How to Do a Clambake at Home
Cooking outdoors—whether over a grill or in an outdoor pizza oven—is one of many summer pleasures. And the king of outdoor cooking events is, without a doubt, the New England–style clambake. It’s elaborate, yes, but not technically difficult. And it may require a few extra sets of hands, but it’s more fun when friends are involved.
Curtis Stone, the beloved chef and restaurateur, has a knack for embracing regional cooking traditions. So when we tapped him to help us host a dinner in Nantucket a few years back, it was no surprise that he delivered with a fully loaded clambake. We haven’t stopped thinking about it since. The sweet summer corn, succulent local clams, buttery lobster, and all those little potatoes. Divine. The best part? He and his team shared the recipe, with step-by-step instructions, so you can experience a little taste of the shore wherever you are, for many summers to come.
Curtis Stone’s Clambake
This Nantucket-inspired clambake can be re-created in your backyard, on the beach, or on a BBQ.
Prep time: Approximately 2 hours
Cook time: 1 hour
Firewood: Firewood serves two purposes: It will ignite the coals. And it will act as a weight on top of the painter’s tarp to trap the steam needed to cook your food.
Charcoal: Lump hardwood charcoal works best; we buy it from the local hardware store.
Rockweed: We get rockweed from our local seafood market.
Painter’s tarp: Also available at the hardware store. Folded in half, the tarp should be large enough to cover the whole clambake.
Concrete blocks: These are optional and are particularly helpful for larger clambakes; they act as a barrier to contain the coals. Use enough to make a firepit scaled to your needs. For beach bakes, the coals can go directly into a pit carved into the sand. BBQ bakes can be done on the bottom of the grill with the rack lowered or removed.
Wire resting racks: To make it easy to load food over the coals and later remove it.
Roasting pans: To remove cooked vegetables and seafood from the bake.
Large tongs and kitchen towels: For safe handling.
Ingredients (per person)
8 to 10 clams, Manila or another small varietal
½ to 1 live lobster or 1 lobster tail (optional)
1 ear sweet yellow corn
3 fingerling or other small potatoes
2 summer squash or any other farmers’ market vegetables of your choosing
Step by Step
Get the fire started. Place an even layer of firewood as a base, then spread the charcoal on top of the firewood. Briquettes can be used to start larger fires in a pit, but for smaller bakes, newspaper and matches will ignite just fine. Let the fire burn for 1 to 2 hours, depending on its size: You want it to burn down to white-hot coals with no direct flame.
Soak the painter’s tarp with water. This will trap steam and protect the bake while it cooks.
Clean the clams. Soak the clams in cold water with a touch of sea salt for an hour. In this process, called purging, the live clams will release any remaining grit they have held on to.
Prepare the vegetables. For our clambake, we chose sweet yellow corn, fingerling potatoes, baby pattypan squash, and baby zucchini. Baby vegetables work great because prep time (aside from a good wash) is minimal. We shucked the corn so that its cook time would match that of the other vegetables. Any seasonal vegetable of the same size will work perfectly fine. We assembled the potatoes and squash in a single layer on a wire rack for even cooking and easier loading onto and removal from the coals.
Pile it on. Have all components handy and standing by. Once the coals are ready, work fast. This process should take no more than 1 to 2 minutes: First goes the rockweed. This covers the smoldering coals. The seaweed will pop to create steam to cook the bake and impart incredible flavor. Second, load the wire racks of vegetables flat and directly on top of the rockweed. Place the sweet corn over the racks, then layer the seafood on top. This gives the whole bake the beautiful flavors and aroma you expect from the sea. If lobsters are in the mix, place them on the bake top-side down. Cover all the food with another layer of rockweed.
Drape the water-soaked painter’s tarp over the bake. Weigh down all edges with the remaining firewood so that no steam escapes.
Let cook for at least 1 hour or until the vegetables are soft and cooked through and the clams are open. (The time will increase depending on the number of items in the bake.)
Season the vegetables with salt, pepper, and olive oil if desired.
Outfit guests with lobster crackers, sturdy plates, and plenty of napkins. It’s on!