Everything You Should (and Shouldn't) Do at a Charleston Oyster Roast

Oyster season is in full swing and you know that you’re going to be invited to a roast or three. There are certain unspoken rules that any seasoned oyster roaster knows to be true, but for the uninitiated, it’s easy to feel out of place or unsure of what to expect at a loud, rambunctious, and dirty roast. If you want to fit in and seem like an oyster roast pro, make sure you follow these rules so you don’t look like a total noob.

oyster shucking
Flickr/eric niu

Only wear one oyster shucking glove

You’re not building a snowman, you’re more channeling Michael Jackson. The real reason you’re wearing the glove is to protect your hand from getting cut or burned by the oysters you’re working so diligently to shuck.Typically, you wear the glove on the hand you don’t write with, as you’re using your dominate hand to control your oyster knife to open the shells.

Be polite and bring beer or white wine with you

This is basically just a formality, but it’s always better to arrive at a party with something in hand. Any oyster roast host worth their salt is sure to provide beer -- after all, it’s  not a real oyster roast without some cheap, ice cold beer ready to chase down oysters with. Bringing your own koozie is also highly encouraged; the more unique, the better!


Don't hog all the already-shucked oysters

If someone is taking the time to shuck oysters for everyone at the roast, don’t treat them as if they’re your personal oyster vassal. Grab a couple of shells and leave plenty for everyone else. If you’re not too finicky or squeamish, perhaps help people out around the table by shucking and sharing with your neighbors!

Be prepared to get a little messy

Oyster shucking is a messy endeavor. Mud and hot sauce and bits of shell are likely to become missiles intent on ruining whatever you wear to the roast, so leave the formalwear at home. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to bring a washcloth or roll of paper towels with you; you’ll definitely use them.

Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar
Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar

For the love of god, please don't bring your own mignonette sauce

Mignonette sauce is delicious, and pretty much any oyster restaurant you visit in Charleston is likely going to serve its oysters with the stuff. But when going to an oyster roast that’s not in a restaurant setting, there’s no need to bring your own mignonette sauce (unless the host has specifically ask you to). It’s not rude, per se, just kind of pretentious.

But do bring your own crackers or hot sauce

Saltines are usually the cracker of choice for any oyster roast, but feel free to get creative with your hot sauce. Odds are pretty good that your oyster roast host will provide the usual sauces -- Texas Pete, Cocktail sauces, lemon juice. If you really want to make an impression at the roast, opt for something a little more local, like Red Clay, or even make your own hot sauce, if you feel so inclined.

oyster knife
Flickr/Toukou Sousui 淙穂鶫箜

If possible, bring your own knife

If someone else is providing the oysters, the least you can do is bring a knife (or two), because it's very likely that they won't have enough knives for everyone to use at the same time. This is also a good ice breaking opportunity: make new friends around the table by sharing or offering up your extra oyster knives.

Don't throw trash in the hole -- shells only

A classic oyster roast table is a giant piece of plywood with a few big holes cut out in the middle that empty into trash cans. These are for your shells only. Trash should go in a regular trash bin (although you should always ask the host of a party if they recycle bottles and cans, as well).

If you don’t like oysters, eat before you go

Oysters are expensive and oyster roasts require a lot of planning and coordination; anyone who chooses to host an oyster roast is creating a real labor of love. Sometimes, the host might supply other food, but the main food found at an oyster roast is, you guessed it, oysters. If you don’t want to eat oysters, but still want to join in on the party, don’t be rude about it. Just grab something to eat before you come, and enjoy the party as you would normally.

oyster shell recycling
Flickr/peter barwick

Recycle your shells

Oysters are more than a seafood delicacy, they they help the environment by filtering water, controlling erosion, and providing a habitat for other sea creatures. If you host an oyster roast, find your closest DNR dropoff so you the shells can be used to replenish oyster beds. This way, we can all enjoy more roasts in the future.

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Sydney Gallimore is a food writer from Charleston, SC who’s learned the hard way not to forget to bring hot sauce to an oyster roast.