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Shucking oysters is one of the most daunting tasks for an at-home chef. On the one hand, being able to serve a seafood feast to friends—from oysters to grilled prawns to a lobster boil with drawn butter, corn, sausage, and all the fixins—is an impressive feat. On the other hand, oyster-shucking implements aren’t exactly user-friendly, nor are they intuitive. What it really takes is a protective glove, an oyster knife, and a platter to lay out the oysters on a bed of ice with mignonette, lemon, and like accoutrements. That, and a step-by-step tutorial and video demonstration from the experts.
How to Shuck Oysters: Video Tutorial
Watching a professional walk you through the shucking process step-by-step makes all the difference. To guide us on our oyster-shucking journey, we tapped Sam Baxter, executive chef at Connie & Ted’s, a Los Angeles seafood institution in West Hollywood. Connie & Ted’s is the go-to spot for east and west coast-sourced seafood in southern California, and Baxter honed his seafood craft at Michelin-starred restaurant Providence before becoming Connie & Ted’s executive chef. Here’s his take on how to shuck oysters.
How to Shuck Oysters: Step by Step
Step 1: Put your glove on the hand holding the oyster, and keep the oyster knife in your dominant hand. Place the knife at the oyster’s hinge, which Baxter describes as the “teardrop” of the oyster. Your oyster will have a flat side and a rounded side—fit the rounded side into the palm of your hand, with the flat side facing up. The hinge is at the pointed base of the oyster, where the top and bottom shells meet.
Step 2: Gently push the knife into the hinge of the oyster. You may have to wiggle the knife into the hinge, and this is by far the trickiest part. Move slowly to protect your hand and be sure the point of your knife is pushing directly into the hinge between the top and bottom shell.
Step 3: Feel the knife “breach the oyster’s shell” in the hinge. Baxter says if your knife has properly breached the oyster, you should be able to hold the oyster up on your knife—that’s how you know it’s wedged in properly and far enough.
Step 4: Support the oyster (holding the bottom in your palm) and twist the knife to open up the oyster.
Step 5: Slide the knife along the right side of the oyster—above the oyster’s abductor muscle—to take the top shell cleanly off the oyster. Pro tip from Baxter: when you’re holding an oyster with the flat side up, the abductor muscle is always on the right side of the oyster.
Step 6: Once the top shell is off, leaving your oyster fully exposed, it’s time to cut the abductor muscle. Just as you approached removing the top of the oyster with care, practice the same restraint on cutting the abductor muscle. To cut the abductor muscle, slide the oyster knife underneath the oyster, to where the flesh meets the shell on the right side. This should cleanly cut the abductor muscle.
Step 7: Present your oyster. Baxter says people often instinctively hack away at the oyster more than is necessary; in fact, shuckers sometimes flip the oyster after cutting the abductor muscle because the top side looks a bit messy. However, if you’re gentle with the oyster, it should look practically untouched by the end, and you can serve a beautiful, untarnished oyster.
What You Need to Shuck and Serve Oysters
R. Murphy Knives, Damariscotta Shucker
When searching for good oyster knives, opt for a knife purveyor known for its shellfish implements. R. Murphy Knives makes an exceptional line of luxury, well-built, USA-made shellfish knives. Their oyster-shucking line has no fewer than 10 knives—ones that accommodate various shell types and specialize in opening Wellfleet oysters, Gulf oysters, Washington oysters, and more. The Damariscotta Shucker is best for neophyte shuckers looking for a knife that can easily open east coast, west coast, and Gulf oysters. The Damariscotta has a weighted rosewood handle and a strong stainless steel blade meant to expedite the shucking experience.
To buy: $38.50, R. Murphy Knives
Chainmail Mesh Cut-Resistant Glove
The best oyster gloves are actually a widely contested subject. But there’s one principle everyone agrees on: you need to wear one, whether you’re a novice shucker or spend your summers shucking oysters in Maine. Chainmail butchers’ gloves are some of the most cut-resistant and sturdy oyster-shucking gloves. Buy one ambidextrous glove—made with quality stainless steel to avoid rust—and wear it on the hand holding the oyster. You’ll find a chainmail glove not only protects your vulnerable hand, but also makes it easier to grip the oyster, giving you a sturdier shucking platform.
To buy: $65.99, Amazon.com
Oyster Shucking Clamp
A shucking clamp is by no means an alternative to a shucking glove. However, it does further protect your non-dominant hand, because a clamp is a wooden piece to anchor your oyster in. You follow the shucking directions exactly as laid out by Chef Baxter, but rather than holding the oyster in the palm of your hand, you place the oyster in the clamp and hold the clamp in your non-dominant hand. Then, with the oyster anchored and unmoving, you can follow through with pushing the knife into the hinge and popping the oyster open.
To buy: $7.99, Amazon.com
Really, you can serve oysters on any platter, provided it’s deep enough for a layer of crushed ice. Williams Sonoma’s Hammered Copper Double Wall Round Tray is perfect for oysters because it helps keep the tray’s contents chilled. Line the stainless steel tray base with crushed ice, then position your accoutrements (mignonette sauce, cocktail sauce, horseradish, lemon, etc.) in the center with the oysters creating a semi-circle around the garnishes.
To buy: $39.99, Williams Sonoma