Clam Bake

Mornings are crisp and cool. Afternoons are sunny and warm. Some of the leaves are just beginning to show signs of turning. All this adds up to only one thing – its clam bake season. For many of you who have spent time on the East Coast, and for some of us who grew up on the North Coast, September through November (if the weather holds) is time for clam bakes. I grew up with clam bakes and I think they’re a lot of fun. There’s plenty of food (even for people who don’t like clams), its served family style and, where ever possible, outdoors.


This contraption is a clam bake set-up. You have a LARGE pot, spigot optional. The blue thing underneath is the heat source. In this instance, it is a Plumber’s Furnace. It is connected to a propane tank. I went through several smaller, more readily available burners before I realized something sturdier was required. I had the stand built but you can use cement blocks with a heavy grate over them. Just know that the bottom of the pot needs to be 3 to 4 inches from the burner or you might damage the pot. When I first started doing these on my own, I found a market that rented the equipment and packed the pot. All you had to do was pick it up, add water (really) and light the fire. I started doing so many of them I decided I needed my own equipment. And, as luck would have it, I found a clam bake pot in a local restaurant supply store. I thought about being more traditional in my approach but when I suggested digging a pit in the back yard, it was vetoed. Not to mention the fact that seaweed is a little difficult to come by in Central Ohio.

Next, you need to pack the pot. A basic bake consists of clams, hence the name (duh), but, hold on, its not that simple… You need to determine what kind of clams you want and how many per person. I started out with, what they call around here, Steamers (a.k.a., Top Necks). These guys go about 4/lb. After experimenting a little I determined that these can be a little tough. Then I tried Little Necks, but they were too little (7-10/lb). I’m seeing shades of Mama Bear, Papa Bear and Baby Bear here. I finally ended up with Cherry Stones that generally go about 6 or so per pound. To my taste, they also tend to be a little sweeter than Top Necks. So clams go on the bottom and kind of act as a rack for the next layer.IMG_1125

When I order the makings for my clam bake, I have the Fish Monger clean and bag the clams. That means they put them in cheesecloth bags with about 6 per bag. Clams go on the bottom. That other packet contains some celery, onions and carrots to flavor the bake and the broth. The average number of clams per person can vary from 0 to 6 to 12 or more. I started with 6 per person. Experience will dictate where you end up.

chicken/clam bake


Next comes the chicken. And, again, you have to figure out how much per person. Some say 1/2 chicken per person. Others say 1/4 chicken per person. Then you have the whole light meat, dark meat thing. In my experience, 1/2 chicken per person can be a little much. I eventually settled on 1/2 chicken per person minus 1/2 per every 3 or 4 people. Again, experience will guide you. Also, season your chicken. This is a local custom mix but you can use what ever you like.



Next come the potatoes. Some people use sweet potatoes. I don’t like sweet potatoes so I use Baby Red Potatoes. Its my clam bake. I can do what I want. Now, add the water. This will vary by the pot size but, basically, you want to cover the clams. I suppose you can do this after you add the clams and before you add the chicken. Just remember to pour the water down the side of the pot so as not to wash the seasoning off the chicken. Now put the lid on, light the fire, put the pot over the fire and go have a beverage and mingle with your guests.

Let the bake go for at least 30 minutes (usually longer) before you look for steam. Once you see steam, let the bake go for another 30 minutes. Try not to remove the lid, even though you will be tempted to see what’s going on. Every time you remove the lid, the heat and steam need to build up again to the proper level so don’t do it! Cooking time will vary so be patient. In general, it should take about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.


You can now check the potatoes. If they are fork-tender, you can take them out. I like to put them in a large bowl and keep them warm in a low oven. there is still work to be done. If the potatoes are done, chances are, so is the chicken. I recommend browning the chicken on the grill for a while. Steamed chicken looks pretty anemic. I like to use non-stick foil to prevent the chicken from sticking and to prevent flair-ups.



At this point, you can add husked corn. I like to cut mine in half. It makes eating a little easier and its easier to fit on a full plate. The clams are under there. Put the lid back on and allow to steam another 20 minutes. At this point, you can also add other things if you are so inclined. Live lobsters (if you can stand to hear them scream) take about 15 – 18 minutes and King Crab legs take about 10 minutes.






After removing the corn, its finally time to remove the clams. Having them in bags also makes it easier to get them out of the pot. You can just spear the bags with a pot fork. I recommend you don’t remove all the clams at once. If you leave them in the pot, covered, they stay warm and tender. If you take them out all at once and they sit around for awhile, they have a tendency to get tough. You can serve melted butter, clam broth (a good reason to have a spigot on your pot) and, I’ve been told hot sauce is pretty good on clams, too, although you couldn’t prove it by me.




Now, plate up the chicken, the corn, some of the clams, take the potatoes out of the oven, throw in some cole slaw and stand back as your guests stampede the table. Add some of your favorite beverages and have at it! I can practically guarantee a good time will be had by all.

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