Cook Up a Backyard Clambake

Staff Writer
Steam lobsters, clams, and all the extras with our how-to guide to classic New England clambakes and clam boils

Photo New England Style Clam Bake Modified: Flickr/ Arnold Gatilao/ CC4.0

With clam bakes, the possibilities are endless. 

At a classic New England clambake that’s steamed over hot stones at the shore, the seafood and its traditional accompaniments are infused with briny, smoky flavor from the hardwood coals and seaweed that is all too irresistible. It’s a great way to entertain, but not all of us have easy access to the beach. Luckily, you can recreate the experience at home, no matter where you live. Whether you cook up a stovetop clam boil inside or fire up your grill, you can enjoy all the traditional clambake components, like clams, lobsters, new potatoes, corn and sausages, in a land-locked state or on a rainy day. With so much seaside-inspired flavor, you’ll barely miss the salty breezes (but probably not the crunch of sand in your meal).  

 

Setup

• For easy cleanup, cover tables with paper table covers, and have plenty of recycled paper plates and napkins on hand — things are going to get messy. Make it easy on your guests by creating flatware bundles wrapped in napkins. (Inexpensive new dishtowels also work well as napkins.)

• Small and medium-sized galvanized sand pail centerpieces can serve double-duty as tabletop trash receptacles for discarding empty shells.

• Candles in hurricane vases and strings of white lights are all the lighting your deck or backyard will need.

• Don’t forget to set out lots of lemon wedges and melted butter in small serving dishes.

• Keep beverages simple: Place a large galvanized bucket filled with ice, bottled water, wine, and beer on the ground near the dining area. 

Tip: To be authentic, your bake or boil should involve steam-cooking all the food together over seaweed for that unmistakable ocean aroma; ask your lobster supplier if he/she can supply you with a variety of North Atlantic seaweed called rockweed.   

 

What to Serve

Here’s the perfect menu for an authentic New England clambake or boil:

• If you’re lucky enough to be able to build a fire pit on a beach, check out this guide to a Nantucket Clambake.

• This Easy Summer Clambake recipe is actually for a layered clam boil. Alternatively, you can make individual servings by laying an ear of peeled corn, partly-cooked (but still firm) whole new potatoes (they’ll finish steaming in the pot), small onions, a handful of clams, a lobster, and fully-cooked Andouille or kielbasa sausage in a mesh bag; repeat for each guest. And don’t worry about packing your pot too tightly — more steam will generate this way and the food will cook faster.

• Finally, for a boiled/grilled combo clambake, try chef Todd English's Backyard New England Clambake, complete with grilled chicken.

• For a classic side dish, serve up New England Clam Chowder.

• Don’t forget dessert! Wow your guests with old-fashioned Strawberry Shortcake, or simply pass a platter filled with big slices of watermelon.

Tip: For a stovetop clam boil, use "chicken lobsters" weighing in at just over one pound. Flavorful, quick-cooking soft-shell steamers are your best bet when it comes to clams, but littlenecks and cherrystones work great too. 

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