The most important etiquette rules on how to serve and eat oysters. Tips to be the ideal host or the perfect guest at the dining table.


What oysters etiquette is

Oysters etiquette is the set of rules to properly serve and eat oysters. Such rules help avoid behaviors that can disrespect your hosts or guests, or make you look unpolite.

If you are hosting, follow oysters etiquette to serve them to your guests appropriately.

If you are a guest, respect oysters etiquette rules to properly eat and enjoy them.

What you should know about oysters

Oysters are salt-water mollusks and shellfish. Many varieties exist.

Their flesh is succulent, beige in color, and with a delicate flavor. Inside the shell, other than the flesh, oysters contain their characteristic sea-flavored juice.

How To Serve And Eat Oysters: The Top 6 Etiquette rules

Etiquette rules to serve and eat oysters

1) How to store oysters

It is best to eat oysters right away. 

You can store unopened oysters in the fridge. They can last between 1 and 5 days. The ideal temperature is around 5°C (40°F), and no lower than 1°C (33°F). Store oysters in their shell. The large shell-side down. Cover them with a damp cloth. 

Oysters need to breathe. Do not soak oysters in freshwater. Do not place them in a sealed container, cover them in plastic, or store them in ice. 

You can store shucked oysters in the freezer. They could last for up to 3 months. Do not freeze oysters in their shells. 

You can store cooked oysters in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Do not freeze cooked oysters as the clams will spoil.

2) How to clean oysters

You do not need to wash oysters. You can rinse closed shells under running water.

Do not soak oysters in freshwater, as it will kill them.

3) How to prepare & cook oysters

First, make sure the oysters are fresh. The shells should be closed. When you find an open shell, tap on it. If it closes, the oyster is fresh. If it stays open, the oyster is dead and you must discard it.

Shucking oyster means opening their shell. Use a special oyster knife. It is recommended to use a pair of protective gloves. Follow these steps:

  1. Place the oyster on a cloth. The large shell-side down.
  2. Hold the oyster down with one hand. 
  3. Press the oyster knife into the hinge. Twist the knife. The upper shell should pop open.
  4. Cut the upper abductor muscle between the shell and the meat. Cut the bottom abductor muscle under the meat. 
  5. Remove the top shell and any shell fragments.

Leave the liquid in the shell. 

You can serve oysters raw or you can cook them. Bake, steam, fry, roast, or grill.

4) How to serve & present oysters

Oysters are usually served raw on a bed of ice. The shells should be open. The flesh of the oyster should be detached from the shell. It is best to serve half-shell, without the top shell. 

Alternatively, you can serve oysters on individual plates. An individual serving is usually 6 oysters per person. It is best to serve at least 3 oysters per person.

Accompany raw oysters with lemon wedges and Mignonette sauce, a condiment made with shallots, cracked black pepper, and vinegar. You can add bread and butter, and a hot sauce such as Tabasco.

5) Foods & wine to pair oysters with

Oysters have a distinctive, delicate yet bold flavor. It is best to serve oysters solo, without any food pairings.

Pair oysters with Champagne or white wine. Chardonnay wines such as Chablis, Muscadet, Pinot Grigio, Albariño, or Sauvignon Blanc. They can go well with rosé wine too. However, never pair oysters with red wine.

Alternatively, you can pair oysters with dark beer such as Guinness.

6) How to eat oysters

You can eat oysters from the shell. Pick the shell with your fingers and bring its widest side to your mouth. Gently slide the flesh and the juice of the oyster into your mouth. 

Alternatively, you can pick the flesh with a fork, then drink the juice directly from the shell. Sometimes a special small fork is served. 

You can eat the oyster with or without condiments. Squeeze the lemon juice with your hand, or pour the mignonette with a small spoon, over the oyster in the shell. 

Chew the oyster or swallow it whole. Both methods are acceptable and they are up to your preference. Place the empty shell back onto your plate or in a spare plate.

oysters etiquette mistakes

Oysters etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the worst oysters etiquette mistakes. 

  • 9/10. Serving spoiled oysters.
  • 7/10. Serving oysters without their juice.
  • 7/10. Eating oysters with your fingers.
  • 7/10. Pairing oysters with red wine.
  • 5/10. Pairing oysters with meat.

Additional information for properly serving oysters

How many calories per serving?

Counting calories is important to stay healthy and to correctly plan a menu.

Oysters contain about 199 calories per 100 grams. One oyster contains on average 30 calories. An individual serving is usually 6 oysters per person. Thus, it contains around 180 calories.

How to buy the best oysters

A crucial factor in oysters etiquette is to serve the best product possible to your guests.

Season and availability 

Oysters are available all year round. Their peak season depends on the region. However, the best months are usually between September and April. 

It is best to avoid oysters during the summer months. In summer, they spawn and their flesh is less firm.

Choose the best

There are two main types of oysters: native oysters and rock oysters.

Native oysters are usually smaller than rock oysters. However, they tend to have a more complex taste, with an almost metallic note. They are graded by their size, on a scale from 1 (large) to 5 (small). Native oysters are the most expensive.

Rock oysters are cheaper and more common in commerce. They are larger in size and have a simpler and sweeter taste.

Alternatives to oysters

Oysters have a very distinctive taste. Thus, there is no comparable alternative. However, you can substitute them with other clams, such as mussels or cockles.


Should you soak oysters? No, soaking in freshwater kills the oysters. 

Do you rinse oysters after shucking? No, as rinsing washes away the juice inside the shell. Try to remove any shell fragments with your fingers.

How do you serve oysters at a party? It is best to serve oysters open, half-shell, on a bed of ice. The flesh should be detached from the shell. 

What is the best drink to have with oysters? Champagne, white wine, or a dark beer. 

Can you pair red wine with oysters? No, you should not pair oysters with red wine. The tannin in red wine covers and spoils the flavor of the oyster.

Does rosé pair with oysters? Yes, you can pair rosé wine with raw oysters.

What are the best months to eat oysters? The best months for oysters are usually between late September and April. 

Can you eat oysters in summer? Yes, but the months between May and September are not the best ones for oysters.