Lowcountry Oyster Roast

Okay, so this is not the procedure for an authentic oyster roast such as those I’ve attended all along the Carolina and Georgia coasts or for any number of social or political occasions. But unless you care to dig an outdoor pit or construct a cinder-block oven with a sheet-metal grid, purchase oysters by the bushel, and soak burlap bags in water to create steam over a live fire, my method of roasting oysters on an ordinary grill will have to suffice to give you some idea of what this glorious age-old coastal tradition is all about. And, actually, the procedure couldn’t be any less complicated, the idea being simply to let the oysters cook in smoky steam till the shells open. Gauge the number of oysters you buy according to what you think appetites will be, assuming that the average guest will consume at least a dozen oysters. If you have help steaming the oysters and are particularly adept with an oyster knife, you might choose to open and loosen the oysters yourself, saving guests the trouble. On the other hand, opening oysters is a ritual that can be lots of fun for all. Traditionally, bowls of coleslaw and hot rice and baskets of biscuits are served at most oyster roasts—along with, of course, tubs of ice-cold beer.

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Ingredients

  • Charcoal briquets
  • Wood chips, soaked in water
  • Live oysters in the shell, scrubbed under running water
  • Oyster knives
  • Work gloves
  • Small bowls of warm clarified butter
  • Small bowls of cocktail sauce
  • Seeded lemon wedges

Method

Cover the bottom of a large outdoor grill with charcoal briquets, ignite them, and let them burn till they turn gray, about 30 minutes. Toss a few handfuls of soaked wood chips over the charcoal, place a rack on the grill, and spread oysters over the rack. Close the grill’s lid and let the oysters steam just till the shells open (discard any that do not open), about 5 minutes. Pile the oysters in a bucket or on a large platter, serve hot with oyster knives and gloves, and place bowls of the three condiments on the table. Repeat the steaming procedure with as many oysters as are needed, tossing more chips on the fire to maintain the steam.