How to Clean Clam & Oyster Shells for Cooking

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Both clams and oysters need to be cleaned when they are still in their shells before you cook them, but they have slightly different procedures. Clams need to be purged of sand before being cooked; oysters can skip the soak but are usually shucked and loosened from their shells before cooking. You can also shuck clams in the same manner, ideal for presentation purposes. Shucking takes a little effort -- and elbow grease -- and you must take the proper safety precautions to avoid cutting yourself, but it gets easier with practice.

Things You'll Need

  • Container
  • Salt
  • Stiff kitchen brush
  • Dish towel or heavy-duty glove
  • Shucking knife

Cleaning Oysters and Clams

  • Place the clams in a large container and cover them with cool water. Add salt to the water, which helps purge them of their sand. Use about 1 cup of salt for every 3 quarts of water. Oysters don't need to be soaked, as they do not live on beds of sands as clams do.

  • Leave the clams to soak for an hour or so to ensure all of the sand is purged. Drain the water from the clams when you are ready to clean and cook them.

  • Hold each clam or oyster under cold running water and scrub vigorously with a stiff kitchen brush. For oysters in particular, focus on the oyster's hinge, where sediment tends to get trapped.

Shucking Oysters and Clams

  • Wrap the hand that will be holding the oyster or clam in a dish towel, or wear a heavy-duty work glove to protect your hand. Hold the shellfish in your non-dominant hand, with the deeper, cup side down on a flat surface, so that the pointed hinge is toward you.

  • Wedge the shucking knife through the hinge of the shellfish, angling it downward into the oyster or clam. Twist the knife as if turning a key to pop the hinge. Keep the tip of the knife inserted into the shellfish.

  • Turn the oyster or clam while still holding it down firmly as you run the tip of the knife between to the top and bottom of shells. The tip should be angled upward or downward to avoid piercing the meat inside. It will take some generous wiggling and some strength to loosen the shells, particularly when you're opening an oyster.

  • Twist the shucking knife again to fully separate the top shell from the bottom shell when you have run the knife around the entire oyster or clam. Discard the top shell.

  • Wedge the knife under the oyster or clam to detach it from the bottom shell. You can then cook them on the half-shell or remove them for another type of preparation.

Tips & Warnings

  • Both clams and oysters can be cooked unshucked and will open when steamed or grilled.
  • Discard any oysters and clams that are already opened before you cook them. They are likely dead and not safe for consumption.

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  • Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images
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