How to Host an Oyster Roast for the 4th of July
New to roasting oysters? Learn from Matt and Ted Lee, brothers and co-authors of The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen, how to host a backyard roast. You can also check out Island Living NC and Southern Living on different strategies for roasting your own oysters outdoors.
Before you indulge in this southern tradition, make sure you are cooking your oysters properly and safely by reading up on these “Tips for a Healthy Oyster Roast” from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries. Store your oysters properly by keeping the oysters at or below 45 degrees to prevent bacterial growth and toss out any dead oysters. You can know your oysters are of the highest quality by using “Quality Counts: A Consumer’s Guide to Selecting North Carolina Seafood”, created by NC Sea Grant. Learn more about cultured north carolina shellfish from NC Sea Grant here.
While the oyster season usually runs until March, local NC oyster growers are working to serve up fresh oysters all year long! To get started on your next oyster roast, follow the directions and recipes below. Included are some sauces from local North Carolina oyster growers and farmers.
How to Roast Oysters:
The Lee Bros. Way
These instructions, adapted from “The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook,” by Matt and Ted Lee are designed to feed 6- 8 people.
4 cinder blocks
1 large sheet of steel, about 4 feet square
Lots of dry split wood, plus kindling
1 burlap bag or 2 old bath towels
A 5-gallon bucket filled with water
1 metal shovel
1 pair work gloves per person, or old kitchen towels (to protect hands while shucking)
1 oyster knife per person
1 bushel unshucked oysters or more depending on number of guests
Create a level, well-swept clearing on the ground and stand the cinder blocks upright so that they form the corners of a rectangle to support the metal sheet. Lay the metal over the cinder blocks and test it to make certain it is secure.
Remove the metal sheet and build a fire in the center of the cinder blocks. When the fire is roaring, place the metal squarely on the cinder blocks. Dunk the burlap bag in the pail of water.
When a handful of water tossed on the metal sizzles, place 2 to 3 shovels-full of oysters on it and blanket them with the soaked burlap. Let oysters steam for about 5 minutes or until some, but not all, have opened, then remove burlap and return it to the water bucket. Shovel oysters off the metal and onto a table for shucking.
When guests have nearly devoured the first batch, begin the second batch. When all the oysters have been steamed, you can douse the fire with any water left in the pail.
How to Serve
Serve the oysters with Pepper Vinegar, Red Rice and Sunday Collards (see recipes). Also consider setting out saltines, various types of hot sauce, and several rolls of paper towels.
Adapted from “The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook,” by Matt and Ted Lee (W.W. Norton, 2006).
1 cup white vinegar
2 Thai, Serrano or bird’s eye chiles, fresh or dried
Use a funnel to pour the vinegar in a cruet. Add chiles and use a chopstick or the handle of a wooden spoon to submerge them, if necessary. Cap the cruet and place it in the refrigerator. The vinegar will be well infused in 24 hours and will keep for months in the refrigerator.
Chipotle Bourbon Butter
This sauce recipe comes from Phil Lannan, a local NC oyster grower.
1/2 stick unsalted butter, 4 tablespoons, softened to room temp
2 tablespoons bourbon
2 tablespoons honey
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, minced
In a small food processor or mixing bowl, combine the butter, bourbon, honey, garlic, and chipotle. Stir or pulse until well-mixed. You can make the butter mixture up to 1 week in advance and refrigerate until ready to serve. If you're going to be cooking in the hot sun, make sure to chill the butter until solid before starting, about 1 hour.
Cocktail sauce is one of the more traditional sauces, but for good reason! The recipe is simple, but delicious.
1 tablespoon horseradish
¼ cup ketchup
Mix jarred or freshly grated horseradish with ketchup in a bowl. Chill if needed and serve.
Almost always eaten with oysters, mignonette sauce offers a bright flavor combination of vinegar, cracked pepper, and shallots to oysters. The recipe below is for a traditional mignonette sauce but you can find more variations from Southern Living.
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
⅛ to ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
Mix ingredients together with a whisk. Let sit at least 10 minutes before serving to give the sauce that faint red color that it’s known for.