Published May 1, 2012. From Cook's Illustrated.
The right one can make a difficult task a lot easier.
You could wait for a night out to enjoy the briny pleasure of a fresh, raw oyster, but with the right tool and some practice you can shuck oysters at home for a fraction of restaurant prices. Regular knives are unsuitable for opening oysters because they’re too sharp and flexible; the thick, dull blades of oyster knives function as levers to pry shells apart without cutting into them. To find the best all-purpose oyster knife—one that would be compact enough to handle small oysters yet sturdy enough to tackle large ones—we ordered dozens of oysters in a wide range of sizes and enlisted a battalion of testers, from newbies who’d never attempted the task to expert shuckers like Jeremy Sewall, owner of and executive chef at Boston’s Island Creek Oyster Bar.
Our testers tried out six different knives in four different styles (named for their region of origin), priced from $7.99 to $16.80. All managed to open oysters, but some did so with far less struggling. Handle design was important, since it takes a certain amount of pressure to shuck an oyster. Some handles felt clumsy and were too thick, slippery, or short to hold firmly. The best handles fit comfortably in our palms and had a nonslip surface that didn’t send our hands sliding toward the blade. One thicker blade with beveled edges proved too clumsy to open oysters with speed or dexterity. A deft little French-style knife with a pointed blade impressed testers; we recommend it only for more experienced shuckers because of its sharp tip. But all testers gave top marks to a New Haven–style knife that had a flat blade with a slight upward bend at the tip. This bend gives excellent leverage when popping the hinge and can slip under the meat, curving along the inside of the shell to neatly sever the muscle and detach the oyster meat. Our winner is light and comfortable and has a simple design that enabled even first timers to efficiently open everything from chestnut-size Kumamotos to 4-inchers from Martha’s Vineyard.