyster
Hand Opening Oyster with Oyster Knife
Hand Releasing Oyster from Adductor Muscle with Oyster Knife
5.  Place the oyster on a firm surface and hold it steady with your gloved hand (see important note below). Insert the oyster knife into the lip and slowly turn the knife to pry open the oyster. Once the oyster opens, wipe off bits of shell on the knife (shown on the knife) before slipping the knife under the oyster to release it from the muscle that holds it to the shell. Repeat until you’ve shucked the number of oysters you want to eat or serve. Place each shucked oysters on crushed ice, which helps to hold them up and keep them cold. 
*Important Note: To facilitate photographing this post, I used the off-the-table technique for opening the oysters. Avoid this technique until you are very experienced with oyster shucking. 
Follow Me!
Follow Me!

Latest posts by Alaiyo Kiasi-Barnes (see all)


  1. says

    We used to live near Tomales Bay in California … this was pre-vegan. There was an oyster company that sold them by the dozen and offered picnic tables & oyster knives to patrons so that we could enjoy them fresh out of the water. They were sweet and delicious! I got pretty good at opening them … which was a big part of the fun. While I don’t eat them any longer, your post brought back some wonderful memories. :-)

  2. says

    Oh that sounds heavenly! I’m glad the post brought back memories for you. I love West-Coast oysters. I think they are among the best! Thanks for sharing.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *