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Virginia is known for its fresh Chesapeake Bay oysters, and these crispy deep fried oysters are the best way to prepare them! A simple cornmeal coating gives the shellfish a beautiful golden brown exterior and just the right amount of crunch. Serve them with a creamy dipping sauce, stuff them into a po’ boy sandwich, or just garnish with lemon wedges. They’re the ultimate Southern treat!

Close overhead image of cornmeal crusted fried oysters on a serving tray

Fried Oyster Recipe

Just like our blue crabs, our Brunswick Stew, and our country ham, Virginians take great pride in our fresh oysters. In fact, Virginia is considered the Oyster Capital of the East Coast, with over 40 million oysters sold each year! We live near the mountains in Central Virginia (not on the coastline); however, those fresh, briny oysters from the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries make a regular appearance in our neck of the woods at oyster roasts, in country markets, and on holiday tables. Southern fried oysters that are soaked in buttermilk and dredged in seasoned cornmeal are a classic way to showcase this local delicacy.

What do fried oysters taste like?

From salty to sweet, buttery to briny, Virginia’s oysters taste just like the waters they come from – whether it’s the Rappahannock River, the Chesapeake Bay, or the Atlantic Ocean. Virginia boasts eight oyster regions that produce eight distinctive flavors, so oyster aficionados would tell you that the taste of your fried oysters will depend on where they were harvested. For the rest of us, it’s safe to say that deep fried oysters taste salty, briny, slightly sweet, crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. There’s just nothing quite like them!

The Best Oil to Fry Oysters

Use either peanut oil or vegetable oil to fry the oysters. I typically use peanut oil because it’s affordable, it has a high smoke point, and it will not flavor your food.

Do you rinse oysters before frying?​​​​​​​

Yes. I purchase a pint of pre-shucked oysters, so all of the hard work is done for me! The oysters are packed in their liquor, so you’ll need to transfer them to a colander to drain and rinse. The goal is to get the oysters as dry as possible before soaking and breading, so once they’ve drained, pat them dry with paper towels.

Jar of fresh oysters

Quick Lesson: When I was a child, my dad and his friend were deep-frying oysters. The oysters exploded in the fryer, splattering hot oil all over the ceiling and walls. Not good! As a result, I always use a toothpick to poke a small hole in the large round part of each oyster before breading. I’m not sure that’s it’s necessary, but after my dad’s experience, I figure it can’t hurt. This releases the liquid and any pressure that might build inside the oyster that could cause it to explode when it hits the hot oil. It’s similar to poking holes in potatoes before baking!

Front shot of deep fried oysters served with lemon wedges and dipping sauce

Ingredients for a Classic Chesapeake Bay Fried Oyster Recipe

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for our favorite fried oysters. As always, specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Fresh shucked oysters: Chesapeake Bay oysters from a local country market are always our preference!
  • Peanut oil, for frying: a neutral oil that won’t flavor your oysters, with a high smoke point. Vegetable oil or canola oil will also work!
  • Buttermilk: adds a nice, subtle tang to the dish. It also helps the seasoned cornmeal adhere to the oysters, eliminating the need for a thick egg coating. If you don’t have access to a thick, rich, full-fat buttermilk (which is literally the liquid left behind after churning butter), you can make your own buttermilk by placing 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup and adding enough milk to measure 1 cup. Stir, then let stand for 5 minutes.
  • Cornmeal and all-purpose flour: form the classic crispy coating on the oysters.
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper: to enhance the other flavors and give the oysters a more complex flavor.
  • Old Bay seasoning: this classic seafood seasoning blend is a combination of celery salt, paprika, and other spices like red pepper and black pepper.

Temperature for Frying Oysters

Before frying the oysters, heat the oil to a temperature of 350°F. Once the oysters go into the oil, the temperature of the oil may come down slightly. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the oil within a temperature range of 350°F to 375°F. If I’m using a Dutch oven instead of my deep-fryer, I prefer to use a deep-fry thermometer to keep an eye on the oil’s temperature. If it drops too low, the oysters will absorb too much oil and have a greasy, unpleasant taste. Too high, and the coating will burn or become too dark.

If you don’t have a deep-fry thermometer, that’s fine! Instead, when the oil is hot (but not smoking), add a drop of water to the pan — if it sizzles, the oil is hot enough for the oysters. As I noted above, you want to maintain a fairly steady temperature as the oysters cook, so don’t overcrowd the pan with too many pieces at once (which will bring down the temperature). If the oil is really flying and it seems to be too hot, you can turn down the temperature slightly.

How to Fry Oysters

Frying oysters at home is actually really simple — but the end result tastes decadent, indulgent and impressive! These classic fried oysters come together with about 15 minutes of prep and only require about 2 minutes to cook. They’re crispy, golden brown, and bursting with flavor!

  1. Soak the oysters in buttermilk. Place the buttermilk in a bowl or shallow dish. Add the drained oysters and soak for a few minutes.
  2. Prepare cornmeal coating. In a shallow dish, whisk together cornmeal, flour, salt, Old Bay seasoning and pepper.
  3. Dredge in cornmeal. Remove the oysters from the buttermilk, shake off any excess liquid, and dredge in the cornmeal mixture to coat on all sides. Shake off any extra flour mixture and then place the oysters on a wire rack to dry while you wait for the oil to come to temperature. Tongs work well for this step if you don’t want to use your hands!
  4. Fry. Working in batches so that you don’t overcrowd the pan, fry oysters until golden and crispy, about 2-3 minutes. Drain on paper towels, season with additional salt and pepper if necessary, and serve while still warm.
Soaking oysters in buttermilk
Cornmeal breading in a pan
Process shot showing how to fry oysters
Overhead shot of fried oysters on a tray

What to Serve with Deep Fried Oysters​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Garnish a basket of classic fried oysters with lemon wedges or parsley and serve with a few simple and delicious sides. The oysters are a nice appetizer to serve when hosting a gathering, but they’re also a great dinner entrée on their own. Make a fried oyster po boy by serving them on a roll with remoulade sauce for a New Orleans-style dish.

