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May/June 2012

Oyster Knives

The right one can make a difficult task a lot easier.

How We Tested

You could wait for a night out to enjoy the briny pleasure of a fresh, raw oyster, but with the right tool and some practice you can shuck oysters at home for a fraction of restaurant prices. Regular knives are unsuitable for opening oysters because they’re too sharp and flexible; the thick, dull blades of oyster knives function as levers to pry shells apart without cutting into them. To find the best all-purpose oyster knife—one that would be compact enough to handle small oysters yet sturdy enough to tackle large ones—we ordered dozens of oysters in a wide range of sizes and enlisted a battalion of testers, from newbies who’d never attempted the task to expert shuckers like Jeremy Sewall, owner of and executive chef at Boston’s Island Creek Oyster Bar.

Our testers tried out six different knives in four different styles (named for their region of origin), all priced less than $20. All managed to open oysters, but some did so with far less struggling. Handle design was important, since it takes a certain amount of pressure to shuck an oyster. Some handles felt clumsy and were too thick, slippery, or short to hold firmly. The best handles fit comfortably in our palms and had a nonslip surface that didn’t send our hands sliding toward the blade. One thicker blade with beveled edges proved too clumsy to open oysters with speed or dexterity. A deft little French-style knife with a pointed blade impressed testers; we recommend it only for more experienced shuckers because of its sharp tip. But all testers gave top marks to a New Haven–style knife that had a flat blade with a slight upward bend at the tip. This bend gives excellent leverage when popping the hinge and can slip under the meat, curving along the inside of the shell to neatly sever the muscle and detach the oyster meat. Our winner is light and comfortable and has a simple design that enabled even first timers to efficiently open everything from chestnut-size Kumamotos to 4-inchers from Martha’s Vineyard.

Methodology

STYLES THAT WE TESTED:
Boston: Thin, straight, stabber-style blade.
French: Short, sharp blade.
New Haven: Shorter blade that tapers to a point and bends up slightly at the end.
Providence: Straight blade; medium width and length.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

$33.31*

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.