Helpful tips for Clambake this weekend?

My wife and I are taking a little birthday road-trip up the Mendocino coastline for the weekend, and we’re planning to stop at a local seafood market in Bodega Bay to fill our cooler with fresh live shellfish; Dungeness crabs, cherrystone and littleneck clams, scallops, mussels, local oysters, prawns, etc.

The cottage that we’re staying at has a fairly large and fully stocked kitchen, but it also has an old stone and charcoal BBQ pit out back:

I really want to try and pull off a traditional clambake, but I’m not entirely sure the best way to go about doing it and I would really appreciate your thoughts and suggestions…

The easiest way to do it would obviously be indoors in a stovetop stock pot, but that doesn’t seem like much fun.

I figure we have our own BBQ pit, we might as well put it to use!

I’d really like to try and do this as authentically as possible. We are staying right by the sea, so I’d love to forage and beachcomb for large stones, kelp, seaweed, and brown & green algae along the shore, to use for our cookout.

Ideally we’d fill a pot with tap water, add some coarse grain Sonoma sea salt (from Spice Ace in SF), line the bottom of our stock pot with local stones, layer with a bed of kelp and seaweed, then add some red fingerling and sweet potatoes, live Dungeness crabs, Polish sausages, garlic cloves, clams, mussels, oysters, cipollini onions, prawns, sweet corn, leeks, lemons, and so on. Then carpet with more seaweed and kelp, and place directly over the BBQ pit.

Here’s where things get a bit confusing for me…

  1. I’m not certain what kind of pot we’ll actually be cooking with. I was told that our cottage has a large cast-iron dutch oven, but upon further inquiry, I found out it’s only 5 qts which hardly seems large enough for a proper clambake; especially if I’m layering with stones and seaweed, right? My wife is asking her friends whether anyone has a larger 10-20 qt stock pot or dutch oven that we could borrow for the weekend, but that leads into question number two…

  2. Assuming we’re working with stainless steel or aluminum rather than heavier cast iron, can we still cook directly over a charcoal grill without overheating the base of the pot and overcooking the shellfish? Presumably the rocks and seaweed bed will help to distance the seafood from the direct heat but I’ve never heard of anyone steaming shellfish over stones in a stainless stock pot. Would this work and what are the potential cons in doing it this way versus over the stovetop?

  3. If we do this over the charcoal pit, would you recommend mixing pieces of hot charcoal with the stones INSIDE the base of the pot and then covering with seaweed? Would this only be possible in a dutch oven? I ask because I’ve seen this done on YouTube using a Weber grill for a clambake, but I’m not sure whether this would be a good idea with a stainless stock pot? As you can probably gather, I’ve never done a clambake over a BBQ pit before, so apologies if some of these questions seem obvious!

I’m just trying to figure out the best and most FUN way to pull this off so that we can enjoy fresh and great tasting shellfish by the seashore - our cottage and BBQ pit (w/ hammock beside it!) overlooks the Pacific ocean, so I really want to take advantage of that. I picked up a really nice bottle of Zind Humbrecht “Hengst” Gewürztraminer Grand Cru from 2013 to pair with the above, and the thought of swaying outside in a hammock with a 12 pack of Russian River and the smell of burning charcoal wafting through the salty ocean air really excites me! I’d love to be able to use the BBQ pit with whatever cooking pot we end up getting, without compromising on the outcome of the shellfish, so please let me know how you would plan to do this! Any additional cooking tips you have to offer would be really helpful!

Also, what size stock pot / dutch oven do you suppose would be ideal; 10qts? 12qts? 20qts?

Thanks so much!!

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One more question: I understand that if cooking stovetop in a stainless pot (w/o the beach stones and traditional clambake setup) that I would probably want to start by cooking the potatoes, crab and sausages before adding the clams, prawns, corn, etc. so that everything comes out perfectly cooked, since it’s not getting slow cooked by steam. What about on the charcoal grill? Is the slow and low approach effected by creating a barrier between the water in the pot and the seafood (i.e. building the rock and kelp bed) and is this only possible to do on the charcoal grill? I’m just trying to figure out why the different cooking techniques are applied to charcoal cooking (whether buried in sand on beach or on a Weber) versus the indoor stovetop method.

Thanks again!

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I don’t have time for a long answer right now and I’m on my phone. I’ll try to chime in again later.

But for a container - you can use a galvanized tub (think ice cooler for drinks). And you can cover it with foil to help hold in steam. That way you don’t have the expense of a large pot that will get charred over the grill.

In this case you wouldn’t need rocks - can just do a few inches of water then seaweed etc. just keep the coals hot under the pot. The rocks are to keep the heat going as the coals go out (since you can’t restock the coals once they are fully covered.

The method is never foolproof. But with the fun of being on the beach most people let it slide.

This way you can also open the foil and pull out a few test items if you want. If you are really type A - you can also divide the layers with cheese cloth (or buy some unbleached muslin on the cheap from a Joann’s). Which makes it easier to pull some things out should you have to and then recover if some things aren’t done. I put my potatoes on the bottom since I’d rather eat over cooked potatoes.

PS. Doing this in a pot also typically results in some seaweed scorching in the pot - which discolors the pot forever. If you do it a lot no big deal but something to know if using a good pot.

From google

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Found this link as a starting point for times. I’m from east coast so do lobster - not sure how to adjust for crabs.

He seems to put things in a dry tub - we always had some water on bottom but he adds wine so I guess that does the same things.

https://www.google.com/amp/www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/michael-chiarello/backyard-lobster-bake-recipe-3381685.amp

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Thank you so much these tips, I’m calling my local hardware store right now to ask whether they carry galvanized washtubs!!

