How to Shuck an Oyster

Learn the proper technique to get those pesky oysters open without injury.

| December 2018

  • Make sure you have a sturdy, non-stick shucking surface.
    Photo by Rogr Viollet/GettyImages
  • For hinge shucking, hold tight.
    Photo by Admir Alimajstorovic/Addy Photographic
  • Point, pry and peek.
    Photo by Admir Alimajstorovic/Addy Photographic
  • Scrape at the adductor muscle to release top shell.
    Photo by Admir Alimajstorovic/Addy Photographic
  • Place your shucked oyster nicely and keep going!
    Photo by Admir Alimajstorovic/Addy Photographic
  • A man shucks oysters at a Paris market.
    Photo by Patrick McMurray
  • Shucker Paddy at work.
    Photo by Patrick McMurray
  • Patrick McMurray's book "The Oyster Companion" focuses on everything you would want to know about one of the world's delicacies — oysters. From how they are grown to how to shuck them, this book has all the secrets on how best to enjoy the oyster.
    Cover courtesy of Firefly Books

How to Shuck an Oyster

There are two facts I like to keep in mind whenever I begin shucking.

First, at the 2006 World Oyster Opening Championship in Galway, Irishman Michael Moran beat contestants from 17 other countries by opening 30 oysters in 2 minutes 35 seconds. It was Ireland’s first win in 10 years. But Michael could not get close to the spectacular record set by his father in the 1970s: 1 minute and 31 seconds!

Second, France produces roughly 130,000 tons of oysters annually, largely Pacific. The French consume more than 90 percent of those oysters themselves — raw, on the half-shell. Most oysters are consumed between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Common injuries requiring medical attention reported during that season are a champagne cork to the eye and a knife to the hand.

Fair Warning: If you are going to shuck, you will get cut — eventually. It may not be from the knife, it may come from the sharp shells, just know that this may occur. Protect yourself; pay attention as you are pointing a knife tip directly at your hands. “Keep your eyes on the oyster” is always my motto.

Oyster Shucking Techniques

Even if you’ll be shucking only a few times a year, it’s worth investing in a sturdy oyster knife. I’ve heard too many stories of people injuring themselves while trying to open oysters with a screwdriver. (And don’t even think of using a kitchen knife.) An oyster knife also makes a great screwdriver and a fine opener for letters, paint cans, beer bottles, and boxes. It will even un-lock doors and windows, so I’ve been told. Every kitchen should have one.

You’ll need a sturdy board with a damp cloth beneath to keep it from slipping — an old chef ’s trick. The board can be as simple as a piece of 2 x 4 inches (5 x 10 cm) wood. Starfish shucker Lawrence David cast his “board” in cement, using a pie plate as a mold, with half a tennis ball in the center to create a shallow depression. Even a hockey puck makes a great non-slip shucking surface. My latest design from Swissmar is just that — a wooden Shuckin’ Puck raised on a stainless-steel tray. Just what’s needed for shuckin’ around.

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