Quick, check the calendar. If there’s an “R” in the month, then it’s time to grab your favorite oyster knife and head to a Charleston oyster roast. Whether it’s a birthday party, a fundraiser or just a Friday night, Charlestonians love to attend an oyster roast.
In the beginning
When the water temperature reaches 70 degrees or greater, oysters begin to spawn. In South Carolina, spawning is most intense in the summer but usually runs April to October. The sperm and eggs are released directly into the water and free-swimming larvae develop in about 24 hours. After about three weeks, the larvae settle on the bottom in search of a hard, clean surface for permanent attachment. They seem to prefer to settle on other oysters shells so often you’ll see where used oysters shells are purposely planted to attract oyster larvae.
After three years, oysters are large enough for harvesting. Once harvested, live oysters should be stored in the refrigerator at 35-40 degrees and they will keep for several days. Shucked oysters should be light grey in color with clear liquid. If you store shucked oysters in their own liquid and packed on ice in a refrigerator, they will last for about a week.
A bushel of oysters Individuals may harvest oysters for personal use, but only in authorized areas – usually private grounds or public oyster grounds maintained by the state Department of Natural Resources. Oysters may not be harvested between May 15 and Sept. 1, and a S.C. Marine Recreational Fisheries Stamp is required for recreational harvesting. There is a limit of two bushels of oysters per person, per day. A bushel is about 50 pounds.
If you’ve been invited to an oyster roast, it’s customary to bring your own oyster knife to pry the shells apart. The Charleston Shucker Co. produces engraved, high quality oyster knives. Check them out at charlestonshuckerco.com. It’s also advised to bring oyster gloves (leather or heavy cotton work well) to protect your hands while using the sharp oyster knife. OK, now that you have your knife and gloves, you’re ready to scoop that oyster from its shell and eat up. Many people like their oysters with a cocktail sauce, lemon or saltine crackers.
Try out what you’ve learned at the world’s largest oyster festival. The 31st annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival is Jan. 26 at Boone Hall Plantation. Highlights include the oyster shucking and oyster eating contests as well as live music on the main stage, wine, a selection of domestic and imported beers, a children’s area and a food court showcasing a variety of local restaurants.
Oyster information courtesy South Carolina Department of Natural Resources