How to Smoke Clams

Smoky flavor brings out the best in salty clams. Arranging the clams on the grill in their own sauce requires minimal culinary skill, but preparing them first requires patience.


  • Large clams such as Quahogs are too tough and chewy for grilling, so look instead to smaller varieties , such as littlenecks and steamers.

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Simple Prep

Clams should be bought alive and fresh. Farmed clams are usually flushed and cleaned before sale, and therefore require only rinsing under cold running water. Wild clams need to be thoroughly cleaned and purged before cooking to remove any sand in the meat.

  • Soak the clams for an hour in salted water, allowing
    approximately 2 tablespoons of coarse salt per quart. Adding a little cornmeal
    to the solution also encourages the clams to expel their impurities quicker. 
  • Discard any clams that aren’t closed or appear
  • Scrub the clams under cold water and remove any debris.

Grill Set-Up

Although clams can be tossed straight onto coals, as in a beach barbecue, the aim of smoking is to cook them with an indirect heat and keep them succulent.

Arrange a two-zone grill with the coals, or burner, on one side. Soak wood chips first for an hour in water. Hickory, pecan and mesquite will all produce a mellow, aromatic smoke.

Scatter the wood chips on the coals. If cooking with propane, use a metal smoker box and fill it with soaked chips. If your grill doesn’t come with one, make your own from an aluminum tray covered with pierced foil. The smoker box goes directly over the burner.

Clam Bake

Smoke the clams in an aluminum tray or broad open roasting tray, which you put on the cooler side of the grill.

  • Melt butter in the tray and fry off some smoky
    bacon or pancetta. Add garlic and spices such as paprika and chili powder.
  • Add the washed clams and create a steaming broth from lemon
    juice, Worcestershire sauce and a can of pilsner or lager. White wine or Pernod
    also make aromatic broth.
  • Cover the grill, but not the tray, and allow it to smoke for 20 minutes. As the heat accumulates, you’ll be sealing in heady swathes of
    pungent smoke and steam.
  • Remove the tray from the smoker and check that all the clams
    have opened. Discard any that are still closed.
  • Sprinkle the clams with parsley and serve in the broth with
    a side of crusty bread.  


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