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Nothing beats tucking into a fresh plate of oysters when you're eating out. This is the only time most of us treat ourselves to oysters.
But why settle for only sampling delicious oysters when you're visiting the coast? When it is so easy to get great oysters delivered to your door.
We understand that many people are nervous about ordering oysters online. The general belief is that oysters are best bought in person when you can check over each individual oyster yourself.
That involves drying out to an oyster farm and spending hours picking through buckets of seawater. Only to drive the oysters home and leave your car smelling like seafood for weeks.
Why go through all that effort when you can buy online and have oyster experts do all the work for you.
Pros and cons of buying oysters online
If we haven't convinced you yet that buying oysters online is the best option for you (unless you live on or next to an oyster farm), here is a breakdown of reasons why you should and shouldn't buy oysters online.
#1 -You can get the best oysters from all over the country without having to leave your home
For many of us, popping out to an oyster farm to pick up some seafood for our dinner party just isn't an option.
It may be that we live in a landlocked state that is over 12 hours drive away from the coast.
Yes, you could go pick up a set of green looking frozen oysters from your local grocery store - or you could order top of the range Kumamoto to your dining room.
Speaking of Kumamoto oysters, they may be your oyster of choice despite the fact that you live on the East Coast.
Do you wait for your annual trip to the West Coast to enjoy them? Or do you make the most of what the interest can do and order them online?
#2 - You don't have to worry about keeping your oysters alive during transport
Oysters are notoriously temperamental and easy to kill. This is one of the reasons why most people only eat them at restaurants.
One of the major downsides of buying oysters from a farm yourself is that you have to get them back to your house alive. Oysters need to be kept on ice. Resting in melted ice (freshwater) can kill them.
Unless you have a refrigerated van to drive your purchase home in, you will have a much easier time if you have them shipped to you.
#3 - Experts are picking out the oysters for you
We know a lot of people that enjoy oysters, but don't know the first thing about them. This really shows when they head out to farms to pick out their own crop.
They don't know how to pick out alive and healthy oysters. They don't know what markings are good and what are signs of disease. It's all too easy for them to waste their money on bad oysters.
We don't judge anyone for this. Not everyone has time to learn that much about oysters. So, when it comes to picking out your oysters - why not leave it to the experts you're ordering from.
Right now, you're probably thinking, 'wow, buying oysters online sounds like a win-win situation to me'. And you're right. However, there are a few cons of buying oysters online that we should point out:
- You won't get to see your oysters before you buy them
- You can't send any dead oysters back quickly if they perish in transit (this is very rare)
- Ordering oysters online is less environmentally friendly than buying them in person
- You don't get the joy of visiting an oyster farm
- You can't pick out your own oysters
A guide to different types of oysters
When you are buying oysters online, the first thing you need to think about is what types of oysters you want to buy.
If you're not an oyster expert then it may be hard to understand the differences between each type of oyster. But don't worry, below we have broken down everything you need to know about the 4 most popular types of oysters in the US.
There are two distinct Oyster growing areas in the US - the East Coast and the West Coast.
Thanks to its vastly different range of climates, the West Coast offers at least 3 vastly different types of oysters. Whereas the East coast offers differing takes on the same type.
The three most popular types of oysters grown on the West Coast are Pacific, Olympian, and Kumamoto oysters.
Most commonly grown on the North West coast, Pacific oysters are one of the many Japanese breeds of oysters grown in the US.
They tend to have a sweet and buttery base, topped with either fruity or vegetal notes. The top notes of these oysters will vary from farm to farm.
Pacific oysters are bigger than most of the other oysters grown on this coast, so they are great value for money. Although they are notorious for their size irregularities. Their shells have deep ridges and sharp edges.
Olympian oysters were nearly farmed to extinction during the San Francisco gold rush. They are now farmed pretty much exclusively in the North West.
They are very small compared to Pacific oysters (and most of the other oysters grown on this coast). They rarely grow to be bigger than a quarter.
These oysters are very shallow, but that doesn't mean that they lack flavor. In fact, if you're in the market for oysters with a rich, coppery flavor profile - then Olympian oysters are an essential pick.
Their shells often come with streaks of purple running through them. Another unique feature of the Olympian oyster is that their flesh is very pale.
Some of the oysters look almost snow white, while others come in shades of olive. If one arrives looking green then there is probably nothing to worry about.
