The Step-By-Step Guide of How to Shuck Oysters

  • , by Hannah Lee Leidy

In five easy steps, learn how to shuck oysters with raw bar-level expertise

In the words of M.F.K. Fisher, “An oyster leads a dreadful but exciting life.” But where that life is led means everything.Raw bars astound with countless varieties, each with distinct flavor, yet there are only five kinds of oysters harvested in the US. The differences come from geography, how they’re raised, and the water they constantly filter. For instance, Alabama’s Isle Dauphine oyster and the smaller Chunu variety from Virginia are the same species, but the former has a salty, rich profile while the latter’s environment produces something milder and clean-tasting (try it yourself to see the difference with Rappahannock Oyster Co.'s Rappahannock River oysters, which are sweet, buttery, and full bodied with a clean finish).
Hands holding Rappahannock River Oysters

Regardless of type, oysters taste best when you’ve shucked your own. When it comes to opening one, keep a few things in mind. Always use protection: A glove or towel will keep your oyster-holding hand safe from the knife. Muscles attach the animal to both its shells—one is flat and one has a belly, which holds the oyster and its liquor. You’ll need to sever both of these muscles, sometimes a tricky task while simultaneously balancing the bivalve to prevent spilling. And remember, if you aren’t eating oysters immediately after shucking, store them in their juice in a clean bowl and use within 24 hours.

Shop local Virginia oysters from the Local Palate Marketplace.

Step 1 in how to shuck oysters: Pick through them and discard any bad ones

Step 1: Check Oysters 

Sift through your oysters and discard of any that smell fishy, sound hollow when tapped with an oyster knife, or are open.

Step 2: Wash Up

Using steel wool, thoroughly scrub oysters on both sides under running water to get rid of any dirt, mud, or sand from under the outer shell. 


Step 3 in How to Shuck Oysters: Use oyster knife to unhinge shells

Step 3: Knife in Hinge

Protecting your hand with a towel or glove, place oyster belly face down and insert flat side of knife into hinge and wiggle as far as it will go. 

Step 4: Twist

Twist the knife with force, using leverage to pry the shell open. Wipe the blade clean, then sever the top muscle by sliding the blade against the shell. 

Step 4 in how to shuck oysters: remove the oyster from the muscle that attaches it the the shell

Step 5: Sever and Flip

Discard the top shell. Holding oyster parallel to table so the liquor doesn’t spill out, sever muscle from bottom shell. Gently push oyster around or flip it over to ensure it’s free. 

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