Those of us who are fortunate enough to live near the coast have the privilege of enjoying fresh oysters. The gentle, sea-infused taste of an oyster is incredibly unique and worth going out of the way for. If you want to prepare oysters at home, however, you’ll want to get an oyster shucker knife. These specialty tools make the process of opening oysters up much easier, enabling you to spend less time picking out broken pieces of shell and more time enjoying your oysters.
Do I Need An Oyster Knife?
You can shuck an oyster with just about any type of knife. Most experts will tell you that in a heartbeat: if you’re not in a hurry you can shuck most oysters with a butter knife and a bit of patience. I’ve seen some pretty impressive shucking done with a regular old paring knife. Does this mean you don’t need to buy an oyster knife?
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The answer is a pretty resounding “no.” If you’re planning on doing a serious amount of oyster shucking (and by that I mean more than about ten oysters total) then you really owe it to yourself to get a nice oyster knife. They’re very cheap and much more effective than other knives at the task they’re designed for.
The biggest factor, however, is the lack of fragility in a good oyster knife: using a paring knife or another blade that’s not designed for shucking oysters is a pretty big risk. It’s very easy to snap off the tip of your expensive utility knife if you’re not extremely careful. Actual oyster knives are more durable and much less expensive to replace.
Victorinox is the choice of professional chefs from all around the world. Their series of oyster knives offers the right blend of no-frills performance, solid features, and rugged durability. Most importantly, these oyster knives aren’t particularly expensive, either. This means you can enjoy a high-quality professional oyster knife for just a few dollars.
So why is this knife the best? For me, there are three big things to look at in an oyster knife. The first thing is the handle. You want something that’s comfortable to grip that won’t get slippery when it’s wet. You do a lot of twisting and prying with an oyster knife, meaning you probably don’t want a traditional rectangular wooden knife handle. Instead, you want something that’s rubberized and more cylindrical, enabling you to twist comfortably and ensuring that you maintain a good grip at all times.
Victorinox’s oyster knives do all of this. Their bright non-slip handles look like they belong in a toolbox, not a kitchen drawer. This is a good sign. While you’ll be doing precise work with your oyster knife, it’s more akin to prying open parts with a screwdriver than it is to slicing vegetables with a chef knife.
The next feature I look at is the design of the blade. Victorinox offers five distinct options here, giving you the ability to choose an ideal blade shape for the particular kind of oysters that you can get most easily in your area. I find the Boston style to be more than adequate for your “normal” oyster, but you may want to do a few minutes of research to figure out what professionals say about the sea-life in your local harbor. All of them will work fine with all oysters, but you’ll get a little bit more out of using the right kind of knife.
The final important thing to look at is the ability of the blade to hold up to the rigors of prolonged use. This Victorinox product has been tried and tested by professional shuckers for years. They’ll break occasionally, sure, but with proper technique, you can get through literal thousands of oysters with this knife. The blades are thick enough to pry with while being thin enough to slip through a small gap in the shell. Equally importantly, the tips are sharp enough to slice through muscle without being sharp enough to accidentally cut yourself without lots of force. While you still should pick up a pair of cut resistant gloves, you can definitely use this tool safely without them.
There are a few other important positives to this Victorinox oyster knife.
First, it’s NSF approved, meaning you can take it into pretty much any professional kitchen and use it there. If you’re getting a knife for use at work this is a really, really big upside. Even if you’re not, it means that this knife is easy to clean and resists harboring harmful bacteria.
Second, it’s dishwasher safe. You don’t normally see the words “dishwasher safe’ and “high carbon steel” next to each other, but in this case, you get a sturdy knife that you can chuck into the dishwasher without worry. It makes cleaning up an absolute breeze, although your oyster knife doesn’t tend to get super dirty.
While I maintain that this is the best oyster knife for your dollar, some users report that the blade can bend a bit after use. For me, this isn’t a problem. Using proper technique will massively reduce the strain on your knife and reduce the probability of bending the tip to a minimum. Even if you do accidentally bend the tip, however, it’s usually not a big deal. In fact, some styles of oyster knives have tips that are slightly bent on purpose. If a professional oyster shucker can get through a single day of shucking more than 1500 oysters without breaking one of these knives, you can definitely use yours for many, many years.
Overall, the combination of low price, great durability, and simple, effective features make this Victorinox oyster shucker a winner in my book. It’s not the prettiest tool on the market, but it’s great if you want to get the job done.
Dalstrong is a market leader when it comes to making beautiful, effective knives for the home kitchen. This oyster shucking tool is no exception. It’s a small knife with a short, sturdy blade that’s well suited for prying oysters open and neatly slicing their adductor muscles. While it’s much more attractive than other options on the market, I’m not convinced that it does a better job per se. Still, aesthetics can be very important when serving fancier foods (like oysters), and this Dalstrong is not particularly pricey.
