Shuck, slurp, swallow, repeat—that’s all there is to eating oysters, right? Wrong. Enjoying the ocean delicacy requires a modicum of savvy, according to Rowan Jacobsen, founder of website Oysterater and author of the upcoming book The Essential Oyster.

To truly appreciate the salty mollusk, you should adhere to some basic principles, which Jacobsen outlined for the gourmands over at Lucky Peach. While the James Beard Award-winning journalist lists 20 guidelines, here's one important rule of thumb: understand your oyster.

Not all oysters taste alike. In general, if they’re harvested from the Atlantic, the oysters will be briny, and if they’re from the Pacific, they’ll be sweet. Flavors become even more nuanced when it comes to individual oyster species.

The types of mollusks that are most commonly dished up in restaurants include the Eastern oyster, harvested from the Eastern seaboard to the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific oyster, which originates from the coastline stretching from Canada to Baja. The Eastern oyster “tastes like brine and broth with a sweet-corn finish,” and the Pacific is more akin to “cucumber or watermelon rind,” Jacobsen says. And there are four other minor species, which range from all over the globe and taste like everything from green melon to  “battery terminal covered in iodine.” 

Like many foods, oysters are also seasonal. They consume algae, which bloom in the spring but taper off by winter. To plump up for the long, cold season, oysters gorge themselves on algae in late fall—meaning if you order oysters between November and January, they’ll be juicy and delicious. Wait a few more months, and the oysters will be scrawny. So keep that fact in mind next time you’re at a oyster bar in April and you’re disappointed by the fare.

For more handy tips on how to make a seafood restaurant your oyster, read the full piece at Lucky Peach.  

[h/t Lucky Peach]