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Where to buy large BBQ oysters near Berkeley?

damian Mar 13, 2012 11:34 PM

I'm having trouble finding large (by large, I mean extra-large, i.e., humungous) oysters for barbecuing or grilling anywhere near Berkeley.

I've seen them at at least one farmers' market in the Bay Area: at the Hog Island stand at the SF Ferry Building. I'm not sure about the other farmers' markets. Does anyone know at which farmers' markets they can be found?

And, more importantly, are there *any* grocery or seafood stores nearby that sell them?

I've checked Berkeley Bowl, Monterey Fish Market, and Tokyo Fish Market, and none of them carry them regularly (though Tokyo said they could special order). Obviously, Tomales Bay Oyster Company and Hog Island Oyster Company sell them at their farms, but Point Reyes is a bit far too far to drive.

BONUS QUESTION: Anyone seen live scallops anywhere local? I could go for some of those too :)

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  1. hill food RE: damian Mar 13, 2012 11:47 PM

    hate to be a purist but unless you're smoking and slathering in sauce, yer looking for grilling oysters </picky rant>

    and in shell, right? the really big gloppy ones I think you seek (due to size terrible on the half shell, not good fried, but grill-roasted quite nice) often come from Washington State. call the fishmongers at the market locales you've tried and ask when they see them or if they can be ordered, since most customers don't want the big ones they don't move fast for regular walk-in retail and they don't get stocked unless asked (shucked-in-jars sure, but even CALA had that often and where was the fun in that?) hope I didn't sound too snippy about the BBQ semantic.

    20 Replies
    1. re: hill food
      damian RE: hill food Mar 13, 2012 11:55 PM

      Yes, technically you're right: I'm talking about grill-roasting, not BBQing (I've tried BBQing them proper, but I personally prefer 'em grilled). And this being Chowhound, it's okay to be picky about terminology :)

      Tokyo Fish Market said they could order them for me, but I have a feeling that'd cost me an arm and a leg, since it's special order.

      I'm hoping to find them already stocked somewhere, because I imagine that'd cost less than special order.

      But if they're not available retail and I'm not up for driving to Point Reyes, a farmers' market may be my best bet :/

      1. re: damian
        wolfe RE: damian Mar 14, 2012 06:04 AM

        I'm not an oyster person but I have noticed that Ranch 99 sometimes has largish oysters. Calalilly liked them.


        1. re: wolfe
          damian RE: wolfe Mar 14, 2012 12:16 PM

          Thanks! I think I'll head over to Ranch 99 today to take a look.

          1. re: damian
            kc72 RE: damian Mar 14, 2012 01:09 PM

            A month or two ago, I saw someone pick up a couple bags of oysters at Koreana market also, not sure of the size though

            1. re: kc72
              damian RE: kc72 Mar 14, 2012 01:11 PM

              Good thinking! I love Koreana. Perhaps I'll check them out.

        2. re: damian
          wally RE: damian Mar 14, 2012 06:49 AM

          Hog Island is also at the Berkeley Farmer's Markets, seen them on Thursday and Saturday, don't know about Tuesday.

          1. re: wally
            damian RE: wally Mar 14, 2012 12:17 PM

            According to Hog Island's website, the farmer's markets at which they're currently available are only Berkeley on Saturday and the Ferry Building on Saturday. Perhaps they were available in Berkeley on Thursdays in the past, but no longer, apparently.

            1. re: damian
              Robert Lauriston RE: damian Mar 14, 2012 12:22 PM

              The Web site contradicts itself, so best to call and ask:


              I think I might have seen them at the Tuesday market recently as well.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                damian RE: Robert Lauriston Mar 14, 2012 12:57 PM

                I just called. Hog Island said they no longer sell at the Farmer's Market on Thursdays or Tuesdays—only Saturdays in Berkeley and SF—and will update the website accordingly.

                They also don't grow large or extra-large, because they said it compromises the taste and one-bite convenience. They do grow mediums (3-3.5 inches) and recommend those for grilling.

                For those who might be interested, here are the prices at the Farmer's Markets:
                medium: $16 per dozen or $60 for 50
                small: $14 per dozen or $50 per 50
                x-small: $12 per dozen or 45 per 50

                To order more than a couple dozen, email george at hogislandoysters dot com by Thursday at 5.

                Do others agree that mediums are better than larges and extra-larges? Tomales Bay offers locally grown mediums and large ones from Washington, but not extra-large, according to their website (though you do have to drive to their farm in Point Reyes to get them; see http://tomalesbayoysters.com/app/stor... for details).

