One of the greatest seasonal Lowcountry traditions is the oyster roast, a gathering that is at once ancient and still relevant today.
You can find Native American shell rings throughout the Lowcountry, one of the most common signs that natives inhabited this area. These rings are made from discarded oyster shells, which means people have been enjoying the sweet and salty oysters in this part of the world for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Despite all the changes that have occurred since these first oyster roasts, very little has changed about them. At its core, an oyster roast involves a few simple ingredients: oysters, a heat source, loved ones, and the outdoors.
While throwing an [oyster roast](//rootsrated.com/stories/holy-city-how-to-hosting-an-oyster-roast) can seem like a daunting task, in reality it's pretty easy to pull off. Roasting methods vary from putting clean oysters directly on grill grates, to cooking them on a piece of metal placed over a fire with a damp burlap sack on top for steam, to steaming them in a propane-fueled turkey fryer (outside, of course).
Fill the bottom of the pot with an inch or two of water, crank the heat, drop the oysters in, and put on the lid. You’ll have steamed oysters in 5-10 minutes, depending on your preference. If you have a steaming basket, the process is just that much easier. Grab enough rags for everyone, they’ll protect your hands from the oysters and the oyster knives as you pry the shells open. Don’t forget the cocktail sauce or melted butter.
After your first roast you’ll realize you may have thrown the best party of your life. Jump in now and you’ll have all winter long to fine tune your skills and enjoy oyster roast season in Hilton Head. However, if you need a little inspiration first, or want all the fun with none of the work, there are a number of large-scale oyster roasts and festivals in and around Hilton Head that make it easy.
2015 Hilton Head Oyster Festival
This event , at the newly renovated Shelter Cove Community Park on Hilton Head, promises to be an oyster lover’s dream. With fried oysters, oyster stew, and the classic steamed oysters to choose from you’ll have a veritable bivalve buffet with options for all pallets. A six-dollar entry fee gets you in and goes to The HHI Rec Center Scholarship Fund. Once you’re in, $12 gets you a whole bucket of oysters, served up any way you like. Live music, beverages, and vendors to make for an all-around great time.
The Lowcountry Oyster Festival at Boone Hall
January 31, 2016
Are you the type who thinks bigger is better? Do you buy the Guinness Book of World Records each year? If you answered yes to either of these questions then we’ve got the oyster roast for you. On January 31 , “The World’s Largest Oyster Roast” happens at Boone Hall Plantation outside of Charleston, South Carolina. It just doesn’t get any bigger, with 80,000 pounds of oysters to be shucked and roasted bring everyone you know and come hungry. Ticket proceeds go to the Ronald McDonald House, Hollings Cancer Center, Shriners Hospital for Children, and the Charleston County Schools Science Materials Resource Center—meaning you can do your good deed for the day while enjoying dozens of oysters. There’s live music, oyster shucking and eating contests, and beer. What more could you want? The party starts at 10:00 am. Be sure to get there early, as parking can be a bit of a challenge.
The 8th Annual Beaufort Twilight Run
March 19, 2016
This next event is a ways off, but you don't want to miss it. The Eighth Annual Beaufort Twilight Run and Oyster Roast happens in March at the Habersham Marketplace in Beaufort, SC. Just a few miles up the road from Hilton Head, this event that offers both a 5k and an 8k held in the early evening (hence “Twilight Run”). After the run there’s an oyster roast with fresh local oysters. The race venue is scenic, and the after party is unbeatable. What better way to celebrate, recover and refuel after a race? Registration begins in November, and there is a discount for registering early.
These are some of the largest and most anticipated oyster roasts in the Lowcountry, but they are certainly not the only ones. On any given weekend throughout the fall and winter in Hilton Head and the Lowcountry you can find restaurants, non-profits, and neighbors throwing these soul-warming feasts. If you haven’t experienced an oyster roast, put it on your to-do list. It’s a great way to get outdoors, fill your belly and connect with your community.