Grilled Littleneck Clams

Chef's notes:

I recently went to the Pacific Northwest and did some clam digging with friends. It was something I hadn’t done for many years. But it is something that I wish I could do more often. We dug clams for a few hours, then cleaned them and ate them right then and there. They were the best tasting clams that I have ever had. Unfortunately the clams that I am cooking on the grill here were dredge harvested in the Atlantic. Which is just depressing. These clams were depressing. They tasted okay. But you could tell they had been sitting around for a few days. Plus I mean nothing really compares to digging your own. I may have set the bar a little high for this one.


  • 25 littleneck clams or other clams
  • ¼‒½ pound salted butter
  • 4‒6 cloves of garlic, minced

Fresh Littleneck Clams Scrubbed, Cleaned, Grilled, and Served with Garlic Butter

  1. Scrub the clams clean and rinse them. Clams come from muddy, sandy places. So when I say clean them, I mean scrub their shells really well. You don’t want to soak them in tap water as that will kill them. Just rinse them under the faucet and scrub the shell with a good brush.
  2. Fire up the grill and clean it. Use a chimney starter and get a few handfuls of charcoal going. Or if you have gas, which would be easier, just crank it up to high for a few minutes. As always, you will want to clean the grates, though it is less important in this case.
  3. Put the clams on the grill and close the lid. Dump the charcoal in the middle of the grill and let it get nice and ashy before you put the clams on. For gas, turn the heat down to medium-low. Put the clams on and close the lid. You are basically making an outdoor oven.
  4. After a few minutes the clams will begin to open. There is liquid inside the shell, and as it boils, it will create steam and cook the inside of the clam. This will eventually release the muscle that keeps the shell closed and the shell will open. Discard any unopened or empty-feeling ones after 10 minutes. Serve with a garlic butter.

Tips & Tricks

  • If you live near an ocean, soak the clams in several changes of sea water to get them to spit out any sand inside. For this you would almost have to dig the clams yourself, which, if you haven’t done before, is something that you should try. It’s very fun.
  • If you are adding some smoke to the grill, don’t really bother. It adds only a smidgen of flavor since they cook for such a short time. Plus the shell gets very bitter from the smoke and if you eat clams on the half-shell its almost enough to numb your lips.
  • You must have the lid on to get the grill hot enough, which should be hot like an oven—400‒500 degrees F.
  • Don’t worry about flipping them. They will cook through if the lid is on.