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The Best Time to Shop for Oysters

By Cook's Illustrated Published March 2010

Is it true that you should only eat oysters in months that have the letter "R" in them, or is that just an old wives' tale?

The “R” rule may have been true 30 or 40 years ago, but thanks to advancements in aquaculture and refrigeration, it has fallen by the wayside. In days gone by, fishermen dug for oysters only in the colder, “R” months (September through April) to avoid spawning. Warm waters (above 60 degrees) encourage spawning, rendering oysters milky, bland, soft-textured, and small. Once the spawning season is complete, oysters are generally more plump and better-tasting, thus commanding a higher price tag.

Today, oysters are more likely to be farmed than found, with farmers having more control over the conditions in which bivalves are grown, harvested, and stored. This means that oyster cultivators can “plant” oysters in cold waters, thereby staggering spawning and keeping their product available year-round.

So forget the “R” rule—any time is fine for eating oysters. When purchasing from a fishmonger or restaurant, always make sure the oysters are stored directly on ice.