All About Oysters
Food and Drink

All About Oysters

Oysters on the half-shell with fresh squeezed lemon, topped with horseradish cocktail sauce – it just doesn’t get any better! Oysters are a great appetizer for almost any meal – or served as the main course. If you have not yet experimented with oyster cuisine, they can be deliciously cooked in a variety of ways.

Raw Oysters

One of the most decadent seafood delicacies can be intimidating for first timers, because of their unique taste and texture. The amazing flavors of raw oysters and the overall eating experience is something that everyone should try!

Did you know that oysters are still alive when we eat them? If you are going to eat an oyster raw, it must be alive or else it will no longer be safe to eat. Oysters taste the best when they are eaten immediately after being shucked – fresh and full of flavor.

Quality Check

Make sure your oysters are safe to eat.

  1. Check the shell: There should be no large cracks, broken or damaged areas, and no gaps within the shell. Oyster shells are glossy white in color with pink and gray streaks. If it looks greenish or brown, throw it out.
  2. Tap the shell: Knock two oysters together, they should sound solid, like rocks. If you get a hollow sound, one of them is bad.
  3. Look at the oyster meat: Healthy oysters are plump, glossy, in their own liquor, and light tan in color. Contaminated oysters will be grey, brown, black, or pink.
  4. Take a sniff: Oysters should smell like the ocean, but not fishy. If the oyster has a strong, pungent odor, throw it out.

How to Store Oysters

It’s best to buy oysters the same day you plan to eat them.  This way, you’ll get the freshest available. If you buy them a couple days early, keep them cold in the refrigerator in an open container with an icy cold towel on top.  Place oysters with the rounded side down, so that precious seawater stays in the oyster.

Clean and Shuck

Let oysters sit in a small bowl of icy water for 10 minutes to remove sand and other debris. Then scrub each oyster under cold running water to ensure they’re completely clean.

Shucking oysters is necessary if you want to eat them raw. Otherwise, you’d usually just cook them right in the shell. Once the shells open is an indicator that the oyster meat is cooked. You’ll also need to shuck oysters to bake or grill them in their shells.

  1. Use thick gloves to protect your hands and an oyster knife (or another sharp knife).
  2. Hold the oyster in your palm with the rounded side down.
  3. Find the hinge, then insert the knife into it, or directly next to it. Twist the knife and lift it slightly upwards to open the oyster hinge.
  4. Take the knife and carefully glide it in between the shells to release the oyster from the top of the shell. Make sure the oyster is separated from the shell on both sides if you’re planning to serve raw.

Cooking Oysters

Oysters are delicious eaten raw on the half-shell but cooking them reveals new flavors and textures beyond their raw form. The briny ocean flavor pairs wonderfully with heat, herbs, spices, and more to create incredible dishes.


Since oysters are so small, they don’t need much time in the smoker. They should be cooked completely in about 90 minutes to two hours, resulting in a savory, smoky flavor that complements oysters well.


Steam cooks Oysters through in just a few minutes without stripping their natural juices, resulting in tender, juicy oysters. Steaming is one of the healthiest ways to cook oysters. Since it doesn’t require olive oil or other ingredients that could add calories and fat.

Pan Fried

Oysters will need to be shucked first. Prepare by dredging the oyster meat in an egg bath and cover them in spiced breadcrumbs. Place the covered oyster meat in a heated frying pan with oil, browning them on both sides.


Similar to pan fried oysters, but breaded oyster meat is dropped into about three inches of hot oil for 2-3 minutes. This allows the meat to cook completely and quickly, resulting in a crispy outside and deliciously soft inside.


Grilled oysters can be kept in their shell. Place deep shell side down, oysters are done within 10 minutes when cooked on high heat. When they pop open, add a tablespoon of butter to help them crisp up. Drizzle with marinades or spices. Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper are also simple options.

Baked or Roasted

Roasted oysters are cooked at a higher temperature for a shorter period. With either method line shelled oysters on a baking sheet, top them with your favorite fresh herbs, cheeses, and stuffing recipes. Cook until they pop open and serve immediately.

Cooking Tips

  1. Before shucking oysters, place them in the freezer for about five minutes to make them easier to open.
  2. Watch oysters carefully as you cook them. Overcooking can make them tough and chewy. The shells just need to open slightly so you know that they’re cooked. Allow them to rest for five minutes or so.
  3. Serve raw oysters on ice to keep them chilled at a safe temperature.
  4. Oysters are already salty, so use other ingredients to enhance the flavor. Pepper, garlic, parsley, lemon zest, and chives all work to enhance the flavor of oysters.
  5. When baking or roasting, keep them in a single layer to allow meat to cook thoroughly. Add a little bit of olive oil, lemon juice, or garlic butter over each oyster to keep them moist and flavorful as they bake.

