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Mar 15, 2010 01:10 AM

Oyster Knives

I know that Dexter Russel oyster knives are fish-house favorites, but does that also mean that they're the best oyster knife for the non-professional at home? Are there any other brands out there that might produce a better oyster knife?

And, if DR does indeed produce the best oyster knife, which one should I pick?

There's all these different DR oyster knives with specific geographic names like Boston, New Haven, Providence, and Galveston. Given those specific geographic names, I'm assuming those oyster knives work best for the oysters most popular in those regions. But, I'm in Southern California and there's no such Long Beach oyster knife.

And, there's also differences in blade length, ranging from 2 and 3/4 inches to 4 inches. Which one's the best size?

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  1. How often do you use an oyster knife? How skilled are you at the use of one?

    1. Don't own an oyster knife, but have used an old butter knife for years. Even a screwdriver works in a pinch.
      That DR oyster knife has probably become the standard because it's cheap like less than $5. I've seen oyster knives for $25-$30 and the only difference seems to be in the handle.
      Don't create more hype than necessary.

      4 Replies
      1. re: monku

        I have an OXO and it works fine. There's not much technology behind this thing - I would focus more on how the knife fits your technique than anything, if you shuck enough that you have a defined technique. If you shuck a few hundred oysters a week, a difference in point might mean something. I am sure you could find a Wusthof Oyster Knife out there, but I suspect anything well-made would work...

        1. re: grant.cook

          An oyster knife function like a pry tool as much as a cutting tool. So we do want a solid blade knife for such task. A thin paring knife won't do. A very hard brittle knife won't do. As you said, there is not much high technology in an oyster knife.

          1. re: grant.cook

            I've got an OXO (Good Grips) oyster knife myself, and I consider it absolute junk compared to Dexter-Russell or Forschner. I can live with it after it got heavily scratched (DR and Forschner use brushed steel that doesn't show scratches as quickly), but the New Haven style bent tip bent the first time I tried to open an oyster with it. The handle is fine, but the steel is substandard. Wusthof has an interesting one, but the handle doesn't seem to have any kind of slip-resistant grip. Dexter-Russell does have some wood-handled oyster knives, but I worry about the handle breaking, especially with the kind of force needed to open an oyster.

          2. re: monku

            I was wondering if DR knives were industry standard because of low price, but they're not that cheap. The ones I've seen retailed have been more in mid $15 range, with the bigger handles costing more.

            Although, I've also seen some oyster websites that offered oysters and a 'free' oyster knife, presumbably the DR, for pretty good prices when you consider what the DR costs so maybe they get a special industry rate.

          3. I've used a standard DR for several years. The longer ones are probably intended for people shucking Gulf oysters, which tend to be pretty big (for getting the muscle cut inside the shell after shucking.) I wouldn't make too much of the variety of names...More important is getting cut resistant gloves and use one of the oyster holders that Sur La Table sells...

            14 Replies
            1. re: penthouse pup

              Pup is right, longer blades are best for big Gulf oysters. For Pacific oysters a short, narrow blade is better. I don't know the model name but my DR oyster knife blade is 3" long and about 1/2" wide at the mid point of the blade. I've never seen a shucker in a restaurant use a curved blade, so I would avoid those. And you might want to sharpen the point a bit once you have the basic technique down.

              And now that you mention it, Dexter Russell should get away from their East Coast-centric mindset. There are oysters in other parts of the world and they deserve their own knives.

              1. re: Zeldog

                Yep. I have been a pretty good supporter for Dexter-Russell, but, man, I am really don't see myself as a East Coast Yankee. I only wish there is a good cutlery company in the west coast I can support. Heck, a southern cutlery company would be good too.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  Hog Island Oysters (north of SF somewhat near Point Reyes) put out a cookbook a few years back and they recommended DR knives, and mentioned the particular preferences of some of their employees as to which model they used..

                  1. re: grant.cook


                    I have been quiet impressed with some (though not all) of Dexter Russell knives. I agree. I think their oyster knife looks good. I have a few Dexter Russell knives with me. Unfortunately, their retail prices are high, but their restaurant/supply prices are very low -- about half the retail price.

                    I were half-joking when I said I wish there is a good West Coast cutlery company. Indeed, I really wish there is one, but it does not stop me from buying my knives from Dexter.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      If you ever get out near where 84 breaks off the Mass Pike, they have an outlet store attached to their factory. Not the greatest stuff - a lot of the seconds are there for a reason, but worth hitting if you are passing by in the times they are open..

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        I just wanted to reiterate that point in case somebody is thinking about buying a oyster knife- go to a restaurant supply store, assuming they'll let you in, to buy a DR oyster knife.

                        Sur La Table is having a sale on their DR oyster knives for about 40% off which is what pushed to start thinking about which one was the best to buy. But, I've seen the exact same DR oyster knife at a restaurant supply, not on sale, and it's still cheaper than buying one from Sur La Table.

                        1. re: hobbess


                          I absolutely agree. The Dexter-Russell knives have completely different price points at different places. At full price, they are just a bit cheaper than Wusthof and Henckels, but they are much cheaper at restaurant prices.

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            Depends on where you get 'em. Granted I have seen them listed for more than $30, but what sane person would buy one at that price?

                            If you look around, most restaurant supply stores have them in the $10-15 range.

                            The wood handle ones are supposed to be cheaper. I never actually saw one at Monterey Fish Market in Berkeley, but they had a price list on the wall that said they were about $8. I also can't figure out why some of the models are labeled as "RUSSELL" while one says "DEXTER".


                            Again - not sure about that wood handle. I'd worry about the twisting motion (primarily the wood loosening around the tiny rivet) and whether or not it might slip. Also - any reasonable oyster shucking environment will be wet and that handle doesn't appear to be coated.