The same three criteria for choosing a good oyster knife still apply here. This means that this Dalstrong knife should be comfortable to grip, shaped right for shucking, and quite durable. I think it scores slightly worse than the Victorinox above in two of these categories.
Why? For starters, the handle is actually made of wood. Instead of a synthetic, ugly, non-slip handle, this Dalstrong places polished pakkawood against your palm. It’s not uncomfortable. Instead, the handle is carefully shaped to enable you to grip and twist without too much effort. That said, the wood is both hard and slightly slippery when it gets wet. It’s not something you’ll want to use for a hundred or more oysters, however, especially with wet hands. It’s more than adequate for the number of oysters you’re likely to prepare at home.
The shape of your oyster knife comes down to personal preference and the type of oysters you’re shucking. I personally prefer a longer and thinner knife to this Dalstrong shucker, but that’s me. You’ll still be able to shuck pretty much all varieties of oysters and clams with this knife with no problems. It’s just not the exact type of knife that I’m most familiar with. If you’re used to a shorter, thicker knife, you’ll be right at home with this Gladiator oyster knife.
As far as durability goes, Dalstrong has you totally covered. The stout and sturdy blade of this shucker is practically indestructible. It’s made from a premium high-carbon steel that’s more than sharp enough to penetrate the hinge of an oyster with a minimum of effort. While you still should avoid using excessive force on your oysters (to keep the shells intact), you definitely don’t have to worry about accidentally bending of breaking this knife.
There are two reasons that I would recommend this knife over the Victorinox above.
The first reason is that you plan on shucking oysters in front of people that you want to impress. This could be behind the bar at work, in front of your dinner guests, in your kitchen in front of your significant other. This Dalstrong knife is well crafted and pleasant to look at, while the Victorinox is about as aesthetically appealing as a cheap hammer.
The second reason is because you prefer Dalstrong as a brand. This is a perfectly fine sentiment. While Victorinox makes affordable professional-quality kitchen tools, they’re not presented in beautiful gift boxes or backed by Dalstrong’s impressive lifetime guarantee. A Victorinox shucker also won’t go with the rest of your Dalstrong Gladiator knives. Again, this shucker isn’t particularly expensive, so there’s nothing wrong with spending an extra dollar or two to get a knife from your preferred brand.
Overall, while this beautiful blade is fantastic at shucking oysters, I think it’s not quite as effective at the actual task as the Victorinox above. If you prefer looks, however, or you simply want a Dalstrong knife, it’s a fantastically cheap tool that will make enjoying seafood at home (or at work) a lot easier.
If you’re going to be shucking a lot of oysters, you really want a pair of cut resistant gloves like this to help keep your hands safe. These gloves aren’t just useful for shucking oysters, either. They’re great for working with mandolins and other sharp tools without risking your precious fingers. You can even use them while you perfect new cutting techniques to reduce the risk of injury.
It can be tempting to get these an oyster knives set that comes with one or more knives and a pair of gloves like these. I would recommend that you avoid those. While you’ll save some money by choosing an inexpensive set, you won’t get the same high-quality products that you can get if you buy both items individually. You really don’t want to pinch pennies when you purchase protective equipment. Buying a pair of nicer, stronger gloves might be the factor that keeps your fingers attached.
Oyster knives aren’t particularly sharp. This is a deliberate design decision that ensures that you won’t accidentally cut yourself from small amounts of casual contact with the tip or edge of an oyster knife. You will, however, injure yourself quite badly if the knife slips while you’re applying lots of pressure to it. Proper technique usually doesn’t involve a lot of pressure, certainly, but there’s more than enough for you to injure yourself if your knife slips..
One factor that lots of people overlook when considering the facts above is that oysters themselves aren’t particularly comfortable to hold. A cut resistant glove will keep your hand safe from sharp edges and hard ridges on the oyster you’re cutting into. It can also help to ensure that you maintain your grip with cold, wet hands.
You can certainly get away with shucking small quantities of oysters without a pair of gloves like these. I strongly recommend that you pick up a pair, however, due to how useful they are at other kitchen tasks. When you have a pair of comfortable, effective cut-resistant gloves, you start to notice more and more situations where they’re useful. I use mine when I’m fishing food out of the garbage disposal, for example, when I use my mandolin, and when I’m feeling less confident in my peeling and paring. You can use these gloves in the garage or shop, too, although you probably would want to throw them in the laundry in between outdoor use and shucking oysters.
