Grilled Clams

5 from 2 votes

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In a handful of minutes and almost no work, you can have warm, plump clams from the grill. Summertime bliss for all the shellfish lovers out there.

Grilled Clams on a white plate.

Grilled clams are one of the best hands-off grilling seafood appetizers of all time. You basically have to toss them on the hot grill, wait for them to open in just a few minutes, and then eat. No need to pry them open, no need to adorn them with anything more than just a squeeze of lemon. That’s it!

You might serve these plump, briny little bivalves up with some crusty bread. Or, if you feel like making one more easy appetizer, pair them with Pan con Tomate.

When many of us grill or entertain in the form of a cookout, we often think first and foremost about the main course and then focus on the sides. Appetizers can be a last-minute thought at best. And hey, you are not in any way obligated to do anything more than put out chips and a dip and let everyone anticipate the main event. However, for basically zero work and hardly any extra grilling time, you can wow your family and friends with a big bowl of simple grilled clams.

Grilled Clams on a table with bread.

Grilled Clams: In a handful of minutes, and almost no work, you can have warm, plump clams from the grill. Summertime bliss for all the shellfish lovers out there.

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How to Cook Clams on the Grill

The easiest and fastest way to cook clams on the grill is simply to place them in their closed shells onto the rack of a hot grill. Then, you just let the heat of the fire open the shells and warm the clams in their own juices.

Make sure that when you put the clams on the grill they are lying fairly flat. I used to think it mattered which side was down in terms of how the clam was released from the shell, but I have not found that to be the case. Whichever side of the shell pops up will remain attached to the clams, and the juice will collect in the bottom shell.

If you think you might cook shellfish regularly on the grill, you might think about a seafood grill basket or grill rack, maybe even one specially designed for seafood. When grilling clams, you don’t need to turn them, but you do want to make sure they are nicely nestled into the grill. If your clams are on the smaller side, you might run the risk of losing one through the grates.

Clams sitting on a grill.

Best Kind of Clams to Grill

You can grill basically any type of clam. There are three kinds of clams on the grill here: Littleneck, Cherrystone, and Topneck. Quahogs, chowders, manillas, and coquinas are also all great candidates for grilling. The more locally you can get your clams, the fresher they will be!

Woman squeezing lemon juice onto Grilled Clams.

FAQs

Do I need to shuck or open clams before grilling them?

No shucking needed…just grill the clams right in their shells, and they will open up all on their own, and the delicious juices will stay in the shell! Some people like to open the clams before putting them on the grill, removing the top shell and letting the clams grill nestled in the bottom shell. However, it does take you some extra time, and if you’re not comfortable wielding an oyster-shucking knife, this might be a bit intimidating as well. 

How long do clams take to cook on the grill?

This depends on the size of the clam and the heat of the fire. Clams cooked using the below method can take anywhere from 2 to 6 minutes to open on the grill. 

What is the best way to eat grilled clams?

The best way to remove the clams from the grill is with tongs, and you should try and keep your hand steady so that as much of the juices in the bottom shell stay there for slurping. You’ll have to detach the clam from the top shell to eat it. Then pour the liquid from the bottom shell into your mouth as a kind of chaser. Just try not to spill the juices!

Can I grill frozen clams?

Yes, you can cook frozen clams on the grill without thawing them. Seafood, in general, defrosts quite quickly, and once it hits the heat from the hot grill, the clams will thaw very fast. Put the frozen clams right on the hot grill, and know they may take an extra couple of minutes to cook.

How Many Clams to Serve Per Person

It depends on the size of the clams and the other appetizers you have on deck. For an appetizer portion, plan for 1/2 pound of clams per person, slightly more if your clams are large and the shells are heavy. 

Or you can think about the number of clams if that’s easier. Think about 10 small clams per person, 6 medium clams per person, or 4 large clams per person. You can also use cherrystone clams, which are smaller and will cook faster. About 32 of those will make appetizer-sized servings for 4 people.

These amounts should be doubled if you have big seafood lovers or if they are meant to be a main course. I think starting off with grilled clams and heading into New England Baked Haddock or Grilled Tuna Steak paired with a salad for an amazing summer meal.

Grilled Clams with a bowl of lemon wedges.

How to Serve Grilled Clams

Serve the clams on a large platter with some crusty bread for soaking up the juices and some lemon wedges for squeezing over. If you want to make them even more fantastic, serve them with little bowls of Easy Lemon Butter Sauce for dipping.

There are all sorts of sauces that are traditionally served with raw or lightly cooked bivalves (clams, mussels, oysters, etc.), such as mignonette or cocktail sauce. You can definitely put those alongside the clams, or you can offer up some lemon wedges, another common garnish. If your clams are super fresh (and I hope they are), a sprinkle of lemon juice is all they need to bring out their simple, briny glory.

What to Serve With Grilled Clams

Grilled Clams on a plate next to a glass of water.

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5 from 2 votes

Simple Grilled Clams

In a handful of minutes and almost no work, you can have warm, plump clams from the grill. Summertime bliss for all the shellfish lovers out there.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 4 People
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Equipment

Ingredients 

  • 2 pounds small clams
  • Lemon wedges

Instructions 

  • Preheat the grill to high heat.
  • Make sure that any clams (or other bivalves) you purchase smell very fresh and are not opened or cracked. Discard any that are either open or cracked.
  • Arrange the clams on the grill grate, nestling them in so that they sit flat and the juices remain in the shells. Close the lid and cook for 3 to 4 minutes (see above for cooking times for different-sized clams), until the clams open and are just barely cooked through. The best way to remove the clams from the grill is with tongs, and you should try and keep your hand steady so that as much of the juices in the bottom shell stay there for slurping.
  • Transfer them to a platter and serve hot with the lemon wedges.

Notes

  • You can grill basically any type of clam. There are three kinds of clams on the grill here: Littleneck, Cherrystone, and Topneck. Quahogs, chowders, manillas, and coquinas are also all great candidates for grilling. The more locally you can get your clams, the fresher they will be!
  • You’ll have to detach the clam from the top shell to eat it. Then pour the liquid from the bottom shell into your mouth as kind of a chaser. Just try not to spill the juices! Serve the clams on a large platter with some crusty bread for soaking up the juices.

Nutrition

Calories: 29kcal, Carbohydrates: 1g, Protein: 5g, Fat: 1g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 1g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 10mg, Sodium: 19mg, Potassium: 16mg, Vitamin A: 102IU, Calcium: 13mg, Iron: 1mg
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About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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