                            1. re: y_p_w


                              Yep, those handles are not laminated. I own a couple of Dexter traditional knives, so I know these handles are not laminated/sealed. I have to personally seal them off on my own. Actually, there are a lot of sane people who would pay a lot for knives. Look, some time we just don't have time to do research and we grab whatever off the shelves, which is why some people pay full price for these knives. Best.

                              1. re: y_p_w

                                Restaurant supply stores I see them for $5 or $6.

                                1. re: monku

                                  The DR with sani-stuff handlesthat I've seen online at restaurant stores websites in my area(not all of them wil sell to those outside the restaurant industry) sell for about 10 to 11 dollars.

                    2. re: Zeldog


                      In the Sani-Safe (hygienic white handle) line they have 3 Boston (narrow straight), 1 Providence (wide straight), 1 New Haven (wide bent), and 1 Galveston (wide long and less pointy at the tip).

                      I also previously said I had an S122 which was incorrect; mine is an S134.

                      There frankly isn't that big a deal with the style of knife. I could open pretty much any reasonably-sized oyster with a 2-3/4" Providence pattern knife. However - the thinner ones tend to work better if you're going for speed like at an oyster bar. The DR 4 inch Boston pattern isn't what I'd recommend for opening large oysters. Having handled a few, those are meant for easy entry into the hinges of small oysters. Try that on a 6" oyster and there's a good chance the steel bends or snaps eventually. For a big oyster, you want something wide, thick, and strong so it won't break.

                      Wusthof has some interesting oyster knives. They've got two stubby blades with a hilt as well as a longer one. These things look like they're sharpened too, which worries me. I've actually had a knife slip when I didn't have a glove on (I tried using paper towels) and the only thing that saved me was that the knife wasn't sharpened. If it's sharpened, then a rubber glove isn't likely to offer much protection.


                    3. re: penthouse pup

                      I found out that Hog's Island Oysters up in San Francisco recommends a oyster knife with 4 inch blade, but they're serving small to medium sized oysters?

                      1. re: hobbess

                        Hog Island (they also hand them out at the oyster farm in Marshall for customer use at their picnic tables) uses the Dexter-Russell S122, which is a 4-inch long Boston pattern with a bulbed handle. From what I've heard, their oyster shuckers like to sharpen theirs so that they penetrate through the hinge faster; I personally prefer mine blunt. I've got a DR S122, which is a 3-inch long Boston pattern with an hourglass shaped handle. The other thing to do is wear a rubber glove on the holding hand. HI uses rubber coated cotton gloves, but I prefer a rubber-palm Atlas glove.


                        The kind of oyster can dictate the style of knife used. Really big oysters might need a shorter, stiffer knife. I've also got a Forschner 2-3/4" Providence pattern oyster knife. It works better for "side popping" larger oyster. I'd probably destroy my DR knife doing that since it's thinner and seems to be designed for smaller oysters.

                    4. I was on the fence deciding between a DR and a Forschner. They're almost identical except the DR had a white plastic handle and the Forschner was red. It was sort of curved up at the end. I think it cost about $12

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: chuckl

                        I think one of the differences between the diffferent geographical oyster knives is that some have a curved blade at the end whereas some don't. You'd think the curved blade would make it easier to open up the oysters. But, in that case, why wouldn't all the different oyster knives have them?

                        With regards to size, I'm assuming a smaller blade is to open a smaller oyster and a bigger blade is to open a bigger oyster. But, what if you want to open different sizes- which blade, the smaller or bigger blade, could handle that task?

                        1. re: hobbess

                          The oyster opens with the pry point at the top, the longer blade is to only cut under the belly of the oyster after opened, to release it from the shell.
                          Again depending on your experience and skill, not need to do any major damage in the $$ department. Most short sturdy blades and good feeling handles will take care of most everyone's lifetime need in a oyster knife. Heck They are wicked cheapo and plentiful to pick up in thrift stores.

                          1. re: hobbess

                            Growing up in Louisiana seems like everybody used knives with a blade about 4" long and 5/8" to 3/4" wide, but when I tried to use the same type knife on Pacific oysters and especially the tiny Kumamotos, I switched to a much smaller knife. As for which to use for both large and small oysters, I think a smaller knife would do a better job on a large oyster than a large knife on a small oyster. I forget the magazine, but a few years ago I read an article with lots of photos that showed how professional shuckers in some competition had modified their knives. Without exception they had small blades.

                        2. The DR knives are excellent. I use 4 inch knives...nothing shorter than 3 in. for sure...
                          If possible try to handle the knives at a supply house...

                          Luck, and Have Fun!

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Uncle Bob

                            Better yet, bring a few oysters and give the knives a test drive.

                            1. re: Zeldog

                              Does anybody use a oyster knife for any functions beyond oyster shucking? Alton Brown is adamant against buying uni-taskers, tools that can only be used for one function. But, on his tv show, I noticed he was using oyster knives to shuck oysters so I was wondering if that was the exception to the rule or if has found other purposes for it.

                              PS- Sur La Table has Dexter Russell oyster knives on clearance if anybody's interested.

                              1. re: hobbess

                                I think an oyster knife is pretty much a unitasker... but its designed for a singular purpose, and not that expensive, so I (and I suspect Alton as well) would give you an exception for this one..

                                1. re: hobbess

                                  I wouldn't like to run a house without my oyster knives. They double as screwdrivers in a pinch; I use them to clean the gunk from the corners of my cooktop; clear out a water spill feature on the pool; prying lids; opening packages -- the list is endless.
                                  I used to live on the Chesepeake Bay in MD but am landlocked in AZ currently. There's no great call for oyster knives here, so I guard these babies with my life.