Here are some great sides that go with fried oysters:

Dipping Sauce for Fried Oysters​​​​​​​

Serve the fried oysters with tartar sauce (recipe shown here), remoulade sauce, ketchup, cocktail sauce or honey mustard dip.

Horizontal shot of a plate of southern fried oysters with lemon wedges and sauce

Storage​​​​​​​

  • Leftover fried oysters will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1-2 days. They’re best served immediately; however, and tend to lose their crispy texture as they sit.
  • You can freeze the fried oysters for up to 3 months; however, the texture of the oysters will not be as good when thawed.
  • To Reheat: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the oysters on a wire rack on top of a baking sheet. Warm in the oven just until heated through (5-10 minutes), being careful not to overcook them.

Recipe Variations

  • Play around with the seasoning that you use in the cornmeal breading. I typically season the mixture with Old Bay, which is a combination of 18 herbs and spices — including celery salt, red pepper, black pepper and paprika. You can substitute with a Cajun or Creole seasoning blend for a New Orleans fried oysters recipe, or create your own seasoning blend using your favorite herbs and spices. A simple blend of garlic powder, paprika, salt, pepper and cayenne would be great, too!
  • Add hot sauce to the buttermilk for a spicy kick, or include cayenne pepper in the cornmeal mixture.
  • Instead of the more traditional cornmeal dredge, try using panko or regular breadcrumbs to coat the oysters.

Tips for the Best Fried Oyster Recipe

  • Season the oysters before frying by adding the seasoning to the cornmeal mixture. You can also season with additional salt and pepper (if necessary), as soon as the oysters come out of the oil.
  • Shake off the excess buttermilk and cornmeal each time you dredge the oysters to make sure that you just have a light coating on each piece.
  • Maintain a consistent oil temperature of about 350°F (or as high as 375°F) for crispy, golden brown oysters. You may need to adjust the heat to keep the oil within this range.
  • Use a spider strainer or slotted spoon to place the oysters in the oil and to remove them at the end of cooking.
  • Fry the oysters in batches so that you don’t overcrowd the pan, and gently stir or move them around, as necessary, to prevent them from sticking together.
  • This recipe serves about 2-3 people as an entrée, or 4-6 people as an appetizer or snack. You can adjust the quantity of oysters and other ingredients (doubling or tripling), as necessary, to feed a larger crowd.
Close up front shot of Chesapeake Bay fried oysters on a plate with tartar sauce for dipping

More Southern Fried Recipes to Try

Close overhead image of cornmeal crusted fried oysters on a serving tray

Fried Oysters

Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
0 minutes
Total: 30 minutes
Servings 4 – 6 people as an appetizer (or 2-3 people as an entree)
Calories 208 kcal
Virginia is known for its fresh Chesapeake Bay oysters, and this crispy Deep Fried Oysters recipe is the best way to prepare them!

Ingredients
  

  • 1 pint fresh shucked oysters (about 18 oysters total)
  • Peanut oil, for frying
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

Optional Tartar Sauce, for serving:

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh dill or parsley, optional
  • 1 ½ tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  • For the Tartar Sauce: Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
  • Heat oil in a deep fryer to 350°F, in a deep cast iron skillet, or in a Dutch oven over medium heat to a depth of about 2-3 inches, until it reaches 350°F. If you don’t have a deep-fry thermometer, sprinkle a few drops of water on the hot oil. If it sizzles, the oil is hot enough.
  • Drain the oysters in a colander and pat dry with paper towels. Use a toothpick to poke a small hole in the large round part of each oyster.
  • Put the buttermilk in a shallow dish. In a separate shallow dish, combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, Old Bay seasoning and pepper.
  • Add the oysters to the buttermilk and soak for a few minutes. Remove the oysters from the buttermilk, gently shake off excess liquid, and dredge in cornmeal mixture to coat on all sides. Shake off excess breading and transfer to a wire rack.
  • Working in batches so that you don’t overcrowd the pan, fry oysters until golden and crispy, about 2-3 minutes. Drain on paper towels, season with additional salt and pepper (if necessary) while they’re still warm, and serve hot with tartar sauce or other dipping sauce.

Notes

  • Season the oysters before frying by adding the seasoning to the cornmeal mixture. You can also season with additional salt and pepper (if necessary), as soon as the oysters come out of the oil.
  • Shake off the excess buttermilk and cornmeal each time you dredge the oysters to make sure that you just have a light coating on each piece.
  • Maintain a consistent oil temperature of about 350°F (or as high as 375°F) for crispy, golden brown oysters. You may need to adjust the heat to keep the oil within this range.
  • Use a spider strainer to place the oysters in the oil and to remove them at the end of cooking.
  • Fry the oysters in batches so that you don’t overcrowd the pan, and gently stir or move them around, as necessary, to prevent them from sticking together.
  • This recipe serves about 2-3 people as an entrée, or 4-6 people as an appetizer or snack. You can adjust the quantity of oysters and other ingredients (doubling or tripling), as necessary, to feed a larger crowd.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/6 of the oystersCalories: 208kcalCarbohydrates: 38gProtein: 7gFat: 3gSaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 8mgSodium: 1213mgPotassium: 174mgFiber: 3gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 75IUCalcium: 57mgIron: 2mg
Keyword: fried oysters
Course: Appetizer, Dinner
Cuisine: Southern
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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