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How To Cook Clams

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Clams are often thought of as the poor man’s oyster, but we think it’s high time to move the clam to the top of our “favorite shellfish” list. Here’s everything you need to know about how to clean them, cook them, and enjoy them.

Types of Hardshell Clams

Members of the clam family manifest their differences in size and shell hardness. Littleneck, middleneck, topneck, cherrystone, and chowder clams are considered hardshell clams because they have a shell that's much thicker and more durable than the thin, brittle shells of softshell (steamers, razor clams, and geoduck) clams. This how-to will focus on the more common and readily available hardshell clams.

Littleneck Clams—1 1/2" to 2" wide, littleneck clams are small, tender, and best steamed open in a flavorful broth or eaten raw on the half shell.

Middleneck Clams—2 "to 2 1/2" wide, this variety falls right in between top and littlenecks and lends itself well to being steamed, grilled, or eaten raw. 

Topneck Clams—2 1/2" to 3" wide, typically eaten raw on the half shell, grilled open.

Cherrystone Clams—About 3" wide, these are best for making stuffed and baked clams, like clams casino.

Chowder Clams—4" to 6" wide, these are far too big to eat raw and best used as their name implies: for chowder. The meat is tough and chewy and benefits from being chopped up and cooked for a long time.  

How to shop for and store clams

Look for clams that are tightly closed and free of any foul smells. Avoid any that have cracked or chipped shells. When traveling, make sure the clams are in a bag with some sort of ventilation instead of a completely airtight bag. Store them in a single layer on a baking sheet or in a 13"-by-9" baking dish (use two if necessary), covered with a clean, damp kitchen town in the coldest part of your refrigerator.

How to check for dead clams

Clams are alive and respond to temperature, so if the air around them is a little warm, they may start to open a bit. If you tap it and it closes, it’s still alive and kicking. If you tap it and it stays open, it’s a dead clam and must be discarded.

How to shuck clams safely 

Clam shucking can actually be a bit more challenging than oyster shucking, so if you have a lot of clams to shuck, using a wire-mesh glove will be well worth it. If you only have a few, a clean, thick kitchen towel will do the trick. Hold the clam in your non-dominant hand with the edge of the clam facing out and the hinged part toward your palm. Using a straight clam knife or paring knife, work into the seam of the clam and twist the knife, using the same motion you would use with a key in a lock, to pry it open. 

How to purge clams 

After scrubbing the clams, place them in a large bowl or plastic container and cover them with ice-cold water and kosher salt. Let them sit for at least 20 minutes or up to 2 hours. This will allow the clams time to spit out any extra sand and grit that they may be hiding in their shells. A lot of cooks will also add cornmeal to the water while purging clams with the idea that the cornmeal acts as a sort of irritant to the clams, causing them to open and purge any sand that may be trapped inside. While this hasn't been proven to be entirely true, the truth is that whether or not you add cornmeal to your purging water, salt is what the clams really need. Soaking the clams in salt water and allowing them time to cycle clean salt water through their shells is what will cause them to purge the trapped sand.

What to serve with clams? 

Depending on how you choose to prepare them, clams can accommodate a variety of sidekicks. Toasted, crusty sourdough bread is the best match for clams steamed in broth, but they can also go on top of flatbread or into a creamy, lemony pasta. 

Store leftover cooked clams in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Uneaten shucked raw clams should be tossed out.

Need more clammy goodness? Check out these harissa clams or this spicy green chile clam chowder.

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Save Recipe
Yields: 4 servings
Prep Time: 0 hours 20 mins
Total Time: 1 hour 0 mins

dozen littleneck, middleneck, or topneck clams

1/4 c.

Kosher salt 

Steamed Clams
1/4 c.

butter, divided


shallots, finely chopped

Kosher salt


cloves garlic, finely chopped


Roma tomatoes, chopped

1 tbsp.


3/4 c.

dry white wine

1/2 c.


1 tbsp.

chopped fresh cilantro

1 tbsp.

chopped fresh parsley 

Toasted crusty bread, for serving 

Baked or Grilled Clams
3/4 c.



cloves garlic

2 tbsp.

fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp.


1 tbsp.

hot sauce 

1/2 tsp.

kosher salt

Chopped fresh tender herbs (chives, dill, parsley) and lemon wedges, for serving

Raw Clams on the Half Shell
1/4 c.

white wine vinegar

2 tbsp.

chopped shallots

2 tbsp.

seasoned rice vinegar

1/4 tsp.

freshly ground black pepper 



Place clams in a large, clean bowl and run cold water over until water runs clear. Scrub each clam with a clean brush or sponge under cold water to dislodge any dirt on surface of clams. Transfer clams to a large, clean bowl or plastic container and cover with ice-cold water. Add salt and let sit at least 20 minutes or up to 2 hours.

Steamed Clams
  1. In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, heat 2 tbsp. butter until butter stops foaming. Add shallots and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Add tomatoes and sriracha and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes start to soften and break down, about 5 minutes. 
  2. Add wine, water, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer. Swirl in remaining 2 tablespoons butter until melted, then add clams. Cover and cook over medium heat until clams are wide open, 10 to 12 minutes.
  3. Transfer clams and broth to a serving bowl. Top with cilantro and parsley. Serve with bread alongside. 
Baked or Grilled Clams
  1. Preheat oven to 425° or prepare a grill for medium-high heat. In a small bowl, whisk butter, garlic, lemon juice, horseradish, hot sauce, and salt to combine.
  2. Divide clams between 2 large sheets of heavy-duty foil. Mold foil into a bowl shape around clams. Evenly pour butter mixture into foil pouches. 
  3. Crimp edges of pouches together, making sure there are no holes. Place in oven or on grill and cook until clams are wide open, 15 to 17 minutes; discard any clams that are still tightly closed.
  4. Transfer clams to a platter. Top with herbs. Serve with lemon wedges and remaining warm butter sauce alongside.
Raw Clams on the Half Shell
  1. Using a wire-mesh glove or thick kitchen towel, hold clam in your non-dominant hand with edge of clam facing out and hinged part toward your palm. Using a straight clam knife or paring knife, work your way into seam of clam closest to hinge. Once blade of knife is in clam, firmly but gently twist knife and pry shell open. Using knife, separate top shell from bottom shell, then dislodge meat from bottom shell to ensure easy eating. 
  2. In a small bowl, combine white wine vinegar, shallots, rice vinegar, and black pepper.
  3. Arrange halved clams on a plate on top of crushed ice. Serve mignonette alongside.

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