How to Open Oysters




You either hate the thought of a raw oyster-the slick texture, the faint quiver that comes with eating something still alive, and the ungraspable flavor. You may be in the category of wishing you liked them. Or you love them.

Love touching the barnacle-textured concave of their shells, the act of prying the lip open, putting the wide part of the shell against your lip and then the briny, plump sensation of the oyster in your mouth, and then finishing by sipping down the oyster “liquor” the tiny bit of liquid left in the bottom of the shell. I’m in the latter category.

I first tried them many years ago while working as a waitress. An older gentleman ordered a dozen, and then showed me his process of squeezing lemon, mixing horseradish cocktail sauce, pairing with wines, then advised, “Eat a dozen of these and then go find a man who loves you.” Now though, I live near amazing oyster farms, and I don’t like to add sauce. I want to know if the oyster has fruity flavor, or deep brine and taste the mineral tang to it.

From shellmounds left by indigenous people to oyster pirates, a history of the San Francisco Bay could told through the history of oysters. Olympia oysters, native to the SF Bay, are slow growing. They are smaller, their shells more fragile and their taste a little gamier than commercial oysters most people are familiar with. They were wiped out by pollutants and silt dumped into the bays’ tributaries during the Gold Rush. By 1911, they were essentially extinct.

Oysters that are now farm-raised along the West Coast are Pacific, Kumamoto, introduced from Japan, along with some Atlantic species. Oysters love an estuary, where fresh water from rivers meets the sea. These marvelous mollusks can EACH clean up to 50 gallons of water a day. Oyster reefs also create habitat for thousands of other sea creatures, many of which, like mussels and clams, also help filter water. Oyster beds also shape the bottom of bays so that waves break before crashing on shore, creating protection during storm surges. This allows marsh grasses to grow, and their root structure helps to stop erosion.

Though not likely to be eaten anytime soon, the Olympia oyster is coming back to the SF Bay. The Nature Conservancy and NOAA have collaborated with local biologists and conservation groups to restore native oysters. Two reefs have been sunk in the SF Bay- one acre in San Rafael and another one south of San Mateo Bridge in Hayward. These are not to harvest for food, but rather to help clean the bay and protect against sea level rise. Another need for the reintroduction is because they may be able to survive rising acid levels in the ocean. This is known as ocean acidification.The ocean absorbs about 30% of the C02 in the atmosphere, caused in large part by fossil fuel emissions from sources like cars and coal powered factories. Scientists are now discovering that carbon is changing the chemistry of seawater, making it more acidic and less calcium available to sea creatures that grow shells. These protective coatings are becoming smaller, thinner and weaker-and it’s impacting oysters along the Pacific Coast first, and hardest. For more information on this and what the oyster farmers are doing to remedy it, you can read my article, Achieving Slurpability, about what Hog Island Oyster is doing to battle ocean acidification.

I’m posting an Instructable on opening an oyster because I opened them improperly for years. When someone finally showed me how to do it the most efficient way-without stabbing my hand or breaking open shells, I was really glad and grateful. I've also been saving oyster shells and using them, so I'll be posting Instructables on this as well.

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1:

First, wash the oyster shells.

You'll want to have an oyster knife with a thick, sturdy bladed. Use gloves or place the oyster in a towel to protect your hands.

With the flat side of the oyster up, wiggle the tip of an oyster knife into an opening near the hinge. Only insert it about 1/4 of any inch.

Then slide the knife around the lip of the oyster until you disconnect the other hinge.

Step 2: Pry Apart the Shells

Detach anything along the and pry apart the shells, being careful not to spill the liquid out. Clean any grit out with your knife-don't rinse the oyster. Use the knife to detach the muscle from the bottom of the oyster.

Step 3: Eat the Oyster

Place the open oysters on a bed of crushed ice. Restaurants often serve oysters with a small fork, but it's easier to just lift the wide part of the oyster to your lips, and eat them.

Step 4: Save the Shells

Oyster shells are great for garden. You can crush them and mix with soil, so they provide a slow release of calcium that can help balance the pH and improve drainage. You can use them to create pathways, courtyards, and even bocce courts. Use them near your edible plants as mulch to keep moles from burrowing up.

I also used them in a mix to grow edible mushrooms, and I've made tiles out of them. Here's an Instructable for the oyster shell tiles.

Be the First to Share


    • Made with Math Contest

      Made with Math Contest
    • Candy Challenge

      Candy Challenge
    • Multi-Discipline Contest

      Multi-Discipline Contest

    10 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for sharing this opening tip. I live on the other side of the country and the oysters are delicious. I guess it's not practical everywhere, but here it is important to put the empty shells back into the water so that more oysters can grow on them. The folks that sell oysters where I live in South Carolina ask for all the shells back when you are done eating them.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    I have an oyster farm in Virginia and I use the empty shells in nylon bags attached in the water to the pilings of piers. The oyster larvae attach to them and start a reef.


    4 years ago

    my family owns an oyster farm...thank you for addressing the issue of ocean acidification that is ruining many family farms and hatcheries

    Great instructable!! I have never had Oysters but now I want to try them. I live in southern Ontario so it might be hard to get anything really fresh.

    Thanks for the opening tips and really informative instructable.

    2 replies

    Thats is a very good idea I will have to try some !! I wil also have to try "Razor Clams" i just spent about 45 minutes looking at recipes for them.

    Great instructable Maria, your photos are making my mouth water! I'll be buying some Blue Points I saw on sale at the grocery store now!

    Also, thanks for highlighting the environmental benefits, few people realize how sustainable and environmentally conscientious oyster farming is.


    4 years ago

    I am lucky to live in Mexico where we have farmed oysters at the ridiculous price of $35 pesos a dozen. We bbq them over a fire and they open by themselves. A little lime juice and hot sauce, delicious!

    1 reply
    Maria Finn

    4 years ago on Introduction

    That's great. Pacific oysters don't reproduce in Nor Cal waters. I believe it's too chilly for them, so the oyster shells aren't reseeded like back east.