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Oyster Knives

Published May 2012

How we tested

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), all priced less than $20. 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.



Boston: Thin, straight, stabber-style blade.

French: Short, sharp blade.

New Haven: Shorter blade that tapers to a point and bends up slightly at the end.

Providence: Straight blade; medium width and length.

The Results


Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.


Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.


Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.


Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.


Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.


Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.