How to host your own oyster roast
Shell Ring Oyster Company owner Andrew Carmines shares a few essentials and secrets.
Story By Becca Edwards
When it comes to hosting an oyster roast in the Lowcountry, Andrew Carmines says, “You know, Louisiana has crawfish. Maryland has blue crab. We have oysters. The one thing we have in common is that it all goes well with an ice-cold beer.” Carmines, who is the founder of Shell Ring Oyster Company and owner of Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks restaurant, grew up in Hilton Head. He learned reading, writing and arithmetic at Hilton Head Preparatory School. He learned to catch, throw and hit a ball at Barker Field. And he learned that when the air starts to become brisk here, “college football is on the TV, the oyster roasts start up, and that’s when I most love living in the Lowcountry.” To help you plan an oyster roast, Carmines provisioned the following checklist:
Digging in and dining on oysters is usually reserved for only the months with the letter “R” (i.e. September through April). That’s when these briny bivalves are best. “My favorite months are January and February. In the summertime, the oyster’s metabolism is high, its shell is growing and it’s filtering. Winter kicks in and the oyster’s metabolism slows down and its meat fills out, making it more interesting flavor-wise and less prone to shrinking when cooked.” Carmines then added, “Now, that’s not to say there’s not a valid excuse to have an oyster roast in the fall. A fall oyster roast is a great way to celebrate the cooler weather and the beginning of the holiday season.”
“You’ve got to have an oyster roast some place with a view on the marsh or on the water. We love [an oyster roast at] Honey Horn because the oak boughs touch the ground. Mid afternoon before the sun goes down is also ideal.”
“We do large roasts at the restaurant and it’s great, but for me 15 to 20 people is a good number because everyone gets a lot of hot oysters.”
Best place to get oysters
“It is tricky now. We had a few storms that affected [our waters]. The best retail market with local clusters is Bluffton Oyster Company. We sometimes do orders if people call in advance and give us time. And with a saltwater fishing license and a boat there are a number of recreation oyster grounds.” Note: Check out the website https://www.dnr.sc.gov/marine/shellfish/ for more information.
Number of bushels
“A good rule of thumb is one bushel, which is about 65 to 70 pounds of oysters, for every eight people. But you have to know your audience. I could eat a bushel by myself.” (Note: People tend to eat more earlier in the season because the oyster, once steamed, shrinks more.)
Oyster baking gear
You can build your own pit with bricks, sheet metal and burlap sacks, or you can purchase a prefabricated steamer from a company like Carolina Kettle or Sea Island Forge. Find how-to videos online. “Just make sure you do not use materials that are combustible.”
Pre-wash the oysters
“No one likes a muddy oyster. We always wash them pretty well even if you get them from a purveyor. Don’t soak them in fresh water, but use a hose and rinse them. It won’t hurt anything.”
Oyster shucking gear
“Your guests will want hand protection like garden gloves or bar towels for shucking. I’ve even seen eight inch circles of inner tubes. You need a good hot sauce, horseradish, and people don’t have time to fool with lemons so just add it to the cocktail sauce. I never had a use for crackers but people seem to like them, as well as thin slices of jalapeños.
There are a few variables that affect cooking time but you want to make sure most (doesn’t have to be all) of the oysters steam open. People new to oysters will go for the easy to open ones. Diehards like Carmines will get an oyster knife, put it at the hinge of the shell and pry open the harder ones because “I know it’s going to be the most flavorful.”
Save the date
Pick Pickin’ + Oyster Roast
When: 6-7 p.m., Feb. 25, 2022
Where: Coastal Discovery Museum
Details: Part of the 2022 Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival (Feb. 21-27, 2022). Tickets go on sale Oct. 1. hiltonheadseafoodfestival.com