As you can probably tell by the name, these oysters are native to Japan and were introduced to Americans in the early 20th century.
These oysters are incredibly popular with tourists on the West coast as they are shaped like mini bowls - sweet and cute, everything tourists love. However, oysters in this shape always go down well at a dinner party too.
These oysters are quite fat and chewy. Their shells are small but deep. So you still get a decent amount of flesh out of them.
The oysters have a sweet base flavor. Top notes vary from farm to farm but usually fall into two categories - nutty or oceanic.
These oysters pack enough punch to be served on their own, but they also work really well when roasted on an open fire or as Oysters Rockefeller.
Things are a little bit different on the East Coast. They traditionally don't grow many distinct types of oysters. You will find small farms that grow species like Bluepoints and Wellfleets - but nothing on an industrial scale.
Instead, most East Coast oysters can be categorized by their salty and metallic notes. While this is not an exact science, the general rule of thumb for East Coast oysters is that the further south they are grown the milder they are. And the closer to Canada you get, the more intense their flavor profile.
East Coast oysters make up 85% of the oysters eaten every year in the USA.
Where to buy oysters online
While the act of buying oysters online is very simple - you just have to click add to cart a few times and then type in your address.
To make sure that you are getting the best oysters possible, without getting ripped off or wasting your money, you need to do some research before buying.
You don't need to do a full scale investigation into each farm you are looking to buy from. However, there is something you should know about the farms you're buying from and in general about buying oysters online.
In this section, you will find a guide to discovering everything you need to know before you buy oysters online.
Is it safe to buy oysters all year round?
You may have heard the age old saying - only eat oysters in months with R in them!
This phrase implies that oysters should be avoiding oysters for the majority of the summer (May, June, July, August). Put tucking into these shelled delights from September through to April.
This has never really made sense to us. What is summer without a beautiful plate of oysters enjoyed by the beach?!
The good news is, that like many old sayings, the one above is not founded in much truth.
The saying originated from a time where oyster farms were shut between May and August to allow the oysters to spawn and keep their numbers up. When the water turned warmer they would start to breed.
However, things have changed.
Firstly, most oysters are now grown in cold water areas (like the Pacific Northwest), meaning that oysters are no longer seasonal and can be enjoyed all year round.
Secondly, we now grow a much larger variety of oysters in the US, some of which don't spawn over the summer.
This has been done so that oyster farmers can turn a profit all year round. This has also been done to meet the demand for oysters during the whole year.
Finally, oyster farming is a professional industry full of safeguarding and sustainable practices.
Where farms used to have to close over the summer months to keep numbers up, farmers now selectively breed throughout the whole year to keep their populations stable.
Can oysters be farmed sustainability? How can I tell if a farm is using sustainable methods?
In the world of seafood, sustainability has two very distinct meanings:
- Sustaining fish populations
- Being environmentally friendly
A fact that you may not know about oysters is that they are great for the environment. As well as being delicious, oysters have another talent - filtering vast amounts of water.
They are actually able to remove CO2 and Nitrogen from the environment around them. Making most oyster farms carbon neutral.
They are so good at this that many countries have started to reintroduce oysters to their coastlines to improve marine wildlife and water quality.
When it comes to keeping oyster populations stable, there is more good news for oysters.
Smart farming techniques like moving the majority of the country's oyster farms to cold water and introducing oysters with less traditional breeding schedules - meaning that oysters can be enjoyed all year without decimating population numbers. Which has happened previously.
Oyster farms are very space efficient, meaning that many can be grown in one place. Allowing for greater daily harvest numbers without too much environmental damage and population damage.
If you're looking to buy sustainably farmed oysters then you should buy from farms. These populations are bred specifically for eating. They are not wild oysters that are being stripped from their natural environment.
If you have any environmental concerns about ordering oysters online, you should know that oyster farming is incredibly beneficial for the environment.
By buying online you are supporting this near carbon neutral industry that continues to filter our oceans.
The NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION have a boatload of great sustainability resources if you want to look more deeply into the topic. So does the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association.
Should I research the farm before buying from them?
To find the answer to this question you should ask yourself: would I do any research on a farm that I was buying from in person?
Hopefully, your answer was yes, if not, you're asking for trouble.
We recommend that you always do research into farms when buying oysters from them. Make sure that they have good reviews, good sustainability ratings, and that they sell the type of oysters that you want.
