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How To Throw a Fabulous Raw Oyster Party

Raw Oysters: Love 'Em or Hate 'Em

How to throw a raw oyster party Either you love raw oysters or you can’t fathom how people can purposefully consume these briny, slimy creatures. My family happens to be avid raw oyster fans. Until recently, our consumption was usually restricted to a dozen raw oysters shared as appetizers when we were dining out. Then covid happened.

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During early covid our dining out experiences were limited so we began experimenting with creating in-home dining experiences we previously reserved for restaurants. We made bread, pizza, pasta and sushi for at home meals and entertainment. One of our favorite repeat culinary activities is to order dozens of raw oysters for in-home raw oyster party nights.

Where We Buy Our Oysters

Hog oysters | Something New For Dinner
Our oysters arrive safely packed from the oyster farm
So far we have bought our raw oysters online from two different oyster farmers: Hama Hama Oysters out of Washington's Olympic Peninsula and Hog Island Oysters out of Tamales Bay in Northern California. Both companies have a minimum order of three dozen oysters, which seems like a lot, but we discovered it was the perfect number for 5 - 6 of us. There are many oyster farmers and distributors online. Next time I may try Island Creek Oysters out of Duxbury, MA to sample some east coast oysters.

How to Choose Oysters?

How to throw a raw oyster party | Something New For Dinner

If you are new to raw oysters, there are more variations in oysters than you might at first imagine. While there are only five species harvested in the U.S., there are many many different types of oysters within each species, because oysters get their characteristics from their location, the salinity of the water, farming techniques, temperature and time of year. Here are some of the differences to consider when selecting your oysters:


  • Large vs. small oysters -- Larger oysters can be used for eating raw or grilling. Smaller oysters are best reserved for raw consumption. I personally favor smaller oysters for raw eating.
  • Shape -- A deeply cupped oyster is desirable because the deeper shell allows for more room for the oyster to grow nice and plump. Additionally, the deeper cup helps to retain the oyster liquor when shucking.


Oyster flavor is determined by a lot of factors that are uncontrollable by the farmer, including: water temperature, salinity and available food sources.
  • Bay vs. ocean oysters -- Bay oysters will be milder and sea oysters will be brinier due to the salinity of the water they are grown in.
  • Atlantic vs. Pacific vs. Gulf oysters -- West coast oysters tend to be sweeter and milder in flavor and often finish with hints of cucumber or melon. East coast oysters tend to be brinier, more savory with various mineral notes. Gulf oysters tend to be mild, meaty and creamy.
  • Initial taste vs. finish -- The taste of oysters change from your first impression to their finish. Initially, when the oyster first enters your mouth you will register some combination of sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Some people swallow raw oysters without chewing (think oyster shots), but if you really want to get the full spectrum of an oyster's flavor you need to chew the oyster. After a few chomps new vegetal and mineral flavors will develop. The more you chew the oyster, the more flavors you will encounter.
  • Oyster flavor wheel -- If you want to dive deep into the flavor of oysters Pangea Shellfish Company has developed an oyster flavor wheel, much like you will find for wine, bourbon, coffee and chocolate. Who knew oyster flavor was so complex and varied?


"Shuckability" is a great word I would like to regularly incorporate into my vocabulary. Shuckability refers to how easy or difficult it is to shuck a raw oyster. An oyster shucking pro can shuck a dozen oysters in about a minute -- a time which will be mind-boggling after your first attempt to shuck a raw oyster. It takes my family members a bit more time to shuck our raw oysters, but we are getting better at it. Sipping on some champagne or a crisp sauvignon blanc while you work enhances the process.
  • Thick vs. thin shells -- Wild oysters tend to have thicker shells, where as farmed oysters grow faster and tend to have thinner shells. Thinner shells are more challenging to work with as the shell can crack and crumble if not handled properly. Wild oysters can be man-handled a bit and are more forgiving of newbie shucking technique.
  • Tumbled oysters -- Tumbled oysters are a farmed oyster that is grown suspended off the bottom of the water. Farmers remove them at intervals and tumble them in a mechanical device that knocks off the thinner growing edge of the oyster shell, resulting in a stronger, thicker shell that is easier to shuck. Tumbled oysters have deep cups that allow for a meatier oyster with less liquor. Tumbled oysters tend to be more expensive due to their more laborious farming process. Prized Kumamoto oysters are an example of tumbled oysters.

Growing Region

  • Bayside vs. seaside oysters -- In general, oysters grown in a bay will be less salty than oysters grown in the sea.

How Many Types of Oysters Should You Buy

How to throw a raw oyster party | Something New For Dinner

A sampling of Hama Hama oysters -- The large ones at the top are Hama Hama beach-grown, the middle oysters are Summerstones and the small oysters at the bottom are Blue Pool tumbled oysters
For a raw oyster tasting party I recommend buying multiple types so you can experiment and discover which oysters you like best. You won’t really know which oysters you prefer until you taste them side-by-side. Oyster tasting is very much like wine tasting. First smell the oyster, then slurp it, then chew it, then ponder it. Take a sip of champagne between oysters to clear your pallet. See, I told you a raw oyster party is fun!

The Shucking Challenge

How to throw a raw oyster party | something New For Dinner For our first raw oyster night our biggest concern was how were we going to shuck 36 oysters? The key is the right tools. This is what you need for each oyster shucker:  
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I now own multiple sets of oyster knives and protective gloves so everyone can join in the fun.

Shucking Instructions and Tips

You get better at shucking with practice and it is fun to an incorporate an oyster shucking competition into the evening. Check out our two-part instructional videos with our in-house expert and near-family member, Eric Otten here and here.  

