Clams smoked in a Masterbuilt Smoker are a real treat. They are my preference over the smoked clams you find in a can. Freshly smoked clams are plump and juicy. You can enjoy them right away or preserve them in olive oil for another day.
You do have to prep the clams by soaking them in cold water for at least an hour so the clams release any sand that might be inside the shells. I learned a trick from an old friend and a good southern cook. After rinsing the clams, she placed them in a large bowl. Then, she sprinkled some cornmeal over the clams and covered them with ice and cold water. She set the clams aside for 1 to 2 hours. Apparently, the cornmeal is a bit irritating and encourages the clams to purge their sand.
After the clams have soaked in their cold bath, you do need to rinse them again. The next step is optional. You can shuck the clams and remove the top half of the shelf and smoke the clams on the half shell. Personally, I don’t shuck them. It is not within my skill set and takes too much time. I smoke the clams whole in their shells.
The reason some cooks shuck the clams first is because the clams will be exposed to the smoke for a longer period of time. The clams should start to open in about 10 minutes and then the smoke will get inside the shells. It is like steaming the clams in the shell in their own juices before they are finished cooking with smoke.
The grates on many smoker racks are too far apart for the clams to sit on. I have a shallow vegetable grill pan that has holes in the bottom. I place the clams in the pan with the hinge side down. That way, the clams will open without the juices escaping. You could also use a grill basket or a cooling rack insert for a sheet pan.
Choosing the Clams
Clams come in many different sizes and shapes. For smoking, I am partial to the quahog family of clams. These are common clams found on the east coast. The shells are hard and the bodies are moist and sweet. Quahogs include cherrystones, topnecks, and littlenecks. These are terrific raw, cooked, or used to make chowder. My favorite would be the littlenecks because they are medium-sized, have a ton of briny flavor, and aren’t too chewy. These are great for smoking.
Manila clams are common on the west coast. These tiny hardshell clams are also sweet. They can be smoked, but you will need to use a pan because of their size.
Razor clams are long and thin with a softer shell. The flesh is delicate. These are typically grilled or used in ceviche. Like razor clams, steamers are soft-shelled. They are best served steamed, as the name implies.
Geoduck (pronounced gooey-duck) clams are rather large. Their habitat is the upper west coast and Alaska. The meat is chewy and a little bit crunchy. I wouldn’t know how to smoke these, but I am pretty sure that is a great way to cook these giant clams.
My vote is for littlenecks for this recipe.
How to Serve Smoked Clams
Smoked clams are so good right out of the smoker. They are even better with butter, wine, and lemon sauce poured over the top. They are also perfect over linguini with olive oil, garlic, and fresh herbs.
If you are looking for a classic clam feast, try making a complete seafood dinner or clambake in your smoker. This would include another smoked shellfish, such as skewered shrimp or sea scallops. Shrimp takes a little less time to smoke, so start the clams first.
The traditional sides for a clam bake are corn on the cob and smoked whole potatoes. I like to take the potatoes up a notch by smoking a potato casserole with ham and cheese. The corn and potatoes will take longer than the seafood to smoke so start them earlier. And, place the vegetables on the rack above the shellfish so the juices don’t drip down onto them.
I am fond of serving a large green salad and a loaf of crusty garlic bread with my clams or seafood dinner. The salad lightens up the meal and the bread is great for sopping up any sauce that is in the bowl of clams.
Smoked Clams with Butter, Wine, and Lemon Sauce Recipe
The sauce in this recipe can be made while the clams are smoking. I like to do this at about 30 minutes into the process.
- 3 lbs whole fresh littleneck (or similar) clams in their shells
- 1-1/2 tsps cornmeal
- 4 TBS unsalted butter
- 1 TBS extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 1 large clove of garlic, minced
- 2 TBS red bell pepper, minced
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1-1/2 tsps fresh lemon juice
- 2 TBS fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
- Alder, pecan, or applewood chips
- Water and 4 lemon slices
Total time:1 hour 55 min – Prep time:1 hour 20 min – Smoke time:35 min – Serves:3 people
1. Using a vegetable brush, clean the shells of the clams under cold running water. If any are open or have cracked shells, discard them. Place the clams in a large bowl. Sprinkle the cornmeal over the clams. Cover the calms with ice cubes. Pour in cold water to cover everything. Set this aside to soak for 1 to 2 hours.
2. Add the wood chips to the smoker tray and fill the liquid bowl halfway with water and the lemon slices. Preheat the smoker to 225°F with the top vent open.
3. Rinse the clams well under cold water to remove any additional sand. Place the clams in a perforated vegetable grill pan. Or, place them on a fine mesh cooling rack or grilling basket. If you don’t have any of these, use a disposable sheet pan and poke a bunch of holes in it with a fork or skewer to allow for excess moisture to drain.
4. Put the pan, rack, or basket on a shelf inside the preheated smoker and smoke for 30 minutes. The clams should start to open in approximately 10 minutes. Continue to smoke, checking at 10-minute intervals. You don’t want to overcook and dry out the clams, so check them often. There should still be some of the liquid inside the shell.
5. Prepare the sauce while the clams are smoking. In a saucepot over medium-high heat, melt the butter and olive oil. Add the shallots, garlic, and red bell pepper. Cook until the vegetables are just softened, approximately 2 minutes. Stir in the wine and lemon juice and allow the sauce to come up to a boil. Simmer for approximately 4 minutes or just until the raw wine taste is cooked out and the sauce has reduced. Stir in the parsley, salt, and pepper. Remove from the heat.
6. Discards any clams that haven’t opened. Place the cooked clams in a large serving bowl and spoon the sauce all over to coat evenly. Serve while warm with crusty bread and sides (suggestions above). You will need a bowl for the shells and a lot of napkins.