The Story of the Shuck; A Brief History of Oyster Shuckers


People have been opening oysters as long as we’ve been eating them. At some point, we were bashing them open with rocks, or heating them with fire. As we’ve evolved, so have our oyster shuckers.

PHOTO: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN HISTORY

PHOTO: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN HISTORY

The oyster revolution of the Chesapeake- fleets of boats full of teams of men would hit the shore with their precious cargo, and their shanks. The first oyster knives on the Chesapeake were produced in Crisfield, Maryland and dated back to the early 1900s. They were originally made of iron rods, with one tapered side and one blunt side.

 Oystermen used the blunt end to bust apart groups of shells, called cracking. The tapered end was used to pry open individual shells. These early teams would work in groups to open all the oysters, dumping the meats into metal buckets for sale.

As technology has overtaken our lives, one thing has remained the same, there’s no substitute for hand shucked oysters. While some facilities have built shucking lines, they’re still manned by individual shuckers, opening the shells by hand.

 The styles of oyster knives have changed shaped regionally to reflect the area’s specific oyster. Knives made in oyster heave regions often take their name from their place of origin. The Damariscotta, New Haven, Seattle, Charleston, Boston, the list goes on. 

Photo: Join Or Die Knives

One of the oldest types of knives is the stabber, from the Chesapeake, which has a straight, sharp and thin blade. The handle is made of either plastic or wood and is shaped like a bulb for optimal ergonomics. The thin and sharp blade allows the shucker to enter the bivalve from the lips rather than the hinge. This style is truly unique to the Chesapeake region.    

A DeGlon knife takes a similar form, with a short, strong and straight blade and a blunted end. However, a New Haven knife, hailing from New England often has a wider blade and bent tip. Coldwater oysters tend to be a bit older than Chesapeake oysters and have tighter hinges. The curved tip gives added leverage when opening.

No matter what type of knife you use, oyster shucking is a skill that develops with practice over time. There’s no better way to learn than practice! Shop oysters and knives in our store now.