Here are some resources we use to research farms:
- For East coast farms
- For West Coast farms
- Reviews in local newspapers
- Reviews from oyster experts
- And oyster reviewing sites like ours
If you are looking for specific breeds of oysters then you will have to do more research than most.
You will need to look at the areas where they are grown, look at farm reviews, reviews of the oysters themselves, and look at the prices of having these oysters delivered.
If you are looking for oysters with a particular flavor profile then you may have to ring the farm and talk through what you are looking for with them. If they do not stock what you are looking for, it is very likely that they will know someone who does.
When looking into the quality of the farm you are trying to order for, we recommend that you inquire about what associations they are members of.
This is a good way to distinguish between serious farms and those who are looking to rip you off. Any oyster farm that has national shipping capabilities should realistically be part of one of these organizations.
How much should oysters cost online?
This is a hard question to answer without knowing what breed of oyster you are ordering and the reputation of the farm you are ordering from.
However, we can give you some ballpark estimates:
The average East Coast oyster should cost between $1-$2 per oyster. Therefore if you are ordering 25 oysters you should not be expecting to pay over $50.
When it comes to West coast oysters things get a little more complicated. If you are purchasing a rare type of oyster then you should expect to be paying between $5-15 per oyster.
However, if you are looking to buy something more readily available then you should expect to pay $1.50-$3 per oyster.
The downside of buying oysters online is that you cannot haggle prices, they are set. However, many farms will do bulk discounts if you are ordering a large number of oysters. You may even be able to call the farm and set up a special deal.
These prices do not include shipping costs.
How does oyster delivery work?
Now let's talk about what you should expect after you have placed your order for oysters online.
The speed at which your oysters are delivered is very important. However, if they stay 2 business days it does mean that your oysters have been sitting around for 2 days. It most likely means that they weren't able to fulfill your order straight away.
You should expect your oysters to spend no longer than a day in transport. Any longer than they and they might start to perish on the road.
You should expect your oysters to be dropped off by a refrigerated van or truck. The box itself should have some kind of heat proof lining inside.
You should expect your oysters to be wrapped in ice packs. If the ice has melted during the journey then you should get in contact with the farm you bought from.
If the oysters have gotten too warm during their journey then they may have died. A dead oyster will not close its shell, even when you push it together with your hands. If this has happened you should take photo evidence of it so you can show the farm.
Remember to open your delivery as soon as it arrives, you don't want it sitting around and getting warm.
Shipping prices for oysters will vastly vary depending on the company and farm you are ordering from.
These prices can range anywhere from $10-60. Some companies offer free shipping on all shellfish (but will often have high minimum order numbers or will include part of the shipping costs in the price of the oyster), while others will offer free shipping if you spend over a certain amount.
You should look into the price of shipping before you commit to ordering from a company.
To do this you can check the shipping information page on the farm's website. Most farms will have their shipping costs on the individual product pages as well.
Where to buy shucked oysters online?
When it comes to buying shucked oysters online, you may need to take a slightly different approach.
Most farms don't sell their oysters shucked, so you will need to look into purchasing from a larger shellfish provider or a more general fishmonger.
It is generally considered that pre-shucked oysters are of a lower quality than traditional oysters. This is not always the case.
While you are less likely to find supplies of pre-shucked rare breed oysters, if you are buying your oysters from a reputable source then they will be good quality.
They are more likely to be older oysters. But they are stored in brine that will preserve them, so they will last for much longer.
If you are looking to cook with oysters multiple times in quick succession then you may want to consider purchasing pre-shucked oysters.
The main difference between pre-shucked oysters and traditional oysters is that there will be some flavor differences.
After they are shucked, most pre-shucked oysters are stored in a brine to help preserve them on their journey.
Because they can be stored in this brine for much longer than shelled oysters can be stored, pre-shucked oysters will often absorb some of the brine's flavor profile. You may also notice a change in texture.
Things to look out for when buying shucked oysters
Buying pre-shucked oysters online can be a great idea, as you don't have to worry about carrying around the large buckets. You also get to be selective about exactly which oysters you want.
Here are some red flags to look out for when buying pre-shucked oysters online:
- There is no freshness guarantee
- The website does not state what breed of oysters they have used
- They are selling them insides bigger than 1.5 gallons
- They seem far too cheap
Top 5 oyster farms and supplier in the USA (that ship nationally)
If you're looking for somewhere to start ordering your oysters online, here are some of our favorite locations.
