How to Open an Oyster


  • There are many oysters from many places, East or West coasts. I prefer cold water oysters for their crisp texture. I like my oysters naked, that is to say that the flavor of an individual oyster is unique to its location and should be enjoyed straight up. After the first one maybe a little spicy sauce or a small drop of lemon juice (I like a tiny touch of lemon zest). Oysters pick up the subtle flavors from their unique environment and therefore the point is to enjoy the “mirror” of the oyster with all its ocean tastes and nuances. 

  • An oyster is a live creature. They should always be tightly closed. Discard any open ones. There is a flat side and a round side to the shell. A hinge on the pointed side connects the two shells and two muscles inside hold the two halves together. Sometimes there is even an oyster crab or pearl inside.


  • First thing you need is an oyster knife. There are a few varieties out there. Personally, I prefer the one with a slightly bent tip which is the New Haven style. It has a pointed angled tip and dull edged sides. The bent tip gives you a little extra leverage when going in through the hinge of the shellfish which I think is the easiest way to get inside the critter.

    My preferred method is to hold the oyster. You can also lay the oyster on a flat surface if that is more comfortable for you. I use a towel or an oven mitt to protect my hand. Lay the round side of the oyster down on the towel with the hinge facing you, flat side up. Insert the tip of the knife into the gap of the hinge. On some shells the gap is large and on others you may have to force the tip of the knife into the shell. Wiggle the tip in firmly but not with brute force. It is better to finesse the knife in rather than push too hard. When you push with great force this is when the knife slips or the shell can break causing possible injury (which the towel or especially the oven mitt should ultimately prevent). When the tip pushed in as far as you can, give the knife a twist and this should pop the shell. At this point you then slide the knife tip along the top of the shell severing the connecting muscle. Repeat the same motion for the bottom muscle and your oyster will be free floating in the shell.


    Sometimes shells may chip, just start over and find the hinge crack. Bigger oysters are harder to open the smaller ones. If an oyster just won’t open, set it aside and sneak up on it later. It may relax enough for you to get in. If you don’t find an oyster that you want at Dirk’s Fish or want a specific oyster, call the shop ahead of time and we should be able to get some for you.  If all this seems like too much trouble, we will be happy to shuck your oysters for you!