Classic Southern Cuisine: Oyster Roast Season in Charleston
If you are planning to escape the confines of cold weather this season, what better place to do so than the South Carolina coastline? Chances are, if you are going to be in the area, you will want to experience a taste of our delicious Southern cuisine while you are here. With oyster season almost in full swing, you won’t want to miss out on this mussel. To experience this famous tradition like a Seabrook Island local, we’ve put together everything you need to know about the oyster roast season in Charleston.
Experience a Traditional Taste of the Lowcountry
What Is an Oyster Roast?
Oyster roasts are a historical celebration of community and the sea’s bounty, bringing friends, family, and neighbors together to enjoy a delicious coastal staple. To experience this event like a local, you will first have to get familiar with our famous Carolina cooking. Our coastline is part of a region commonly referred to as the Lowcountry that stretches from Savannah, Georgia, to Pawleys Island, South Carolina.
Here, we like to enjoy rich cuisine that showcases the Atlantic Ocean’s natural flavors with our famously fresh seafood, from shrimp, lobster, and crawfish, to saltwater fish, oysters, and crabs. Our lush, coastal farms are filled with delicious crops such as okra, cabbage, green beans, and corn. All of these come together to form dishes such as the Lowcountry boil, shrimp and grits, and, of course, the perfect spread for oyster roasts.
When Is Oyster Roast Season?
These shellfish are eaten year-round in the coastal Carolinas, but they are best served in the colder months. Though an old legend says that good oysters should only be eaten during months that contain an “R”, you can typically enjoy this year-round delicacy thanks to the invention of refrigerators. However, this myth is correct in that oysters certainly are tastier during prime season. Why? It’s because oysters commit their energy to reproduction in the warmer months, which causes them to be watery and less flavorful.
Where to Find Fresh Oysters Near Charleston, SC
Our local Charleston oysters are typically smaller than others, but their strong salty-sweet flavor is certainly not lacking. This salty-sweet flavor is most potent when there’s a crisp breeze in the air, as it cools the water and allows the oysters to firm up. Historic shell mounds in places such as Edisto beach suggest that enjoying a delicious batch of oysters dates back several centuries.
Oyster lovers take note that the 2020 to 2021 season for the recreational harvest of shellfish (clams and oysters) in South Carolina’s coastal waters is set to open one-half hour before official sunrise on Thursday, October 1, 2020, until May 15, 2021, unless conditions warrant changes to the season. Harvesting oysters can be difficult because they grow in clusters near the shoreline using their sharp-edged shells to connect. Oysters may only be harvested from designated state or public oyster grounds. Luckily, there is the perfect spot right on the Kiawah River, between Seabrook Island and Kiawah Island!
South Carolina oysters are intertidal, meaning they grow between low and high tide lines in clusters commonly referred to as oyster beds. To safely harvest, you will want to reach the bed at low tide. Even seasoned harvesters have difficulty navigating the well-protected clusters and typically acquire a few new cuts and scrapes as a result. That being said, if you plan to harvest your own, heavy boots are essential to protect you from their extremely sharp shells. You will need a hand tool such as a hammer or metal bar to break off the oysters with, in addition to a bucket for storage. Harvesting limits are two bushels of oysters and one-half bushel of clams per day for two days during a 7-day period.
A South Carolina Department of Natural Resource Recreational (SCDNR) Fisheries license is required to harvest oysters. It can be obtained locally in most local hardware and tackle stores at a minimal cost (residents – $11.00 annual or $5.00 two weeks and nonresidents – $35 yearly or $11.00 two weeks). Your license will cover recreational fishing, crabbing, oystering, clamming, and shrimping. Individuals 64 years of age or older may obtain a lifetime senior license for a one-time fee of $9.00.
With an abundance of delicious oysters right in Seabrook Island, SC, this dish isn’t hard to come by. If you would prefer not to harvest your own, you can grab some from your local store or at one of our local restaurants. Though these events have been postponed this year, you can attend one of these Charleston oyster roasts in the future to see how it’s done!