So why this pair in particular?
First of all, they’re machine washable, meaning you don’t have to worry about cleaning them after you get them covered in oyster liquor. They’re available in multiple sizes, which ensures that you can get a glove that fits you well, ensuring that you’re still able to do delicate tasks with protected hands. Most importantly, however, they’re incredibly effective at stopping cuts. You can grab a sharp knife quite firmly by the blade with these gloves. If you accidentally stuck your finger in the path of a spinning blender blade while wearing these you’d probably get a bruise and nothing more.
Again, I’ll readily admit that you don’t need these gloves for shucking oysters. They’re very nice to have in the kitchen (or garage) in general, however, and they’re not particularly expensive. Picking up a pair of comfortable safety gloves will keep your hands safe from sharp oyster shells, slipped knives, and dangerous tools.
While the Victorinox options above are quite affordable, if you’re only going to shuck a dozen or so oysters once a year, you might want to save a few dollars. This OXO knife is more than adequate for casual shucking and tends to be even less expensive. It’s quite comparable to the Victorinox options in many ways, including the round, grippy handle, the dishwasher-safe design, and the slight bend at the tip to make severing adductor muscles easier. The short blade is quite sturdy and incredibly effective for the task of shucking oysters.
This slightly cheaper knife is not without downsides. The most obvious one is that it feels cheaper than the Victorinox knives when you compare them side-by-side. The handle on the Victorinox feels more solid and durable in your hand, while the subtle difference in weight makes the OXO seem flimsier.
You also don’t get a choice of knife styles, which means you can’t purchase a perfect tool for the type of oysters you’re likely to encounter in your region. The only option you can choose is whether you want an oyster or clam shucking knife, which has a sharpened side.
You certainly won’t go wrong with this OXO tool, but I think it’s worth it to spend the few extra dollars and upgrade to the Victorinox. If you’re only shucking a few oysters, however, it’s probably worth considering both options.
How To Shuck An Oyster, Properly
I mentioned a few times that proper oyster shucking technique doesn’t use a lot of force. This means that it’s safe on both your hands and your knife. Technique varies a decent amount from person to person. Feel free to stick with whatever method works best for you, as long as you’re not putting yourself or your knife at risk. Here’s a quick rundown on my favorite way to shuck oysters.
1. Thoroughly inspect and clean your oysters
Oysters should smell good. Look for any visible damage while you rinse your oysters under cold water and scrub the outside of the shell. You’re not eating the outside, of course, but it’s best to get off any grit or grime now so that you don’t accidentally get a mouthful when you down the oyster itself.
2. Prepare a work area
Some shuckers don’t use a table, preferring to use either their gloved hand or their body as a backstop for the oyster. I’m not one of them. I like to put a towel down on my counter and shuck the oyster there. It’s also important to have a place to put your shucked oyster if you’re not eating it immediately.
3. Open the hinge
With your oyster flat side up (so that the liquor stays in the shell), probe the hinge with your knife until you break the seal. Gently twist your knife to pry the shell open a little more. This takes a bit of practice to get right. Ideally, you’ll do something more akin to picking a lock than prying the oyster open. Not only does this make the process safer on your knife and your hands, it also reduces the chances that you’ll get bits of shell everywhere.
4. Slice the adductor muscle
Once the shell loosens up, slide your knife forward and separate the top of the shell from the flesh of the oyster. You’ll want to hug the top of the shell and use gentle pressure from your other hand for more tactile feedback. This stage has to be performed more-or-less blind. It gets much easier with practice.
5. Separate the shell
Carefully keeping as much liquid in the lower half of the shell as possible, remove the top shell. Look for any bits of shell that might have fallen into your oyster. Next, discard the top shell (or set it aside) and run your knife between the oyster and the bottom shell to cut the other adductor muscle. Some people like to flip the oyster over at this stage for a cleaner presentation.
You’re all done! If you want to seem professional, serve your oysters with lemon wedges, cocktail sauce, and perhaps a fancy vinaigrette. Many people like to eat them totally raw, however, so don’t feel bad if you don’t want to assemble a bunch of condiments.
The Best Oyster Knife
Shucking oysters isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Without proper tools, the task of preparing an oyster for consumption is time-consuming and can even be dangerous for both your hands and your knife. By purchasing a high-quality dedicated oyster shucker tool, you’ll keep yourself safe and make this task much easier.
Since oyster shuckers are incredibly cheap, you can even buy yourself a pair of fancy cut-resistant gloves so you can shuck oysters just like the pros. Best of all, these gloves have lots of other applications in the kitchen, allowing you to protect your fingers from other sharp tools like mandolins, knives, and even vegetable peelers.