Best Oyster Knife Review: Find The Right Killer And Shuck Like A Pro
It looks so easy, right?
The experts do it in the blink of an eye........
In goes the knife, a quick turn of the wrist, and off pops the shell, releasing the tasty treat inside.
Their secret....Practice and the best oyster knife for the job in their hands.
But I’ve got my own secret:
I suck at shucking and it's a job I don't enjoy all that much.
Despite plenty of practice and thousands of oysters opened, I just don't seem to get any better or more frustratingly quicker at it.
There's nothing more annoying than prodding and poking away at an oyster that won't seem to give an inch.
In fact, if you've got the wrong knife in your hand than opening oysters can seem like pulling teeth.
Shucking and eating oysters at home can save you a small fortune on the prices restaurants charge. But if you want an easy life and a pain free shucking experience than you'll need a sturdy oyster knife.
There's plenty to choose from, all different shapes, sizes, and blade designs. There's such an array on the market that you'll probably be left wondering which one to spend your money on.
Here's the good news:
Any oyster knife your lightly to buy will almost certainly open an oyster. It's just that some do a much better job than others. Some blade designs perform a lot better on certain types and sizes of oysters (more on that in a minute)
You’ll want a blade that lifts the shell easily and with as little fuss possible while keeping the oyster inside intact, especially if you plan serving them in the half shell.
But before we review some of the best oyster knifes on the market, you need to figure out which types of oysters your lightly to be shucking and then pick the right knife to open it.
Matching Blade Designs To Oysters - Which Knives Work Best
Below I've compiled a handy table to help you match the most common blade designs to each variety of oyster. Remember though, personal preference can play a part when it comes to the knife you like to shuck with.
A good rule to follow when picking a knife is that the bigger the oyster, than the bigger the knife you'll need.
For Which Oyster
Wusthof 4281 european knife
Good for European or any type of small Oyster
Wusthof oyster opener
Good for Kumamoto, European and Olympia as well as small Atlantic and Pacifics.
Dexter russell Boston style
3' and 4'
Very versatile - opens any type and size of oyster. Really good on large Atlantic and Pacifics. While the 3' version is great with mid-sized oysters.
Victorinox galveston knife
Works for large atlantic oysters and medium to large Europeans
Dexter russell new haven style knife
Good for small to medium sized Atlantic, Pacific, Kumamoto, and Olympia oysters. Especially for a half shell presentation.
You can get a really good knife for less than $20, so you can probably afford to have more than one in your arsenal. After you’ve been shucking a while you’ll find a favourite that works for you, and that you’ll end up using most of the time.
Once you're familiar blade designs you just need to figure out which species of oysters you'll be shucking.
The Types of Oyster Your lightly to Encounter
Theres over 150 different varieties of oysters, but these fall under a total of just 5 different species, and the variety your most lightly to eat often depends on where in the world you live.
Don’t get confused by the different names people give oysters or that you see on restaurant menus. This just refers to the area or bay in which the oysters were raised. You might taste subtle differences but this is just down to the habitat and water where the oysters were grown
In Europe we’re more familiar with our belon or native European Oyster.
In Japan you might come across Kumamoto oyster’s, a breed I know only by reputation but have never seen in a fish market here in Ireland.
If you live on the east coast of America than you'll know the Atlantic oyster which is found as far north as canada all the way down to the gulf of mexico.
The smallest oyster of all is the Olympia which comes from the west coast of America and was once thought to be extinct. It's a species I’ve yet to taste and will have a hard time finding as its only farmed on a small scale in the pacific northwest.
The one oyster everybody knows is of course the pacific. Farmed globally because of its quick growth its by far the most common and economical for producer and consumer.
Once you know the 5 different types of Oyster it's time to match each one to a knife.
Different Oyster, different blade design
When you're choosing an oyster knife it's important to give a little thought to the variety of oyster your most lightly to shuck on a regular basis. Different blade designs were developed in different regions and work best on oysters indigenous to that area.
Like I said before any oyster knife your lightly to buy will open an oyster, but using the wrong knife on the wrong oyster is not without its problems.
Let me explain:
A French oyster knife works great on the native european oyster which is often opened from the side. Try opening a Kumamoto or an atlantic oyster by the hinge with it and you'll see it's pointy blade has trouble finding any purchase which often makes you apply more pressure and can cause the knife to smash through the shell into the meat.
French knives aren't great with larger pacific oyster either. Its pointy blade breaks off bits of the flakey shell which can end up on the meat.
And it gets worse:
because it's short and stubby sometimes it's difficult to reach and cut the abductor muscle causing you to stop and swap it out for another knife, slowing you down.
Another example is the new haven oyster knife that works great on large Atlantic and Pacific oysters but which has trouble wriggling into the hinge of a kumamoto or olympia.
While if you tried to use it on a European you'd find its upturned blade has trouble slipping between the shells.
