Oysters on the half shell over ice is always quite nice. But oysters, hot off the grill can also be an interesting thrill, especially in summertime when your beer will seem colder because your oyster is cooked. All you have to do is choose a method for grilling oysters, select the right kind of oysters (are you team east coast or west coast?), mix up a few sauces, and you’re ready to host an oyster-laden cocktail hour. Whether you top grilled oysters with just a garlic butter sauce and a drizzle of fresh lemon juice, a sprinkle of kosher salt, or a sharp and tangy mignonette sauce, our guide will teach you exactly how to grill oysters and serve them with finesse.
Choose A Grilling Method
There are two ways to grill an oyster in its own shell, over a hot flame. No matter which method you choose, oysters should be placed on the very hot grill grates flat shell up. Transfer the shells on and off the grill very gently using tongs.
The grill and shuck technique
To make grilled oysters, placed closed fresh oysters on the grats naked and wait a few minutes until they pop open. They won’t pop all the way open like clams or mussels do; instead, they’ll release their seal just a crack. Waiting for them to open any further will result in a chewy, overcooked oyster. Eaters should stand at the ready to pry off the flat top shells, finishing each grilled oyster with a dab of a simple, cold sauce seconds before the oysters slide down the hatch.
The shuck and grill method
The cook (or her minions) completely remove a live oyster’s flat top shell ahead of grilling and place an almond-sized piece of compound butter into the shell on top of the meaty bivalve. After a few minutes on the grill, the rich toppings melt around the oyster, mixing with its juice and effectively poaching the meat in a rich sauce.
Select Your Oysters
No matter which way you decide to run with your backyard oyster BBQ, oysters are selected for the job in the same fashion. Always look for large oysters with nicely cupped bottom shells that can cradle the meat, natural juices, and complementary toppings while sitting in between the grill grates or on the serving plate. All oysters should be kept cold and be able to breathe on their way to your home refrigerator, which typically means they should sit in an open-topped bag nestled in ice. If they open slightly on the ride home or during their time in the refrigerator, tap them gently on the counter. If the oyster closes quickly, it’s edible. If it remains open or is sluggish to close, don’t eat it.
Onto The Fun Stuff: Sauces
The sauces served with grilled then shucked oysters don’t typically need any heat applied in their preparation. On the simple side, a squeeze of lemon, an eye dropper full of peaty scotch, crisp, clean lager, or smoky beer, or a dab of cocktail sauce will do the trick.
A mignonette, typically served with raw oysters, is a lively addition to grilled oysters, too. A classic mignonette’s —typically involving a 1:1 ratio of minced shallot to champagne vinegar plus a good pinch of each sugar and salt—can take on any number of alternative personalities. Regardless of the combination, make the mignonette four hours in advance of when you want to serve it so the flavors get to mingle amongst themselves before meeting the oysters.
Mignonettes to try
The most classic style of mignonette sauce calls for champagne vinegar, minced shallots, a pinch of sugar, and a pinch of salt. But why stop there? Use apple cider vinegar in place of champagne vinegar and for extra sweetness, stir in maple syrup instead of sugar. For a gorgeous green spin, combine minced chives, minced celery leaves, white wine vinegar, sugar, and salt. Looking for a little bit of crunch for contrasting texture? We love the combination of finely diced cucumbers mixed with minced chives, chopped dill, white wine vinegar, sugar, and salt.
A relish is another way to top off shucked and grilled oysters. Whether processed via great knife skills, a mortar and pestle, or a mini food processor, relish combinations like minced kimchi and cilantro, Gochujang, and toasted sesame oil; horseradish, parsley, and cranberry; or pickled green tomato and sweet onion could be matched to the beer you’re drinking with your oysters. (Psst: Crisp, clean lagers go particularly well with this topper.)
Relishes to try
Grilled oysters topped with relish is a summer staple. For Korean-inspired flavor, mix kimchi, cilantro, Gochujang, and toasted sesame oil. Feeling spicy? Combine horseradish, minced parsley, and finely diced cranberries for a fiery combination. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it! For a super simple, two-ingredient sauce, mix together chopped pickled green tomato and minced sweet onion. Or mix finely diced sweet and hot peppers, minced red onion, lime juice and zest, honey for a sauce that balances sweet, spicy, and tangy elements.
If you’re willing to shuck the raw oysters first, you can try a compound butter. Your reward will be a decadent sauce that suits the supple oysters and, should some spill onto the plate, is best sopped up with crusty bread. Typically an almond-sized piece of butter nestled into the shucked oyster will stay contained inside the shell. Should a bit seep over the edges and spark a small flare-up, your oysters will take on an added smoky flavor. (Not a bad thing!)
Most of these sauces start with room temperature butter. Then, salty, sweet, and spicy elements are mixed in for balance. A classic New Orleans combination is butter, garlic, hot sauce, and parsley. For standard French flare, try a recipe for compound butter that’s used to top off snails, which calls for minced garlic, minced parsley, Pernod, and cayenne pepper. For an Asian combination try, Sriracha Lime Butter with shallots and cilantro. Butter whipped with maple syrup, bourbon, and chipotle in adobo evokes a BBQ flavor that pairs so well with smoky grilled oysters. Whip up any of these compound butter recipes well ahead of time for the best flavor, which will allow you to step out of the kitchen and onto the patio to share a cocktail with friends while the oysters cook.
Have you ever tried grilling oysters before? Which topping sounds most delicious to you? Let us know in the comments!