Grilling oysters: How to throw a backyard oyster roast

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen

Seafood roasts are part of the landscape when you live near water. But away from the coastal regions, such large-format celebrations are less common. It's time to change that.

Few meals can boast the relaxed conviviality of a classic oyster roast or crab boil. It's joyful, messy work, taken together in the pursuit of delicious oceanic morsels. And there's almost always beer. 

Oyster roasts, which require no snapping or wrenching of claws, are probably the most civilized of the seafood feasts. The grill does most of the work. Your only job is to eat. 

Roast your oysters in their own brine over high heat, and the shells pop open when they're ready.

The idea here is to roast your oysters in their own brine over high heat. The shells pop open when they're ready. You're left with a beautiful, steaming oyster that's essentially shucked itself.

Here's how.

Select your oysters

Roast your oysters in their own brine over high heat, and the shells pop open when they're ready.

Some oysters can taste predominantly of a faceful of ocean water, while others can be quite complex. Like plants — wine grapes, for example — oysters pick up flavor from their surroundings, particularly from the algae they eat. Oyster aficionados call this “merroir."

Plump, briny oysters such as Wellfleets and even fat, wild, Gulf oysters are perfect for tossing on the grill. The juicier the better. Ultimately, what you select depends on what you can get. Talk to your seafood purveyor about your options, and make sure to pick out only oysters that are tightly closed. 

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In general, six to eight oysters per person is a good start, especially if you're serving other food on the side. 

Store oysters in the refrigerator covered in a damp towel. It's best to buy them the day you plan to eat them. 

Set the stage

Roast your oysters in their own brine over high heat, and the shells pop open when they're ready.

Though oysters should cause less of a mess than, say, crawfish, you'll want to have a place where your guests can slosh oyster liquor without worrying about your carpeting. A table set up in the backyard or on the deck is perfect for this. No table? Top two sawhorses with a sheet of plywood. 

Cover the surface with newspaper and provide piles of napkins, paper towels and clean kitchen towels for holding the hot oyster in one hand while prying off the shell with the other. Add a couple of small buckets or other decorative containers where people can discard their oyster shells.

Even though grilled oysters don't require a whole lot of prying, you'll still want to provide oyster knives so your guests can easily pull their oyster shells open without breaking a nail or cutting a finger. Ask your guests if they can bring their own. Oyster forks are also a nice touch.

Condiments are lovely, though most purists won't need them. Saltine crackers, hot sauce and cocktail sauce are the gold standard.

The main event

Roast your oysters in their own brine over high heat, and the shells pop open when they're ready.

Before cooking, scrub your oysters very, very well to remove mud and grit.

Get ready to grill your oysters by placing some serving platters next to the grill. Have a few towels and tongs at the ready. Preheat the grill to 450-500.

Place the oysters, cup-side down, on the hot grill surface. You'll want to cook these in waves if you have a crowd. Close the lid.

Begin to check your oysters after 5 minutes. Once the shells crack open a few millimeters, they're ready. You'll see the brine bubbling. Don't overcook, or all that precious brine will steam out, leaving behind a dry, shriveled oyster. No one wants that.

Serve each batch of oysters on a platter, then get ready to grill the next batch. A layer of rock salt on each platter keeps your oysters from tipping over and losing all of that precious liquid. 

Oysters that don't open after about 10-15 minutes on the grill should be discarded.

Grilled oysters with garlic parmesan butter

Grilled oysters with garlic parmesan butter

Grilling oysters over the half shell is a completely different animal. All the work of shucking is done in advance. No one's getting brine on their shoes. This is expert-level stuff. 

Serves: 2

Hands On Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 clove garlic, finely minced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

12 freshly shucked oysters, on the half-shell

Instructions

First, scrub your oysters clean. You'll want to shuck them and cook them on the half shell.

Heat a grill to medium-high (400 to 450 degrees). In a medium bowl, use a rubber spatula to combine the butter, 1/4 cup of the cheese, the parsley, lemon juice and garlic until completely combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

When the grill is hot, place 1 tablespoon of the garlic butter on top of each oyster, then top with the remaining cheese. Place the oysters directly on the grill grates, shell-side down, and close the lid. Cook until the cheese has melted and edges of oysters have curled slightly, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately.