Culling, sorting oysters by shape and size, is an important step in getting oysters to market. Restaurants prefer oysters that have strong shells, easy to find hinges, beautiful shapes for presentation, and of course, deep cups filled with meat. Unfortunately, not all oysters are created equal, so growers and harvesters have to sort through their stock to find these restaurant beauties. Each grower has his or her own set of rules in determining what defines the highest grade of oysters, also known as "choice" or "select" oysters. Oysters that don't meet that grade are known as "standards" and are typically sold cheaper than their prettier counterparts.
The good news is there is always a home for any grade of oyster! Despite its shell shape, an oyster still has its flavorful meat inside, so commercial grade oysters, the lowest grade of oysters, go to shucking houses to become processed as shucked oyster meats. Many chefs enjoy using in-shell oysters for oyster meats and stuffing, so standard grade oysters are a good choice because they're freshly shucked and affordable.
Since growers and harvesters determine their own rules and grades, there are many descriptors and terms used to describe oysters. This is most obvious when it comes to oyster sizing. Each region has their set of terms to describe shell lengths, and even within a region, there are some nuances among growers.
We put together a summary of the different sizes and grades on the right to assist with your future oyster buying. All the different terms can get confusing, so we hope this chart will make it more straightforward and clear. You can save and share the chart just by right-clicking on the image.
To learn more about culling, watch the video above as Ben discusses his process on the Standish Shore Oyster Farm.
Always ask your suppliers about your oysters, like details on size and grade, because the more you know means the better buying decisions you'll make.