Would you mix some coals in underneath the seaweed as well using this method or is there no need for that? Should all of the ingredients be layered above water level, nesting on the seaweed with only the seaweed submerged?

We don’t mix coals in the tub - we just set the whole thing over the hot coals Depending on the grill height - you may be able to just put on the grates. Just need hot enough coals to create the steam.

In theory you don’t need any water really - the cooking seaweed creates the steam. We always add some water to help that along but we may not need to (family tradition rather than tried and tested truth). All the items we add are typically above the water line so they all steam rather than boil.

In the link I sent they talk about putting the clams in a cheese cloth bag - we’ve never done that but again if you’re worried having the different layers/items separated by muslin helps remove some items while leaving others behind. We used to do this but decided we would rather just risk it rather than over tending everything. That way everyone enjoys the beach.

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Fantastic! I’m so glad I started this thread instead of just winging it… I could already see that it wouldn’t have gone well and I would’ve been so disappointed, so thanks for saving our clambake! :smile:

Oh - and bring good pot holders. The pot gets heavy, they help dig a little too to test the items near the bottom, and wet pot holders become useless so a few extra never hurt. (Or lots of kitchen towels, just something).

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Have you ever tried straining the water at the bottom of the pot and adding some parsley and herbs and butter to make a stock for the clams after you’re done cooking? I plan on tossing in a bunch of garlic cloves and I bet the flavors of the clams and onions and seaweed and salty lemony water would probably make for a delicious dipping sauce with some butter and herbs mixed in.

I think the kitchen in our cottage is fairly well stocked and they should have some good pot holders. I’m emailing with the owners just to be certain. They’re really accommodating and actually called a bunch of local shops to see if they could find a larger quart cast-iron stock pot before I informed them I’d be bringing a washtub! They also just sent me a list of the fresh produce grown in their organic garden and it’s pretty impressive; I might start a new thread for more recipe ideas! Can you think of any other essential cooking utensils that we should inquire about? I’m told they have all the grill tools and wood (I guess as starter?) so we just need to bring our own charcoal.

Btw, I’m watching some videos on YouTube where people are using garbage cans for their clambake! :smile:

If you want to use the broth, you need to start looking at “boils” instead of “bakes”. The seaweed doesn’t make for a good stock.

No, that’s okay; I was just asking. It was just a random idea I had. Can I use any seaweed found on the beach or are there certain types to avoid?

That one I’m not a good resource for - New England coast we use the seaweed that is easily found all along the rocky coast. There aren’t any types to avoid. I have no idea if that holds true for the west coast.

I was thinking the same thing. I thought a lobster or clam bake is a New England thing, with a pit dug in the wet sand, coals or wood, then seaweed, then pile the clams or lobster on top of that.

A boil is a giant pot full of shrimp, sausage, potatoes and corn (and Old Bay). I’ve had that in the Carolinas. A low country boil sounds like what the OP is describing, but with clams. In Maryland, my sister-in-law does a similar boil, but with crabs.

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I’ll be using live crabs, clams, mussels, oysters, scallops, prawns… whatever I can get my hands on at the local seafood market that’s fresh!

This will end up being more like a trad New England clambake minus the sand. I’ll be following the same concept with just a bit of water at the base to keep the seaweed moist help the steam and maybe a few splashes of wine to add some aromatic flavor to the tub. I’m from the East Coast and I used to spend summers/autumns along the northern coast of Maine and I really miss it!

Here’s hoping it’s a success… I’ll take a few cell pics to post on return!

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Our family’s lobster parties on the rocks in Maine used the galvanized garbage can (never used for anything but lobster:). It was used for decades and borrowed by many. Lots of seaweed, some seawater, lobsters and corn. When done all was spilled out onto the rocks. No utensils needed, rocks were the nutcrackers. Hope all goes well and you report back with results. The suggestion above for cheesecloth or muslin “bags” might be helpful as you are including many small things that might get lost in the seaweed.

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I just called the local market in Bodega Bay and was told the recent storms wiped out all the Quahogs, which is kind of a bummer; I was hoping to steam some cherrystones and littlenecks. They can only get Manilla clams so I pre-order 4 lbs, but I’m going to call Swan Oyster Depot ($$$) and see what they have.

Do cheesecloths actually come in bag form or are they just regular sheets and do you just tie/secure them with a basic hand knot or rope?

I’ve seen them on rare occasions in the markets here in Boston. But yes you can buy actual bags - but really a folded piece of muslin has worked for us. Could always take a square and tie it up too.

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Hmmm fire roasted oysters for an appetizer while you’re waiting for the bake.

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I’m having some real trouble sourcing live crab. It’s out of local season for Dungeness and nobody seems to be getting any in from Washington. I just spoke with the guys from Swan Oyster and they’re going to try and get some in for Friday morning but they strongly recommended and encouraged me not mess with live Dungeness. I’ve only cooked live lobsters, never crab, and I was told that it’s a complete mess to open and clean when they come out of the tub steaming hot and you have to tear off the gills and guts, etc. He suggested that I let them prepare it so that all I would need to do is drop them in the steamer for a few minutes. I was reluctant and explained what I had in mind, but he insisted that everyone he knows that’s attempted it for the first time have said they wouldn’t do it again, so I eventually caved. I hope I’m doing the right thing as this isn’t exactly what I was planning. He’s going to save the shell with the delicious fat to throw into the tub though. I guess this won’t exactly be the most authentic clambake in the end, but I’ve 3 lbs of Manillas, a dozen oysters in the shell, a dozen prawns, 1/2 dozen scallops, and 2 Dungeness crabs, so it can’t be that bad…

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