How to Shuck an Oyster

Paul Greenberg
3 min readDec 29, 2020

The late, great Jon Rowley, shows the way to a perfect half shell

Lewis Hine: “7-year old Rosie, oyster shucker, Bluffton, South Carolina, 1913" by trialsanderrors is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

Shortly before passing on, Jon Rowley, founder of the Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Festival and discoverer of some of the best food in the United States shared his thoughts on how to properly shuck an oyster.

The enjoyment of oysters on the half shell depends in no small part on how well they are shucked. Oyster shucking is as much art as skill. There has never been a machine invented that can out-perform a skilled human hand at opening an oyster. Each species has different shell characteristics and each oyster is uniquely formed. The many styles of oyster knives reflect regional and personal shucking techniques. While some commercial shuckers go through the front or the bill, others, like World Champion, Xavier Caille, prefer to enter from the side. Most restaurant shuckers open from the hinge, avoiding shell fragments.

In the time it takes to pick up and position an oyster cup side down, an expert oyster opener has already devised the plan of attack. With skill and speed, the shucker finds the invisible sweet spot in the hinge, pops the shell with a twist of the knife, then darts the blade deftly forward over the top of the meat to sever the adductor muscle that holds the two shells or “valves” together. Flicking away the top shell, the shucker slides the knife under the meat to sever the bottom of the adductor muscle so the oyster can be properly slurped. The French leave the bottom adductor attached to show freshness.

A well-shucked oyster presents itself glistening in its own juices, unaware of what has just taken place so artfully at its expense. The meat and mantle are free from grit and unscathed by the shucker’s knife work. Most half shells are eaten in restaurants; the task of opening oysters is too daunting for most. Actually it is easier than it seems if you have the right tool and a little guidance in technique and a little practice, of course.

1. Wash the oysters, especially at the notch at the hinge, with cold running water to remove sand and grit. You may need a stiff brush.

2. Before opening, place in ice 30 minutes so they are chilled when served.

3. Use a glove or folded kitchen towel to cushion the oyster and protect your hand. Holding the oyster…

Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World