The Oyster Knife Buyers Guide
Now that you’ve decided on a blade design there's still a couple more things to consider before you make a purchase.
If you're going to shuck anything more than a half dozen oysters at a time than comfort should be your main concern. Avoid any knife with straight edges and an irregular shape.
Look for something rounded, that moulds to the shape of your hand, and that's big enough for your thumb and fingers to curl around. I find plastic or rubber handled knives work best. Their easy to grip tightly and your hand won't slip. Wood is good too, but after a while moisture can soak in causing it to decay and smell a bit.
Steer clear of any knife handle with a slick surface. Damp hands could slip causing you an injury. More frustratingly it will take an age to open anything more than 2 or 3 oysters at a time as you'll be stopping constantly to dry your hands so you can grip the knife.
Oysters blades don't need to be sharp. The only thing you have to cut with it is the abductor muscle which is strong but cuts like soft butter. They do need to be tough, rugged, and durable enough to crack open thousands of oysters.
Look for a blade about 3 inches long made from corrosion resistant metal. Salt water from inside oysters can damage a knife over time. Ferritic stainless steel 440c is the material that works best and is used by reputable manufactures. Its expensive though, so it's unlikely you'll find it in a knife that costs 5 dollars.
High carbon steel is another material you see in a lot of oyster knifes, and it's not a bad choice. Harder than stainless steal but more prone to corrosion and rust, carbon made shuckers need a little more looking after.
If you want a knife that's made to last than buy a well known make or brand that you know you can trust (dexter russell, wusthof and victorinox are all good brands). Check that the blade you're buying is stainless or high carbon steel and not some cheap alloy that will bend and buckle with the first oyster that gives you trouble.
The knife guard
Personally I'm not a fan of knife guards. They just add unnecessary weight to the knife which you want to be as light as possible. Once your opening an oyster correctly and not using brute force than there's very little chance of serious injury.
Besides, a lot of the modern knife designs have a slight bulge in the handle just where it meets the blade. This gives quite a bit of protection to your hands in case of a slip. If you're really worried about an injury that you could always put on a mesh glove.
Best oyster knife review
5 of the best shuckers - our top picks
Some other oyster tools worth a mention
Oysters: The One you always need to remember
Any oysters you buy down the market should still be alive. Dead ones are a giveaway by the loose fitting shell and the bad smell.
Here's the deal:
Suspect dead oysters are dangerous to eat and should be thrown in the trash. Never risk one, you could make yourself, or worse someone you’ve invited around for dinner violently ill.
Oysters only start to die a couple of minutes after being shucked. it's because they're alive that they can be a tough nut to crack. Its best to serve your oysters right after you've opened them or at the very least within an hour or two.
Oysters have two shells a flat one on top and a more cupped one on the bottom. They're rounded at one end and taper down to a point at the other where the hinge is. Inside there's an abductor muscle that connects both shells keeping the oyster tightly closed.
The hinge must be broken and the abductor muscle stretched and cut so you can get at the sweet tasting meat inside. The bigger the oyster the stronger the hinge and abductor muscle become. So if you're looking for some easy prey go for smaller oysters, they tend to taste better too.
How To Open Oysters The Easy Way
I won’t to go into too much detail on how you open an oyster. You've seen it being done and there's lots of great resources online where you can learn like the video below.
There's more than one way to open an oyster, you can either do it from the side or via the hinge, like in the video, which I like to call the easy way.
I prefer the hinge method because the shell remains undamaged which is important if you plan on serving your oysters in the half shell. You'll also find less shrapnel from the shell ends up on the oyster meat. The other benefit is that you're holding the oyster tightly, not moving it around, and are less lightly to spill the precious liquor inside.
To open via this classic method the tip of your knife needs to be thin enough to wiggle into the hinge and once you find some purchase strong enough to force the force the oyster open. Try to be gentle. Too much force and the hinge could buckle unexpectedly and your knife will plunge into the tender meat inside.
Tackling oysters from the side should really be left to the pros and the more experienced shuckers out there. It's a method I tried hard to learn without much success. I always found it difficult to find the sweet spot between the two shells next to the abductor muscle.
Opening oysters from the side will probably result in shell damage for inexperienced shuckers, ruining a half shell presentation. Shell splinters seem to almost always end up on the meat too.
It's a method that works best with the more rounded, flatter, native european oyster where it's easier to see where the two shells meet. It's a lot more difficult with the more common pacific oyster. The wavy ruffles on the side of its shell make it hard to know where to position your knife.
If you're going to cook your oysters and a half shell presentation doesn't matter than feel free to practice the side opening method.
When your new to shucking it's tough to pick a good knife from the hundreds out there. Hopefully this guide has given you a better idea of what to look for and you'll be able to find a reliable blade to suit your needs no matter what type of oyster you plan on eating.
Personally, if I was been sent to a desert island and could only bring one knife I'd have a tough time deciding between my boston stabber for its versatility and a new haven.....I love a cleanly shucked oyster in a half shell.
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