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How to roast oysters the lowcountry way

posted Sep 24, 2009, 8:45 AM by Stewart Hulett
It is funny how the phrase "oyster roast" usually means "oyster steam".

Most of the oyster roasts that I have been to in the Charleston lowcountry area have hoards of people, and the only way to effectively cook up the multiple bushels of oysters is to steam them until they are cooked. However, I have found that when I cook oysters at home, I only have 10 or 15 people to feed, so volume isn't as big an issue. So, I choose to actually "roast" the oysters over an open fire.

Here is how I "roast" oysters the lowcountry way.

  • Burlap sack (many seafood stores package oysters in burlap sacks, so you can use the sack that the oysters came in)
    Naturally, if the oysters come in a plastic sack, it won't work (see below). You need a burlap sack for this technique.
  • Two cinder blocks (8 x 16 CMU)
  • Sheet of 1/4" thick steel plate about 3' x 3' or larger
  • shovel
  • fresh water source (bucket is fine, but hose is best)

The "roasting" goes something like this. 
  1. Collect two cinder blocks and a sheet of 1/4" steel plating that is big enough to span across the fire pit you are going to build.
  2. Dig a pit (not too deep) to build a fire in and place the cinder blocks on either side of the pit.
  3. Start a raging fire in the pit, and when it is going good, lay the sheet of steel across the cinder blocks over the fire.
  4. When the steel is hot (water steams when sprinkled on top), put an even layer of oysters in the center of the sheet of steel.
  5. Cover the oysters with the burlap sack, and wet the sack with fresh water. (don't use salt water... it'll mess up your steel)
  6. spray or pour water over the sack to keep the steam coming. As the steam dies down, spray a little more water on top of the pile. You don't want the burlap bag to burn, so keep it wet, but don't flood it. Just nurse it along to keep them oysters steaming under that sack.
  7. Take a peak at the oysters every couple of minutes by looking under the sack. You are looking to see if they are just starting to open up. Some people like them a little more or less cooked, so experiment.  Personally, I like to get them when just one or two are opened, and the rest are still closed. That way, the juices are still inside of the shell, and the oysters are firm, but still wiggly.
  8. Using a flat nose shovel, scoop up the oysters and deliver them to the table for consumption.
  • Learn to keep your fire at the right temperature. If the fire is not hot enough, you don't get any steam when you sprinkle the sack. If it is too hot, you end up baking the oysters (which some people really like... try it on a few).
  • Be careful not to let the burlap sack hang over the edge of your steel plate while cooking. It'll burn up.
  • I have noticed that I need to start the second batch immediately after the first one comes off, but the timing will slow down a little bit as people start to get full. There are usually enough faithful that will eat until they are all gone, so you just have to run smaller batches, and keep them coming... nice and hot!
  • If some of the oysters cool off on the table, just put 'em back on for a minute or so to warm them up. The steamy sack does wonders for maintaining the moisture in the open oysters.