Food & Drink

A Champion Oyster Shucker Spills Her Secrets

Isabella Macbeth’s go-to oyster knife, newbie tips, favorite Southern oysters, and more

Photo: Courtesy of Isabella MacBeth

“Oyster Shucking Queen” Isabella Macbeth (right).

For most people, shucking two oysters in under two minutes can be difficult—much less two dozen of them. But Isabella Macbeth is not most people. The Charleston, South Carolina, native popped open her first shell at age five and quickly fell in love. Today, she competes in oyster shucking competitions across the country, holding buckets of national titles—and a nickname, the “Oyster Shucking Queen,” thanks to her speed and agility. This October, Macbeth will take part once more in the U.S. National Oyster Shucking Competition in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, where she hopes to defend her women’s title by opening twenty-four bivalves as quickly as possible and get a shot to shuck on the world stage by representing the United States at the International Oyster Festival in Ireland. 

Before she heads to Maryland, we caught up with Macbeth at her shucking home base in Mount Pleasant, the French oyster bar NICO, to learn about her tips and tricks for perfect shucking, her favorite varieties of oysters, and her suggestions for newcomers to the delicacy.

photo: Courtesy of Isabella MacBeth
Macbeth in action.

What advice would you give a shucking newbie? 

A sturdy and comfortable platform to shuck on is essential. Your knife and your methods only go so far if you’re trying to shuck on a shaky surface. Select an oyster knife that feels good in your hand but doesn’t have too thick of a blade. My favorite oyster knife is made by Toadfish. Grip your knife with a firm but relaxed grip (think golf grip). Place the knife into the hinge [the pointed end of the shell] until it looks like a lollipop. Then, turn the oyster knife like a key to open a lock. Once the lock or hinge is open, push the adductor muscle off the bottom shell (don’t cut). By pushing the muscle (instead of cutting it), you have a better chance of removing the oyster fully intact and clean.

What are some of your favorite oyster-related products?

Toadfish outfitters is my favorite local coastal lifestyle brand. They have everything from amazing oyster knives to fishing gear. They also give back to water and oyster foundations that help clean the ecosystem. My ultimate dream oyster product is an oyster knife made entirely from one solid block of titanium. Alexander Bol designs these knives for Emergo Designs in the Netherlands, and they’re the ultimate shuckers dream.

What are your favorite types of oysters? 

Locally, my current go-to are the new Steamboat Creek oysters. Steamboat is once again showing us why South Carolina is so special. High brine, super clean, plump meat. They are the perfect complement to our other local farms—Lady’s Island and Lowcountry Oysters. South Carolina will shortly be on everyone’s minds when ordering farmed oysters.

photo: Courtesy of Isabella MacBeth
This fall, Macbeth will have the opportunity to defend her running championship title.

Which types do you recommend to guests who are new to oysters?

For a new oyster eater, my recommendation of a perfect dozen includes three Single Ladies from South Carolina, three Orchard Points from Maryland, three Island Creeks from Massachusetts, and three Glidden Points from Maine. This spread is a great one to help inform and inspire—new oyster eaters can see how the same species are changed by the water from which they come.