Seaside clambakes are a New England tradition. Native Americans are said to have taught the Pilgrims the technique, which is an all-day undertaking. For an authentic clambake on the beach, you dig a big pit in the sand about 2 to 3 feet deep and line the pit with rocks. Then you burn plenty of wood over the rocks for 2 to 3 hours, until the rocks are smoking hot (about 400°F). After you’ve raked away the coals, layers of seaweed, potatoes, corn, small clams, mussels, and sometimes sausages or other ingredients go directly over the hot rocks. Add some more seaweed, top with a huge, sea-soaked burlap tarp and more hot rocks, and let the whole shebang steam until the food is cooked through and infused with the briny aroma of the sea. If you don’t have a beach nearby (or enough wood to burn for 3 hours), here’s the backyard method. We use a covered kettle grill as the pit and rehydrated store-bought seaweed in place of fresh seaweed. The ingredients are layered in a large roasting pan, and the pan is put directly on the coals on the bottom of the grill. You could also do this on a gas grill with medium heat under the roasting pan, but we like the charcoal kettle grill because it’s closer to the original method.
Soak wood chips: 1 hour
Prep: 30 minutes
Grill: 1 to 1½ hours.
BBQ TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
– Large roasting pan, such as a turkey roaster (heavy-duty if disposable)
– Heat-resistant grill mitts (preferably heatproof silicone)
– Long-handled tongs
– 40-by-15-inch piece of burlap
– 2 cups wood chunks or chips, preferably oak.
– Look for dried kombu seaweed in an Asian grocery store or large supermarket.
– Soaking mussels in salt water helps to rid them of any lingering sand. Mix ½ cup of salt in about a gallon of water in a large bowl. Add the mussels and let soak for 1 hour. Then scrub the mussels with a stiff brush under running water and yank off the mosslike “beard”, using pliers if necessary.
– For the burlap, an old coffee sack works well. Ask for one at your local coffee shop. Some hardware stores also carry burlap.
Gas: Indirect heat, medium (325° to 350°F)
3- or 4-burner grill – middle burner(s) on medium-low
Indirect heat, medium ash
Split charcoal bed (about 2 dozen coals per side), single layer of coals in center
20 replacement coals.
INGREDIENTS (MAKES 10 TO 12 SERVINGS)
3 ounces dried kombu (kelp) seaweed (see Tips)
3 pounds small red-skinned or white potatoes, scrubbed
1 tablespoon crab boil seasoning, such as Old Bay, or sea salt
2 onions, peeled, leaving the root end intact, and cut lengthwise into eighths
12 ounces cured Portuguese linguiça or Spanish chorizo, sliced ½ inch thick
8 ears fresh corn, shucked and halved crosswise
3 dozen littleneck or small cherrystone clams
3 dozen mussels, scrubbed and debearded (see Tips)
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley
6 live lobsters, 1 to 1½ pounds each
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
2 lemons, cut into wedges.
1. Heat the grill as directed. Soak the wood chunks or chips in water for 1 hour.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the kombu, letting it soak until softened, about 5 minutes. Reserve the soaking liquid.
3. Put a thick layer of seaweed over the bottom of a large roasting pan such as a turkey roaster (heavy-duty if disposable), reserving some of the seaweed for the top layer. Put the potatoes in a single layer over the seaweed. Sprinkle the potatoes with a little of the crab boil seasoning, then add layers of onions, corn, sausage, clams, and mussels, in that order, sprinkling some crab boil seasoning and a few parsley sprigs over each layer. Pour about 1 cup of the seaweed soaking liquid over all of the ingredients. Arrange the remaining seaweed over the top. Soak the burlap in the remaining soaking liquid until saturated, 5 minutes. Fold the burlap to make a double thickness, then drape it over the seaweed, tucking the edges inside the roasting pan to cover the ingredients.
4. Rake a single layer of hot coals over the center of the grill, leaving the remaining hot coals banked on opposite sides. Put half of the soaked wood chunks or chips over the coals on the sides. When the wood begins to smolder, put the roasting pan over the coals in the middle of the grill, cover the grill, and cook with the vents open until the potatoes are tender and the clams and mussels have opened, 1 to 1½ hours. Test the potatoes by lifting up a corner of the cover, digging down with tongs, and poking the potatoes with a knife or fork. Add the replacement coals and the remaining wood chunks to both sides of the grill when the old ones begin to die out. If your grill has a temperature gauge, it should stay at around 350°F.
5. About 30 minutes before serving, bring 2 large pots of salted water to a boil. Add half the lobsters to each pot. Cover and cook until the shells are bright red, 8 to 12 minutes per batch. Remove and cover loosely with foil to keep warm.
6. Remove the roasting pan from the grill and transfer to a large trivet for serving. Or transfer the ingredients to a large serving platter. Discard the seaweed, parsley, and any clams or mussels that have not opened. Pour any juices from the bottom of the pan over the clambake. Sprinkle with a bit more crab boil seasoning. Cut the cooked lobsters in half lengthwise and arrange on top. Serve with the melted butter for drizzling or dipping, and lemon wedges for squeezing.