Whether you’re at the beach or in your backyard, here’s our step-by-step guide to this delicious New England tradition.

By Mike Urban
April 07, 2017
Photo: Michael-john Wolfe/Getty

Putting on an authentic clambake is best done (where else?) at the beach! You can also do a wonderful version in your back yard, once you round up the right ingredients and acquaint yourself with the basic principles of clambake cooking.

1. Set It Up

Dig a shallow pit, about two feet deep and four to five feet wide, and line it with large stones. Next, build a wood fire in the pit, light it, and feed it with increasingly larger pieces of wood over several hours, letting it burn down to embers. Spread the glowing embers around the floor of the pit then cover them with a layer of damp seaweed. (You can procure seaweed online if you’re doing a backyard bake … but if you’re at or near the beach, just go foraging!)

Related: How to Clean Clams:

2. What Goes Into the Pit

The ingredients for a clambake may vary, but the essentials remain the same: steamer clams, mussels, live lobsters, corn, sausage, and red potatoes. Add to that some fat and aromatics such as butter, lemon halves, and fresh herbs. Take several large-size aluminum foil pans and layer the ingredients, with the corn and potatoes on the bottom topped by the seafood, sausages, and any butter, lemon, or herbs. Using oven mitts or gloves, carefully place the uncovered pans atop the seaweed and coals.

Related: The Best Clambake Companies in America

3. Managing the Bake

The idea behind a clambake is to steam the seafood and other goodies, usually for around an hour. To achieve that, soak one or two large canvas tarps with water and place them over the pit, anchoring the edges with more large stones. Keep the tarps damp by occasional sprinkling with a hose or spray bottle.

4. How to Know When It’s Ready

After an hour or so, carefully lift the tarps and check to see if the seafood is cooked. The lobsters should be a bright red, and the clams and mussels should have steamed open. Remove the cooked seafood and discard any bivalves that refuse to open. Place the tarps back over the corn and potatoes for another 15 minutes, frequently checking for doneness with a fork or knife.

Once the vegetables are ready, arrange everything on platters or a paper-covered table and dig in!