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How to Host a Rhode Island Clambake (Without Being in Rhode Island)
Don't want to dig a four-foot hole in the ground? You can approximate a clambake on your stovetop.
08-20-2021
Grace Kelly

As an almost-lifelong Rhode Islander (I was born in Delaware, so I have strong small state cred), there are a few things that you have to do least once to prove your state loyalty: enjoy a Del’s lemonade via the slurp and squeeze method, make a proper stuffy (a.k.a., a stuffed clam), and complain about potholes. 

But there’s another, lesser done bucket list item: The Rhode Island Clambake. So, in an effort to prove my Rhode Island-ness, I gave it a go. 

Turns out a traditional Rhode Island clambake is a labor of love. Gone are appliances, pots and pans, and even the shelter of your own home. Instead, I found myself digging a hole on a remote beach with only my partner, his family, and a few cormorants for company.

digging a clambake

The process goes like this: dig a 3-by-4 foot hole, toss in some rocks, build a fire on top, let burn for two hours or so, remove ashes, toss on seaweed, drop in clams, potatoes, corn, onions, sausages and lobsters, cover with a damp piece of canvas, pin down with more rocks, and shovel some sand on top. Let cook for two-ish hours. Dig up, serve with loads of melted butter, pop the cork on some rosé and crack open a few ‘Gansetts and life is sweet as the clams you’re sucking down. Got that all?

It sounds like the perfect breezy-looking plot for an episode of Chef’s Table, but the reality is much less romantic, though nonetheless fun. There were a few things I learned from this adventure.

First, finding a beach to prepare a clambake is . . . difficult, since it’s often illegal to light a fire on the beach. We resorted to hauling 20 pounds of seaweed and a whole lotta firewood and ingredients onto a sailboat and making for a remote island where we could do our dirty deed undeterred. 

I also learned you’ll eat roughly a cup of sand each (you are eating out of a hole in the ground), and that a beach umbrella, plenty of sunscreen and drinking water are essential for a good time you won’t regret later.

clambake

But possibly the most important lesson is don’t wear a lick of white. I learned this the hard way, after algae-colored lobster guts splattered across my white bike shorts as I gorged myself. At least the lobster tasted good. 

The good news is that even if you’re not a Rhode Islander, you too can have a crack at a traditional Rhode Island clambake from the comfort of your own home—no beach or seaweed required. The only special item you’ll need is a piece of cheesecloth. 

To get started, tie up your clams in the cheesecloth. Then, gather your other ingredients—kielbasa or other sausage, small potatoes, corn, and a few lobsters—and set a 12-quart stockpot on the stovetop. Layer in, in this order: the kielbasa, clams and mussels, potatoes and corn, then top with the lobsters. Cover the pot and place over high heat, cooking until the potatoes are tender and lobsters are bright red, about 17 to 20 minutes. Watch our step-by-step video below, or read this if you prefer written instructions.

My ideal serving companions? Melted butter, some mustard, and a cooler full of ‘Gansetts. You might not be eating clams out of a hole in the ground, but they'll still taste as sweet.