A visit to South Carolina's Lowcountry isn't complete without taking part in a full-fledged oyster roast. Hosted during oyster season, most oyster roasts are large affairs where oysters are steamed to perfection while live music serenades you as you sit under the palmetto palms. While you can host your own oyster roast at home, many people like to attend oyster roasts hosted by various restaurants, breweries, and chefs.
Recently I was given the chance to attend the Pig Pickin' + Oyster Roast as part of the Hilton Head Seafood Festival line-up, and let me tell you, it was one of the main highlights of my trip.
After a long and traffic-filled drive, we arrived at the Waddell Mariculture Center with hungry tummies. A cold beer in hand, we were immediately handed a bucket of steaming oysters along with an oyster knife and a glove. Picnic tables were lined across the grass, each packed with hungry South Carolinians shucking roasted oysters, sipping beer, and chatting with one another.
We found a wooden table topped with bowls of saltine crackers, lemon wedges, and bottles of horseradish, cocktail sauce, and hot sauce, and dropped our bucket in the middle of the table. On Hilton Head, and throughout the Lowcountry, it is popular to serve clusters of small oysters instead of individual oysters one might find when ordering on the half-shell. Not only were these easier to open, but they also added a fun just-picked-these-from-the-sea element.
I can't tell you how many oysters I ate that night, but I can tell you our group went through four buckets happily. Once finished, we placed our oyster shells in special bins to be recycled into new oyster reefs.
How to Make an Oyster Roast at Home
At the Waddell Mariculture Center, all of the oysters were cooked in an industrial-size steamer, however, it's easy to roast your own oysters at home with a grill, some sheet metal, a burlap sack, and a bushel of fresh oysters.
To start, source your oysters. Plan on about a dozen oysters per person. A bushel of oysters will usually serve 8-10 people, so make sure you have enough oysters for everyone.
Once you have your seafood, preheat your grill on high and top with a baking sheet or a piece of sheet metal. When you add a drop of water to the metal it should immediately sizzle.
Add your oysters and cover with a damp piece of burlap. If the wet burlap starts to dry, add ice to the top of the fabric to add more moisture. After 8-10 minutes the oyster shells should have opened slightly, meaning you are ready to dig in! Serve with cocktail sauce and hot sauce and you've got yourself a mighty fine oyster roast.