                My concern is getting the most bang for my buck without compromising taste too significantly. In the interest of affordability, I'd like to get the biggest oysters I can that taste good. I have no problem breaking out the fork and knife as long as the taste is good enough.

                1. re: damian
                  rubadubgdub RE: damian Mar 14, 2012 01:33 PM

                  When we have roasted the clustered ones, I think there have been large ones and they taste fine to me. I think the difference in taste is a lot more noticeable when you eat them raw. That said, you might consider your guests' prefs. If they're not the biggest oyster fans then the large ones can feel like too much of a good thing. Somehow eating bite-sized ones are more enjoyable, manageable for most than eating one big, gloppy one. Personally I enjoy being able to eat them in one go, without utensils. It's part of their charm.

                  1. re: rubadubgdub
                    damian RE: rubadubgdub Mar 14, 2012 01:50 PM

                    I agree. It's just that I like to fill my stomach, if possible, and I can't afford to do so on the little ones :)

                    1. re: damian
                      damian RE: damian Mar 14, 2012 08:23 PM

                      I just went to Ranch 99 and bought 2 dozen gigantic oysters (~8-12 inches long) for $15. I grilled 'em up and only about half of them opened after heating them for quite awhile (perhaps 20 minutes). The other half were closed but easily opened at that point with a shucker. Is that normal?

                      Should I have shucked them first?

                      I read elsewhere at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4553... that if they don't open, it means they're dead. Is that true?

                      It could be that I just didn't get the fire hot enough (I'm just learning the art of fire management).

                      By the way, they weren't very tasty. I guess you really do get what you pay for. Next time, I'm going back to the little guys.

                      1. re: damian
                        adrienne156 RE: damian Mar 14, 2012 08:47 PM

                        I've found that the fire does need to be very hot for the larger ones and flare ups are actually helpful in getting them to open. It still does take a bit of time though and 20 minutes doesn't surprise me. I find that the 5-6 inchers are the biggest you can go without sacrificing taste.

                        1. re: adrienne156
                          damian RE: adrienne156 Mar 14, 2012 09:44 PM

                          Very helpful. Thank you.

                          So what about the claim that oysters that don't open (assuming sufficient time and heat) are dead? Does that sound right to you?

                          I know that mussels that open only a millimeter when cooked are dead. Could it be that oysters (particularly large ones) are so much stronger than mussels that they won't open even a millimeter when dead?

                          1. re: damian
                            adrienne156 RE: damian Mar 14, 2012 10:14 PM

                            You're welcome.

                            I'm not an expert but I've grilled oysters at least a dozen times and yes - the general rule is that if they don't open, toss 'em. I've never had that many oysters not open, but there are always a few. Given where you got the oysters and not knowing how long they had been sitting out, I wouldn't have tried to help pry them open. If I can see that the juices are bubbling out from under the closed shell and it's been 15 minutes or so (for the medium ones), I won't risk it.

                            Drakes used to have a booth every other Saturday at the farmer's market in Pinole which are more affordable than Hog Island, although the taste of Hog Island's oysters are definitely superior, imho. You could give them a call.

                            1. re: adrienne156
                              damian RE: adrienne156 Mar 14, 2012 10:56 PM

                              Good idea re Drake's. I had some pretty good Drake's Bay oysters from Berkeley Bowl West recently for a dollar a piece. They were medium-small and worth eating again.

                              From the looks of their website, they're no longer available at any farmer's markets outside of Pt. Reyes, but in Berkeley, they're available at Whole Foods, Tokyo Fish Market, Berkeley Bowl, and Monterey Seafood.

        3. re: hill food
          Pius Avocado III RE: hill food Mar 14, 2012 04:57 PM

          Up and down the NorCal coast, oysters grilled and served on the half-shell with a ketchupy sauce including Tabasco, Worcestershire and the like, are referred to as "BBQ oysters."

          This is acceptable in much the same way that "Santa Maria BBQ" is- it is simply local custom and as such is nothing to apologize for.

          Sorry I can't help with a tip for gigantic oysters- even when I go for this prep, I prefer medium-sized oysters- but you could hardly suffer from a trip to Pt. Reyes and Hog Island & Tomales Bay as mentioned down-thread.