- Boone Hall Plantation Oyster Roast (aka “The Lowcountry Oyster Festival”)
- Charitable Society of Charleston Oyster Roast
- Oysters on the Point
How to Cook Oysters
As you are prepping your oysters, make sure to throw out any broken or already opened oysters, as these are dead and can cause you to get sick. Wash the rest of them off in cold water, removing any barnacles or snails with a paring knife. Depending on how you plan to cook your oysters, you may need to shuck them or open them to reach the meat. Make sure not to shuck more than two hours before serving them, as they are easier to open when cold (and much tastier, too). Oysters will spoil relatively quickly, so you will want to cook them within this time frame to avoid becoming ill.
If you want to live like a local, the best way to remove one side of the shell is with an oyster knife. Slide the knife blade across the oyster, beginning from the hinge side, and keep it as flat as possible against the top shell. About two-thirds of the way through, you will come across the muscle, which once you cut, you will easily pull the top shell off. Once you have cleaned and shucked the oysters as necessary, you will need to decide how you want to prepare them and season them.
There are many different ways to cook this versatile bivalve, all equally as delicious as the next, but here are a few of our favorites:
1 – Grilled
Place your oysters on a baking sheet or one by one, shell facing down towards the grill. Season your oysters before closing the grill lid or covering them with tin foil. You will want to cook the oysters for approximately five minutes at 450 degrees.
2 – Fried
Heat canola oil in a deep fryer at 350 degrees or in a Dutch at 360 degrees. While you wait, whisk together a mixture of buttermilk, egg, water, and flour. You can opt instead for spiced flour or add in seasonings such as salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic powder. Dip the oysters in the batter and fry them for about three minutes until golden and crispy. Remove them from the fryer, set out to dry on paper towels, and serve warm.
3 – Broiled
Place half shell (shucked) or closed oysters on a baking sheet into a heated broiler for about 4 to five minutes until the shells are opaque and cooked through but not dried out. If not shucked, wait until the shells have opened.
4 – Steamed
Since our local oyster supply is pretty much as fresh as it gets, you can steam them and serve them with butter to let their natural flavors shine through. With this method, you won’t have to worry about shucking the oysters either. Depending on your pot’s size, you will want to put about 2 pounds of oysters into a half cup of boiling water. Then cover the pot and allow them to steam for 5 to 10 minutes, removing them as they open. Repeat this process until you have the desired amount of oysters.
5 – Roasted
Divinely roasted oysters can be prepared with just a fast turn in the oven. After being seasoned, distribute oysters on a baking sheet and cook at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. If the oysters haven’t been shucked, cook until they open. Place any garnishments on the oyster and serve.
Oysters produce a lump of delicate, plump meat that can be made to taste different every time you make them, as they pair well with several ingredients that can bring out different flavors and textures. However, feel free to enjoy them just as they are. A significant part of oysters’ appeal is their natural salty flavor, often referred to as brine These shellfish are filter feeders, meaning they pump seawater all day to trap its contents for nourishment. Therefore, they end up taking on the same salinity as the water. Some of the more common natural tastes you may pick up on are copper, musky, and low tide flavors.
Depending on your choice of seasoning, you can give the oysters a sweet or briny flavoring. Many locals opt to garnish this dish with creamy garlic butter, melon, cucumber, zesty lemon, seasoned breadcrumbs, and chopped herbs like cilantro, parsley, or chives. This dish can be dressed with condiments such as cocktail sauce, horseradish, tartar, or even hot sauce for an added kick. Once you choose how you will cook your oysters, it’s time to choose sides for the roast. Oysters pair well with many sides, including seasoned saltines, boiled peanuts, marinated vegetables, or other meats like chicken, sausage, shrimp, or pork medallions. Lowcountry cooks typically use produce that is in season to create dishes that are packed with flavor.
Now that you have shucked, seasoned, and cooked your oysters, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the roast. This is one winter tradition we just can’t get enough of!
We hope you will join us on Seabrook Island, South Carolina, this season to get a taste of one of the most delicious flavors of the sea there is! With all the charm of a small Southern town, all the amenities of an oceanfront resort, and all the beauty of a private island, Seabrook Island is the perfect place to enjoy a getaway from the winter weather. Book one of our Seabrook Island vacation rentals today! In the meantime, read our blog on planning the perfect winter vacation near Charleston SC!