Build Your Own Lobster Bake

The lowdown on making this classic beach feast work.

• Check with the local fire department to make sure you can have a fire on your chosen beach. Obtain any required permits.

• Tides can be a factor. If the beach isn't wide enough for the gathering to take place above the high-tide mark, be sure to check tide charts to see what day and time allow for safe and comfortable preparations and feasting.

• Scout your location for a generous supply of driftwood, a good selection of stones between 8 and 10 inches in diameter, and ample rockweed. Rockweed grows on stones and outcroppings along the shore below the high-tide line. It floats and varies in color from muddy green to golden. Collect this seaweed before the tide submerges it. If you gather it the day before, cover it with a tarp to keep it moist. Five 30-gallon garbage cans full of seaweed should be plenty.

• Bring matches, newspaper for kindling, a couple of long-handled rakes, a shovel, a pitchfork, and a canvas tarp.

• To serve 12, you'll need at least 12 lobsters, 3 pounds of mussels, 3 pounds of clams, 36 small red potatoes, and 12 ears of unshucked corn.

• For 12 to 20 lobsters, make a shallow pit about 4 feet in diameter and no deeper than two layers of rocks. (Any deeper and rocks on the bottom won't heat sufficiently.) Cover the pit's bottom with two layers of rocks, and set aside enough stones for a third layer to be added later.

• Pile small pieces of driftwood in the pit's center with kindling underneath―newspaper is easiest―and light the fire. Gradually add larger pieces of wood. (Use logs up to 4 or 5 inches in diameter; larger logs take too long to burn.) Once it's burning well, add the remaining rocks, tossing them among the burning wood. Make sure the fire burns to the outer rim of the pit so rocks there get heated.

• While the rocks warm up, remove the corn's outer husks and trim the silks but leave the pale inner leaves. Soak the cobs in water to prevent them from burning.

• A hot, rapidly burning fire, kept ablaze for at least an hour and a half, is about ready. Allow the fire to die down a little, about 10 minutes or less so you can rake the fire over the rocks. Pull away any burning logs, and rake out as many coals as you can, tugging and pushing the rocks until remaining coals drop down between them. This is an astonishingly hot job. Be careful!

• Working quickly, place a 2-foot-deep layer of seaweed on the hot rocks. Put on a layer of shellfish, a layer of corn and potatoes, and then the lobsters. Cover them quickly and thickly with the rest of the seaweed. Lay a large canvas tarp over the whole pile, and anchor its edges with gravel from the beach.

• To melt butter, place it in a pan with a tight-fitting lid, and nestle it on top of the canvas. We usually steam the lobster bake for an hour. It's done when the lobsters are red and the bivalves are open.

No time to prepare a true bake on the beach?
Order in a seafood feast of live Maine lobsters shipped overnight from Maine Lobster Direct. The tasty critters are packed in a steamer can with sea salt, seaweed, lemon, and butter―just add water. Complete the Lobster Can Bake dinner (from $79.95 for two people) with choices of shellfish, chowder, and bisque. Wet naps, bibs, and cooking instructions are included. For more information and recipes, visit www.mainelobsterdirect.com or call 800/556-2783.

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