          1. re: Pius Avocado III
            hill food RE: Pius Avocado III Mar 14, 2012 06:16 PM

            oh I fully know the term which I first heard (and thought I must be confused) in Fruitvale in 1990, but after having grown up near the Mississippi river and later spent time around the KC area, referring to a simply grilled item as BBQ is like fingernails on a chalkboard (actually I'd prefer that) it's a knee-jerk visceral reaction. I apologized for being snippy about the terminology and I don't wish to derail the thread into a etymological debate about regional variations, yet certain words retain meaning.

            it's a perfectly valid and delicious way of preparing them. just... ok I'll shut up now.

            1. re: hill food
              Pius Avocado III RE: hill food Mar 14, 2012 06:43 PM

              Preaching to the choir to a certain extent my friend- I've been smoking briskets and pork butt 12-18hrs+ since I could afford an El Cheapo Brinkmann smoker (too long ago to 'fess up to) and I do recognize your reluctance to sound too snippy, but I simply feel that these two particular colloquialisms- Santa Maria BBQ and BBQ oysters- deserve a free pass, and even plaudits in the former case, on longstanding, local, traditional grounds.

              I brook no challenge on other abuses of the term- grilled burgers, bulgogi, etc etc.

              I'll shut up now too. Cheers!

              1. re: Pius Avocado III
                hill food RE: Pius Avocado III Mar 14, 2012 07:23 PM


        4. Robert Lauriston RE: damian Mar 14, 2012 08:29 AM

          "Barbecued oysters" around here means grilled, usually with a drop of Tabasco or BBQ sauce.

          Assuming they're in season, you could special-order giant oysters from Hog Island to pick up at their farmers market stand or Ferry Plaza shop.

          Restaurants can special-order live scallops though I've never seen them here. You could ask Monterey or Tokyo.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Robert Lauriston
            damian RE: Robert Lauriston Mar 14, 2012 12:18 PM

            Thanks, Robert.

            Yes, Tokyo said they could special order live scallops; I imagine Monterey could too.

          2. r
            rubadubgdub RE: damian Mar 14, 2012 10:13 AM

            I've seen large ones at Farmer Joe's in the Fruitvale district, but not sure if they qualify as "humongous". From Washington I think. If they're not large enough, do as Robert suggests and just contact HI to place an order and they will bring to farmer's market, saving you a trip to PR. I don't think they charge more for this since they are headed this way anyway (however, when I've bought them there, they always seem to toss in extras). I think 've seen live scallops at Monterey Fish, but they tend to bring what is best to their shop each day, so the selection changes.

            At past oyster cookouts, my pals have bought the clustered oysters from Tomales Bay Oyster Co I think bc they are cheaper and good for that purpose.

            4 Replies
            1. re: rubadubgdub
              damian RE: rubadubgdub Mar 14, 2012 12:22 PM

              When you're talking about Tomales Bay, you're talking about driving out to Point Reyes, yes? Extra-large Tomales Bay oysters aren't available elsewhere in the Bay, are they?

              As for Farmer Joe's, thanks for the tip. Can you give an estimate in inches as to what size oysters we're talking about here? Are the "large" ones to which you refer be conventionally categorized as "large," "extra-large," or "BBQ" oysters, or would they more accurately be described as "medium" and suitable for eating raw?

              1. re: damian
                rubadubgdub RE: damian Mar 14, 2012 12:30 PM

                4-5 inches? I wasn't paying close attention as my eyes were on another item. But I do recall thinking that they were inexpensive at .85/ea.

                Yes, Tomales Bay OC is another oyster farm out on Pt Reyes. For past cookouts we've had them on a beach at Pt Reyes, so we've been able to get them at the source. The clustered oysters I think you have to buy at the source. I don't know where they distribute in the BA, but I'm sure you can find out on their website.

                BTW, the Hog Island Manila clams are a revelation when grilled. You can put on a pie pan on the grill so the juices don't escape. It's now one of my favored cooking techniques for clams.

                1. re: rubadubgdub
                  damian RE: rubadubgdub Mar 14, 2012 01:04 PM

                  I just called Farmer Joe's on Fruitvale. They said they have only one kind of live oyster, from Washington (the butcher didn't know what variety they were), for 89 cents each. He said they're average size, about 3.5 inches, more suitable for eating raw then grilling.

              2. re: rubadubgdub
                Robert Lauriston RE: rubadubgdub Mar 14, 2012 12:23 PM

                The clustered are fun for grilling. The huge ones (4-6" long and 2-3" wide) are to my taste only good grilled or maybe cut up for chowder.

              3. letsindulge RE: damian Mar 14, 2012 05:12 PM

                Restaurant Depot has live oysters. The closest location to you is in Oakland. They're sold by-the-pound, and the price fluctuates. It's members only but maybe you know someone.

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