Based out of San Diego's biggest fish market, this online store offers a whole range of sushi grade shellfish, including its famous oysters. This is a great one stop shop for all things shellfish.
For the sushi grade ingredients, you will, unfortunately, have to pay a sushi grade price. It is also important to remember that they only sell what has been brought in so they might not have consistent stock.
The Crab Place - Best oysters on a budget
Despite being famous for their stock of crabs, The Crab Place is also one of the best suppliers of Oysters out there.
They offer both shucked oysters and oysters in the shell - sourced from the best farms across the country.
If you are new to oysters or aren't looking to spend a fortune on them, then you can't go wrong with what The Crab Place has to offer.
Real Cult Oysters
Real Cult Oysters is an oyster supplier that has made its name making oysters hip and cool again.
They have a range of oyster-based offerings that include stock from famous oyster farms in large batches, a monthly oyster subscription, and an oyster bar in a box.
You can even get your hands on crab, caviar, and exclusive oyster toppings and sauces.
Everything comes beautifully packaged and presented in a chic, minimalist fashion. It's not your grandma's box of oysters.
Glidden Point Oysters
Glidden Point sources its oysters from only Coastal Harvesting (their own list of standards) approved oyster farms in Maine. They are one of the best sources for oysters on the East Coast.
They offer all the classic East Coast breeds including Abigail Pearl Oysters and John River Oysters.
If you have ever wanted to sample the best of what the East Coast has to offer - these are your guys.
Jakolof Bay Oysters
This farm sells slow-grown, cold water oysters. Each of their oysters on your plate will be at least three years old.
They are a family company that not only takes an interest in growing the best Alaskan oysters but in caring for their beautiful state.
What to do when your oysters arrive
The final stage of buying oysters online is keeping them alive once you get them home. Below you will find a beginner's guide to caring for your oysters.
Check them over
When your box is delivered you should open it straight away. You will want to check on the state of the oysters as soon as you can.
While it is very far for oyster delivery companies to not take proper precautions, sometimes accidents do happen. So it is best to make sure they have arrived alive.
What do healthy oysters look like?
A healthy oyster will either be closed or will snap closed when squeezed.
If the oyster is open and won't stay closed when you push the shell back together then it has died. You also want to avoid oysters that smell wrong and any that won't open easily when you use a knife.
Store them correctly (to keep them alive)
Resting in fresh or warm water can kill oysters. Your oysters will come wrapped in an ice pack and you want to transfer them to a cold bowl as soon as you can. If the ice packs melt around them then they may perish.
Dip a towel in ice water and lay it over the top of the bowl you moved the oysters into. You can then store these oysters in the fridge.
What you should not do is store them on ice anywhere where it is too warm to maintain the ice. As we mentioned above, if the ice melts and the oysters are left resting in the lukewarm water they will die.
You do not want to store your oysters for more than 48 hours before serving them. You will want to leave the shucking until as late as possible. This will get the best taste out of your oysters and prevent anyone from getting ill.
How to clean oysters
Cleaning oysters is a pretty simple process, but it is an essential one if you want to serve them in their shells. If you want to serve them out of their shells then you may want to consider buying pre-shucked oysters.
To clean your oysters you will need a bucket of cold water mixed with ice and a brush. Toothbrushes are perfect for this task.
You will want to take each oyster in your hand and dip it into the water before beginning to scrub. You will want to continue to brush each oyster until dirty water stops running off it.
If your oysters arrive dirty, this is a good sign that they are fresh.
How to shuck oysters
To shuck oysters safely you will need two things: a set of gloves and a shucking knife.
Shucking knives are thicker and shorter than traditional blades. This prevents them from snapping when they are being maneuvered around the oyster.
You will want to shuck your oysters one at a time. Take the oyster firmly in your hand and find the seam. This is a hinge-like connection made of something similar to our muscle fibers.
Insert the knife here and break it apart. Then slide the knife around the rest of the shell's join.
After this, you should be able to lift the top half of the shell off. When doing this be careful not to spill any of the liquid inside the oyster.
You will then need to find the joint between the oyster flesh and the shell. Again use your knife to break this apart. The oyster should now be loose and resting in the bottom half of the shell.