Oyster Facts

  1. We can enjoy oysters year-round thanks to the cultivation methods and modern oyster farming technology that exists today.
  2. Edible oysters are not the kind that typically grow pretty pearls. Pearl oysters are a different species, closely related to clams. But you never know, you could get lucky!
  3. Raw oysters are very good for you. They are low in calories and fat. Also packed with essential vitamins and minerals. However, raw oysters can potentially contain harmful bacteria.
  4. according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most oysters shucked in an hour was done by a team of 10 Canadians, who shucked 8,840 oysters together.
  5. Much to everyone’s disappointment, there is no scientific evidence that raw oysters are an aphrodisiac, nor will they cure a hangover.
  6. There are five main species of oysters and over 150 varieties harvested in America. The species defines its overall characteristics and size. The varieties come from the waters in which they’re raised.
  7. East Coast oysters tend to be saltier (aka brinier) milder, and a bit smaller. Oysters found on the west coast of North America tend to be a bit sweeter and creamier.

Oysters are easy to prepare and there are hundreds of recipes available. Oysters Rockefeller is a fabulous appetizer – baked or broiled and served on the half-shell. Crunchy Fried Oysters with Remoulade is another elegant appetizer.

Ready to take your oyster skills to the next level? Try Grilled Oysters with Bacon, Tomato & Tarragon or Fried Oyster Slaw Dogs. Check out these recipes below and wow your friends and family at your next gathering!

Grilled Oysters with Bacon, Tomato & Tarragon

Recipe reprinted from Char-Broil America Grills, ©2011 Creative Homeowner Serves 12 single appetizers


3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon shallot, minced

1 green onion, sliced thinly on the bias

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced

2 teaspoons tarragon, minced

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

2 strips bacon, fried and crumbled

1 dozen oysters, shucked, shell reserved

2–3 cups of coarse salt (kosher or rock), for serving

Preheat one side of the grill to medium. (The oysters will be cooked over the indirect side.)

In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter; add the shallots and green onion; and cook until they are softened, 4 minutes. Add the cider vinegar and cook until bubbly and reduced, 3 minutes.

Add in the diced tomatoes and stir gently to heat through, 2 minutes. Do not mash or break up the tomato chunks.

Remove from heat, stir in the tarragon and black pepper. Top each oyster with 1 to 3 teaspoons of the tomato mixture.

Grill over indirect heat, with lid closed, for 5 to 10 minutes. The oysters are done when the edges have curled and the topping is bubbly. Serve on a bed of coarse salt.

Fried Oyster Slaw Dog

Recipe from The Deep End of Flavor by Tenney Flynn with Susan Puckett, reprinted by permission of Gibbs Smith; Photo by Danny Lee.

"Cornmeal crusted fried oysters served on toasted hot-dog buns topped liberally with coleslaw. Eat with lots of napkins handy!"

Serves: 4


4 Sally Lunn Hot Dog Buns or hot dog buns of choice

1 egg

1 cup milk

1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup corn flour

1⁄4 cup cornmeal

1 tablespoon Home Creole Seasoning, recipe included below

2 or 3 cups vegetable oil for deep-fat frying

12–16 fresh oysters

Tabasco Butter Sauce, warm


Preheat the oven to 200°F. Warm the buns for 5 minutes while you fry the oysters.

Set three wide bowls near the stovetop. Beat the egg with the milk in one, place the flour in another, and the corn flour, cornmeal, and Shrimp Magic in the third.

Pour oil into the Dutch oven or deep-fat fryer and heat to 350°F. Line a tray with paper towels and set near the fryer.

Drain the oysters well, dredge first in flour, then soak in egg wash a minute or so until the flour is sticky. Then gently roll in the cornmeal mix.

Add the oysters to the hot oil, a few at a time (don’t crowd the pan), and fry until crispy on all sides, a minute or two. Remove and drain on paper towels. (If you want to bread them ahead of time and leave them in the refrigerator that’s fine.)

Transfer oysters to a mixing bowl. Toss them in the Tabasco Butter Sauce.

Open the buns, and place 3 or 4 oysters inside each one. Top liberally with coleslaw. Eat with lots of napkins handy.

Bad Boyz Grilled Oysters

Image: Creative Commons, Justin Marx, flickr
Courtesy of Bad Boyz of BBQ Catering; Image: Creative Commons, Justin Marx, flickr

"We grill 240 oysters at every Raiders game. We put them right on the grill itself, and they’re usually done within 10 minutes."

Serves: 6–8


24 oysters

1 stick butter

1 heaping tablespoon garlic, minced

Tabasco Sweet & Spicy Sauce, for drizzling

24 bamboo skewers

Fire up your grill to medium heat. Place the closed, fresh (the fresher, the better) oysters on the grates with the deep side of the shell down, so they stew in their own water and juice. Let them steam that way until they open, about 10 minutes. While they cook, melt the butter in a large pan and stir in the minced garlic. Keep warm.

Remove the oysters when they open slightly. Use a heat-resistant glove or hot pad to hold the hot shells while opening them fully with an oyster knife.

Remove the meat and drop it into the warm garlic butter. Let tailgaters use bamboo skewers to spear each oyster meat and drizzle with the Tabasco sauce, then enjoy.