How to Eat Oysters on the Half Shell

by Debra Rigas

Oysters on the half-shell are a common treat in many countries.

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You invited that pearl of a woman on a first date. You've selected an elegant restaurant and are only a little stunned when she orders an appetizer to share. It's a tray of raw oysters on the half shell, which the waiter assures you are very fresh. You've never tried them before but have heard tales about the slimy things. You try not to panic. Keep the conversation light-hearted as you order the rest of the dinner items. Then, when the tray of oysters nested in ice arrives at your table, bravely indulge in these delicious delicacies.

Smile when the platter of fresh oysters is placed on your table. They'll often be surrounded with sauces and lemon slices for you to use, so the presentation is pleasing to the eye. Graciously thank your waiter, and take a small sip of water to calm any apprehension.

Select your first oyster. If you're with another person, such as in the first date scenario, offer her the opportunity to select first. Choose the smallest one on the tray if possible. Hold it lightly between your thumb and first two fingers.

Squeeze a slice of lemon over the entire oyster. Add a small dollop of cocktail sauce or Tabasco, horseradish or any special sauce a chef might have prepared to accompany the dish.

Pry the oyster away from its shell carefully and without poking it. Use the small fork that is typically provided. Do this gently so you don't inadvertently cut into the oyster itself. Simply loosen it at the areas where it's still obviously secured to the shell. Do not react by shrieking if it should squirm. (Sometimes the lemon juice causes this to happen.)

Tip the narrowest end of the shell into your mouth. Alternatively, you can lift the oyster off with the fork and place it directly onto your tongue. Hold it a brief moment in your mouth as you savor the flavor of the oyster in the various juices. Chew it with one or two very soft bites or simply swallow it whole. Note that if you do bite into it, you might feel a little grit -- this is normal. You can remove the sand discreetly with a wipe of your napkin.


  • Although oysters may not appeal to you in their raw state, you can still try them in cooked forms. One of the best is a dish named Oysters Rockefeller, usually made with herbs and seasonings mixed into a bread crumb topping.

    Some cultures invite actual slurping when eating raw oysters. So don't be surprised if your elegantly dressed girlfriend makes a lot of noise when eating them, especially if she has European roots.

    Smothering the oyster completely misses the point, however it is how some people manage to avoid uncomfortable reactions. Do whatever feels right to you to maintain your dignity.

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About the Author

Debra J. Rigas, a professional writing coach, has been a writer and editor since 1975. She is the author of the nonfiction book "Everyone's A Guru" and has edited novels ("The Woman Pope") and worked in arts and sciences as a filmmaker, boat captain, landscaper, counselor, theater administrator and licensed midwife.