Made in the South Awards

2014 Outdoors Category: Overall Winner

When Oliver Thames couldn’t find the perfect cooker for his Lowcountry-style oyster roasts, he decided to build his own

Photo: Jennifer Causey

Overall Winner (Outdoors)

Bulls Bay OYRO
Product: Wood-fired oyster cooker
Made in: McClellanville, SC
Est. 2013

There is nothing in this world wrong with a propane-pot-steamed oyster. But a roasted oyster, cooked over a wood fire and coals and basting in its own juices while it takes on the flavors of oak or hickory—well, there is everything just exactly right with that. The same can be said for this eye-catching, game-changing cooker. Hardware store owner turned oyster guru Oliver Thames drew on three hundred years of Lowcountry family history to bring the Southern oyster roast into the modern era. “I wanted something a bit more glamorous than four cinder blocks and a sheet of steel,” he says, laughing. “But I didn’t want to give up on that open wood fire. There’s just too much tradition in this part of the world to throw an oyster roast any other way.”

Photo: Jennifer Causey

Roast Master

Thames has been hosting and catering traditional wood-fired oyster roasts for decades.

Thames—whose great-grandfather owned Bulls Island, an undeveloped barrier island north of Charleston, South Carolina, that’s now part of Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge—spent his formative years fishing, flounder gigging, and oyster picking in the area’s marshes and tidal creeks. When Thames’s nephew, New York City and Chicago Food Film Festival cofounder George Motz, featured one of his uncle’s annual Thanksgiving oyster roasts in a short documentary on Lowcountry oystering called The Mud and the Blood, opportunity started knocking. In 2011, Thames drove a rental truck filled with fifty-six bushels of Bulls Bay oysters to the film festival after-party in Chicago. A year later, at the 2012 Food Film Festival in New York, he threw a Southern wood-fired oyster roast for 450 people on a Brooklyn rooftop.

Meanwhile, Thames started an oyster catering business back home and had customers clamoring for cookers of their own. Working with an engineer friend, he created plans for an easy-to-replicate prototype that preserved the fundamental elements of his boyhood roasts. He built the first commercial model in January 2013, launching his career as one of the Lowcountry’s high priests of oyster cookery. “Too many people think steaming oysters over a propane burner is an oyster roast,” he says, “but a true, traditional oyster roast is done over a fire with a wet burlap sack. There’s the crackle, the smell of the smoke. Fire is primal, and anytime you burn wood it creates its own event. People gather and socialize.”


A Bulls Bay OYRO oyster cooker features three steel components: the cooking table, the firebox, and the cooking pan, which measures thirty-six inches square, big enough to handle a bushel to a bushel and a half of oysters at a time. All three components are outfitted with handles, so even though the entire assembly tops three hundred pounds, two people can move the pieces around with ease. The firebox eliminates the need for a pit, making it possible to throw a full-blown oyster roast in a grassy backyard. The cooking pan drains off excess water as the bivalves roast beneath a moistened burlap sack, but holds the oysters upright to preserve their salty nectar. Cleanup is as easy as hosing down the pan and wiping it down with vegetable oil to keep rust at bay.

For a while, Thames was hand-delivering his oyster cookers to buyers within four hundred miles of his home in McClellanville for $1 a mile. Today, he can ship one, but in the spirit of a true oyster roast, perhaps the best delivery method is to have Thames call you when it’s ready, and come and get it.

Price: from $1,295

Outdoors Category Runners-Up

Tad Moore Hickory Classics
Product: Golf clubs
Made in: Selma, AL
Est. 2005

When Tad Moore and a circle of friends began playing golf with vintage equipment in the 1990s, the question soon arose: Why couldn’t Moore make reproduction wood-shafted clubs for the group? After all, Moore, a golf club designer, had designed some of the most successful clubs of the twentieth century. (At one time, seventy-two pros used his Maxfli putters on the PGA Tour.) For Moore’s retro line, Tennessee hickory is worked with antique machines purchased from the old Otey Crisman company—a dominant club maker in the 1950s. Moore turns, sands, and epoxies wood-shafted putters, drivers, and irons, then hand-wraps leather grips to finish. “I was at the cutting edge of technology for so many years,” he says. “It’s very satisfying to come full circle to make clubs from the early 1900s.”

Price: $135-$270 per club

Photo: Jennifer Causey

Edoak Designs
Product: Electric skiff
Made in: Atlanta, GA
Est. 1976

Pirogues, bateaux, creek boats—there is a venerable history of small, quiet craft made for small, quiet Southern waters. Ed Duggan’s love affair with boatbuilding began in 1960, when he designed and built a rowing canoe for a 380-mile trip from Macon, Georgia, down the Ocmulgee and Altamaha rivers all the way to St. Simons. Today, his sixteen-foot sapele skiffs epitomize an emerging cottage industry of meticulously handcrafted electric vessels. Working alone in a small shop in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood, Duggan builds the boats one at a time, using mostly hand tools. Powered by external motor pods and a battery pack, each pocket yacht comes with navigation lights and a sound system. At 4 miles per hour, it’ll run nearly all day on one charge—and quietly enough to slip up on herons feeding at the water’s edge.

Price: About $17,000

Raggio Custom Calls
Product: Duck calls
Made in: Raymond, MS
Est. 2014

Hand-turned details, such as checkering, stippling, and intricate “captive ring” carving, might tempt you to put a Raggio call on the display shelf. Just don’t tell Josh Raggio if you do. “I make each call distinct and attractive enough to put away in a collection,” he says, “but you’re going to put it on your call lanyard because it sounds so good.” A former Mississippi state duck-calling champion, Raggio designed his own tone board—the unseen internal mechanism against which the call’s reed vibrates—from scratch, whittling, sanding, and drilling until the sound was all his own. Each call is carved from elegant woods such as hedge, black walnut, and African blackwood and customized to a buyer’s specifications, and comes with a thank-you note from Raggio and a hand-sewn protective bag made by his mother.

Price: $150-$500