Photo by Ruta Smith

Roast Host

It’s oyster roast season, but slurping oysters and bumping elbows around a crowded table isn’t exactly pandemic-approved. 2020 might just be the perfect time to take the steamer pot by the tongs and throw your own social-distanced oyster roast. 

Signing up to be the roast host may sound daunting, but it’s actually quite simple, especially with some help from local experts. From supplies to cooking techniques and tips for pleasing the group, we’ve got everything you need to throw a flawless at-home oyster roast. 

The supplies 

A traditional Charleston-style roast takes place outside, and a large table (or extra-large, for quarantine shucking) should be adorned with the necessities: oyster knives, gloves, towels and a trash can to dispose of the spent shells.

There are multiple techniques to cook your clusters — including wet burlap sacks to capture steam, cast-iron flat tops and open fire pits — but using a large seafood steamer may be the most convenient for first-timers. 

Photo by Ruta Smith
Rent the essentials for your roast from West Ashley Tool and Rental for $95

If you don’t already have some of the necessary supplies on hand, it might be more affordable to rent. West Ashley Tool & Rental will set you up with one of its “Oyster Roast Party Packages” equipped with all the essentials for $95. 

“What we offer are smaller units that can easily fit in the back of an SUV,” said owner John DeStefano. “It’s not much more complicated than cooking a steak.”

The package comes with an oyster steamer, propane cylinder, gloves, oyster knives and a large trash can. After attaching the propane tank, fire up the burner, fill the steamer with a few inches of water, drop the oysters once you get a head of steam, and about five minutes later they’re ready to serve. 

“(This method is) convenient, a little cleaner and saves you some of the hassle,” DeStefano said.   

But with eight-straight months including the letter “R” (when oyster are best for harvesting), and so many opportunities to roast, some hosts may opt to keep the equipment on hand. Purchase DeStefano’s kit or order one of several cookers available from TideLine Outfitters, a local online shop. Tables, gloves and other essentials can be procured from a local hardware store.

The oysters

Charleston companies sell oysters as singles and in clusters, sometimes at a lower price if you let them know you’re hosting a roast. We love small, dainty oysters, but for roasts, you’re looking for the bigger bivalves that are plentiful in South Carolina. 

The Lowcountry’s oysters have a distinct flavor profile when eaten raw or roasted, according to Brandon Rushing, executive chef and owner of Briny Swine and Ella & Ollie’s on Edisto Island. 

“There’s one big distinction from South Carolina oysters and that’s the salinity level,” said Rushing, whose restaurants pay homage to two Southern celebrations: oyster roasts and pig pickings. “They’re extremely salty and taste like our water, which is amazing. They’re now finally getting to the main market, which you didn’t see five or six years ago.”  

Not sure how many oysters to buy for your party? Lowcountry Oyster Co. owner Trey McMillan recommends one bushel per five people, but suggests having extras on hand — the social nature of oyster roasts could have you shucking into the wee-hours of the night. 

“One bag of clusters is 45 pounds,” he said. “I can eat a bushel myself, but I really like oysters.”

How long to cook the oysters is up to you, but a simple rule of thumb is to pull the oysters when some of them begin to open up, McMillan said. Experiment with your steaming time and figure out how well-done you like yours.

Photo by Ruta Smith
Rushing’s two Edisto Island restaurants pay homage to classic Lowcountry social gatherings: oyster roasts and pig pickings

 McMillan said the biggest mistake people make is forgetting to clean their oysters. 

“Make sure your oysters are good and clean,” he said. “Ours come clean, but some people will charge a lot less for unclean oysters.” 

McMillan recommends giving them a rinse with a hose, and be sure to keep an eye out for open, dry or sand-filled oysters. 

There are plenty of places to find oysters in Charleston, including parking lots, roadside seafood stands and these local businesses:  

• The Charleston Oyster Co. will deliver a bushel of oysters directly to your doorstep for $67. The McClellanville-based company’s clustered oysters are “clean, fresh, salty and perfect for roasting,” and a portion of proceeds from every sale goes to building new oyster reefs, which filter ocean water and provide fish and wildlife habitats.

• Lowcountry Oyster Co. offers online ordering, next-day pickup and overnight shipping. Check out the “100 Oyster Gift Pack,” which comes with a custom oyster knife, local hot sauce and one of three specialty vinegar-based condiments, called mignonettes: The Charleston, The Potlikker or The Watermelon.

• H & J Seafood Market in Goose Creek sells cluster bushels for $46.99 along with singles and local crabs. 

• Crosby’s Fish & Shrimp Co. on Folly Road is a long-time trusted establishment for all local seafood needs. The family owned James Island market offers an assortment of oysters, shrimp and crabs procured from a fleet of boats that sells exclusively to them along with seafood-forward sides like smoked fish dip or ceviche. 

On the table

The classic roasted oysters are the main event. Hot sauce, lemons, cocktail sauce and saltine crackers are staples for the table, but what you serve (or not serve) on the side is up to you.

And there aren’t any rules saying you can only serve oysters one way. Shuck and serve a few raw with a touch of hot sauce or impress your guests with a chef’s spin on the roasted oyster. 

“Our barbecue-roasted oysters are something people could definitely do at home,” Rushing said. 

All you need to recreate this Briny Swine dish at home is Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, garlic, onions, cajun seasoning and of course, oysters. Start by sauteing the garlic and onions before adding in the Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice. 

“Reduce the Worcestershire ‘til it gets thick, then add the seasoning and whisk with butter,” Rushing said. “Shuck the oysters, then put them in the hottest oven you can for a couple minutes.”  

Side dishes are optional, but it’s always good to be prepared in case one of your guests isn’t all in on the oysters. 

5Church and Tempest chef Jamie Lynch recommends serving macaroni or potato salad and a make-ahead casserole — his go-to is cornbread pudding with jalapeno and bacon. 

“I love having a warm casserole type side for an oyster roast that can be prepared ahead of time,” he said. “The combination of smokey, spicy cornbread marries perfectly with oysters.” 

Step-by-step

1 Clean oysters 

2 Attach propane cylinder to oyster steamer 

3 Ignite the flame using the sparker supplied with the propane cylinder 

4 Fill steamer with two inches of water 

5 Bring water to a simmer 

6 Drop the oysters, 10-15 at a time 

7 Put on the lid and cook for 3-5 minutes 

8 Transfer oysters to the table and enjoy

Shopping list 

Equipment 
• Large table 
• Large steamer pot or oyster steamer 
• Propane cylinder 
• Cotton gloves
• Oyster knives 
• Large trash can

Classic Roasted Oysters 
• Local oysters (1 bushel per 5 people) 
• Hot sauce 
• Mignonette
• Lemons 
• Crackers 

Briny Swine Barbecue Roasted Oysters 
• Local oysters 
• Worcestershire sauce
• Lemon juice  
• Garlic
• Onions
• Butter
• Cajun seasoning