How to throw a raw oyster party | Something New For Dinner

Shucking Tips form Hama Hama Oysters

SNFD Oyster Shucking Tips:

  • Hold the oyster in a kitchen towel in your less dominant hand so that you have access to the oyster hinge (the pointy end of the oyster where the top and bottom shells are joined.) You can hold the oyster in your hand or place it half-wrapped in the towel on the counter to give you more leverage. I personally favor holding it on the counter.
  • Grasp the oyster so the cup side is down and the flatter side of the oyster is up. This is important because you want to save as much of the flavorful oyster liquor as possible. Later, you will slurp this liquor up along with your oyster.
  • Insert the tip of the oyster knife into the hinge of the shell and push down on the knife to slightly pop open the shell. Now slide your knife slightly down the edge of the oyster and twist to fully pop the shell open.
  • If the shell has crumbled a bit on the oyster knife wipe the bits off on the towel to keep the oyster clean. You don't want to eat oyster shell crumbles when you slurp down your oyster. You may need to clean the knife frequently if your oyster shells are crumbly.
  • Run the blade 360 degrees around the edge of the oyster to separate the two halves. As they separate make sure the oyster is unattached to the top shell, using the knife to separate the oyster from the top shell if needed.  Then discard the top shell, all the while, taking care to retain as much oyster liquor as possible in the bottom shell.
  • The last step is to run your knife between the bottom shell and the oyster to detach the oyster's abductor muscle from the shell. This allows you to pick up the oyster shell, bring it to your lips and easily slurp down the mollusk.

How to Serve Your Oysters

How to throw a raw oyster party | Something New For Dinner

Oysters are best served chilled and freshly shucked. You can place them on a large platter by themselves or on a bed of crushed ice. Crushed ice serves two functions: it helps keep the oysters from tipping over and spilling their liquor and it keeps them cool. Alternatively you can fold a clean dish towel in the bottom of the plate to give the oysters more stability. Oyster plates | Something New For Dinner
Oyster plates keep oysters from tipping over and losing their liquor
Another option is to use specially designed oyster plates. Years ago I bought some beautiful mid-century French oyster plates while visiting New Orleans, an oyster lover’s haven. I’ve used my oyster plates to serve other small appetizers. They bring back memories of a special trip and great times with good friends. I have a friend who collects antique oyster plates and displays them on her dining room wall. These fun plates do not have to be single purposed. You can find beautiful oyster plates on Etsy.
Mid-century oyster plates | Something New For Dinner
Mid-century French oyster plates
Small bowls and spoons are useful to serve the sauces. A larger bowl can be provided for spent shells. Or do what we do and just return the empty shell to the serving plate, placing the shell upside down so it is clear that the oyster is gone.

Naked or Dressed?

Three oyster sauces | Something New For Dinner

Three oyster sauces: Homemade Cocktail Sauce, Frozen Mignonette with Cucumber and Ponzu Dipping Sauce with Scallion
Although some people advocate serving oysters au natural to get the true oyster flavor, I like to dress mine up a bit. I always serve my raw oysters with fresh lemon slices and a variety of easy-to-make sauces. Classic Cocktail Sauce, Frozen Mignonette with Cucumber and a Ponzu Scallion are our favorites. You might add a bottle of tabasco or other hot sauce to the table for those who crave a little heat with their raw oysters.

Storing Your Oysters

Fresh, unshucked oysters can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days, but it is best to eat them as soon as possible. I personally like to have fresh oysters delivered the day before we eat them. Remember if you are purchasing on line you need to factor in a couple days delivery time.
How to store raw oysters | Something New For Dinner
Store raw oysters cup-side down and covered with a damp cloth in the fridge
You can store the oysters on a tray of ice or simply in a shallow pan or bowl in the refrigerator. Spread the oysters out placing them cup-side down in the ice or tray. Cover oysters completely with a damp towel. Remember, the goal is to keep the oyster alive. If you are storing live oysters on ice you need to check the ice regularly and drain off any melted water so you do not drown the oysters. I typically skip the ice and just cover them with a damp towel.

How to Tell a Live Oyster from a Dead Oyster

Live oysters are typically closed. Live oysters will open and shut slightly, closing when tapped. Open oysters that do not respond by closing when tapped are likely dead. Dead oysters will also be dry in appearance and have minimal liquor. Discard all dead or cracked oysters.

Nutritionally Excellent

Oysters are wonderfully rich in protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals, including:  Vitamin B12, D, zinc, copper, magnesium, selenium, iron, copper and phosphorous. At the same time, they are remarkably low in calories. Six medium-sized oysters clock in at a mere 50 calories. Oysters are also a good source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Environmentally Sustainable

Unlike other farmed seafood, farmed oysters are good for the environment. Oysters are filter feeders that cleanse the ocean. Farmed oysters are beneficial to restoring wild oyster populations without harming them and oyster agriculture creates no greenhouse gas emissions. Spent oyster shells can be recycled back into the water to restore reefs.

Oyster Risks

Oysters are filter feeders and can be contaminated with bacteria, viruses and chemical contaminants. Make sure you buy your oysters from a reputable vendor, consume promptly and follow storage and handling recommendations. Reputable vendors can provide tags showing their oysters were grown in certified clean water.

Raw Oyster Party Fun

How to throw a raw oyster party | Something New For Dinner

We like to gather around the kitchen island and shuck the oysters as a group.
  How to throw a raw oyster party | Something New For Dinner
 We typically don't bother moving from the island and just continue our consumption standing up together around the island
Good luck on throwing your own raw oyster party. Please share your experience and pictures and feel free to contact me with any raw oyster party questions.

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