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Nantucket clambake
© Buff Strickland

Nantucket Clambake

  • ACTIVE: 2 HRS
  • TOTAL TIME: 4 HRS
  • SERVINGS: 12

In a classic New England clambake, lobsters, clams, corn and potatoes cook in a rock-lined pit. Smoke and steam from hardwood coals and seaweed create incredible briny, sweet-smoky flavors. A terrific weekend activity, it requires some planning. A few key points:

Most public beaches prohibit fires, even if the clambake is on a private beach; ask the local fire, parks and health departments if any permits are required. Keep a fire extinguisher and a large bucket of seawater close by.

Avoid flooding your pit. Plan the clambake for low tide. To ensure the water table is low enough, dig a small, two-feet-deep test hole. If the hole is still dry after an hour, dig your pit.

Be sure to get the right-sized rocks: too small and they'll lose their heat too quickly; too large, and they won't heat through.

Don't use just any seaweed. The pockets of water and air in rockweed create the necessary steam and flavor.

Hold all the ingredients in coolers while you build the pit and fire.

  1. 3 pounds new potatoes
  2. Twelve 1-pound lobsters
  3. 12 pounds littleneck clams, scrubbed and rinsed
  4. 2 pounds dried chorizo sausage
  5. 1 dozen ears of unhusked corn
  6. 6 sticks (1 1/2 pounds) unsalted butter, melted
  1. In a large, deep pot, cover the potatoes with cold, salted water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Drain well.
  2. On a flat beach, dig a 6-by-4-foot pit 2 feet deep. Line the pit with 90 rocks. Dig a 2-foot-wide pit nearby, also 2 feet deep.
  3. Using 8 logs, build a bonfire in the large pit. Over the next hour and 45 minutes, add 6 logs to the fire every 15 minutes, building the fire outwards so that it covers the base of the pit. After the first 45 minutes, as the logs turn to coals, add 20 rocks to the fire. When the logs have completely turned to coals, after about 2 hours, shovel the 20 rocks to the sides. Leaving a 1-inch-thick layer of coals atop and between the rocks, shovel the rest of the coals into the smaller pit and extinguish with water.
  4. Meanwhile, using a screwdriver, perforate the baking pans, punching holes in the bottoms about every inch.
  5. Arrange the lobsters and potatoes together in 6 of the pans. Arrange the clams, chorizo and corn in the 6 remaining pans.
  6. Wearing mitts, line the pit with a 1/2-inch-thick layer of rockweed. Arrange the pans on the rockweed in a single layer. Top the pans with a 1-inch-thick layer of rockweed. Fold the tarps in half lengthwise to measure 5 by 8 feet. Stack them on top of the rockweed. Weight down the edges of the top-most tarp with the remaining 10 rocks to trap the steam. Bake for about 1 hour, checking after 45 minutes. The lobsters and potatoes should be done; the clams, corn and chorizo will need another 15 minutes. When cooked, the lobsters will be bright red, the clams open, and the corn and potatoes fork-tender. Serve with melted butter.
Notes Equipment
Fire extinguisher
1 large bucket
1 or 2 full-size shovels
120 rocks, about the size of grapefruits
50 hardwood logs, each about 2 feet long and 8 inches in diameter
Screwdriver
Twelve 9-by-13-by-1 1/2-inch disposable aluminum baking pans
Heavy-duty oven mitts
25 pounds rockweed
Three 10-by-8-foot canvas tarps, soaked in water
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