Grilling oysters is a nice variation that lets you enjoy them in an outdoor setting. Grilled oysters pick up a bit of smoke, so pairing them with a homemade barbecue sauce is an obvious choice. In my barbecue sauce, I only use black pepper for heat because I’m looking for the warm background notes, not the hot upfront heat you would get from chiles or chile flakes.
When you are prepping the oysters, make sure to rinse them in a colander under cold water and, using a green scrubby pad, scrub and inspect each oyster for sand, dirt, seaweed, and crustaceans that have attached themselves to the shells. It’s important to remove these elements to ensure a pleasant and enjoyable eating experience. — Adam Sappington
Recipes and Photos from HEARTLANDIA by Adam and Jackie Sappington. Copyright © 2015 by Adam Sappington and Jackie Sappington. Photography © 2015 by John Valls. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
If you don’t have access to a smoker, you can skip step 1 to make this barbecue sauce with plain canned tomatoes and still get great results.
For the barbecue sauce:
- 2 Cups hickory chips, for smoking
- 28 Ounces canned, unsalted whole peeled tomatoes or unsalted diced tomatoes, with their juices
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 medium celery stalk, trimmed, peeled, and thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1/4 Cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 Cup unsulphured blackstrap molasses
- 1/4 Cup tomato paste
- 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
- 1 Tablespoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
- 1 Tablespoon ground mustard seed
- 2 Teaspoons ground celery seed
- 2 Teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 Teaspoons onion powder
For the oysters:
- 24 medium oysters in the shell, scrubbed
- 1 lemon, halved
- Kosher salt, for serving
For the barbecue sauce:
Soak the wood chips according to package instructions and heat a smoker to 225 degrees F. Place the wet hickory chips over the fire or in an electric hopper. Place the tomatoes with their juices in a stainless-steel, nonreactive roasting pan and smoke for 1-1/2 hours. (This step can be done a day ahead.)
Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In a medium bowl, combine the onion, celery, garlic, sugar, molasses, tomato paste, vinegar, pepper, salt, mustard seed, celery seed, garlic powder, and onion powder and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper to balance the salty-sweet flavors you want in a barbecue sauce. Pour the mixture into a 9-inch square baking pan and roast for 1 hour 30 minutes or until the crust is caramelized and the sauce has reduced by about one-quarter to create deep, pronounced flavors.
Remove the barbecue sauce from the oven and let cool slightly. Season with salt and pepper and let cool for at least 1 hour at room temperature or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Working in batches, in a blender or the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade; purée the barbecue sauce until smooth, about 3 minutes. (Alternatively, purée the barbecue sauce directly in the pan using an immersion blender.) Transfer the barbecue sauce to an airtight container and set aside.
For the oysters:
Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill. Arrange a grill grate 2 inches above the coals. Arrange the oysters on the grill grate over direct heat with the bowl side of the oysters over the heat, not the lid. Grill until the shells pop open and the juices are boiling hot, turning halfway through, 3 to 4 minutes per side. (Make sure to use a kitchen towel and a pair of tongs when turning the oysters and removing them from the grill. If the oysters don’t pop open but the juices are spitting out of the side, this is an indicator that they are done as well. Remember, you don’t want to overcook the oysters and boil all the water out, so plan on babysitting them.)
Transfer the oysters to a cutting board to cool slightly. Using an oyster shucker, unhinge the oyster shell and loosen the muscle from the shell. Place a pool of kosher salt on a large platter and place the oysters on the half shell on top of the salt. (This helps the oyster stand up and not fall over.) Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the barbecue sauce onto each oyster. (Reserve the remaining barbecue sauce for another use. Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, it will keep for up to 3 weeks.) Squeeze the lemon over the whole plate of oysters and dig in.