A clambake is a New England custom that involves digging a fire pit in the beach and lining it with heated stones. Lobsters, corn, potatoes, hotdogs, and, of course, clams are layered in the pit with seaweed and cooked for several hours. New Englanders often spend the day enjoying the beach and then gather with family and friends to share a good meal and celebrate the season’s end.
If you’re stuck in the Midwest like I am (or anywhere that is landlocked for that matter), there aren’t a lot of opportunities (if any) to have a traditional clambake. But you don’t need to live by the ocean to celebrate the end of summer with a clambake.
I’m planning on throwing a trashcan clambake this September with my family and friends. Not only does this alternative cooking method work well for lobsters and clams, but I’ve also been to trashcan bakes where the hosts cook sausage and chicken instead. While those who have never been to a trashcan feast may at first be skeptical about this unique cooking method, they’ll instantly be amazed at the delicious food this process produces. Combine it with Clambake Party Ideas for a fantastic end of summer bash.
- Clams and clam basket
- Lobster or chicken
- Spices and meat rubs of your choice
- Seaweed or burlap
- Non-galvanized metal trashcan with lid
- Hammer and nail (to poke holes in the lid)
- Two cement blocks
- Chicken wire or grill racks
- Fire retardant gloves and long tongs
- Preparations start the day beforehand with your ingredients. Clambakes include a variety of foods, like clams, lobster or chicken, potatoes, corn, and even hotdogs. Remove husks and silk from the corn and soak overnight in saltwater. If using chicken, make sure to apply any rubs a day in advance.
- Before your fire, make sure your trashcan is set for cooking. Use a new non-galvanized metal trash can with a lid. You want to make sure your can is non-galvanized because galvanized cans can emit fumes when heated.
- Nail several holes in the lid, so that steam can escape when you are cooking.
- Start a fire about four hours before you want to serve dinner. Let it burn down, and set up the trashcan on two cement blocks over the fire. There should be room underneath the can to maintain the fire. (The trashcan should not be sitting directly on it.)
- Add 2-3 inches of water in the bottom of the trashcan. Some people like to add a cup of vinegar to the water for flavor.
- Now it’s time to add the food! The food must sit above the water level at the bottom of the can (preferably 5-6 inches up). Use either grill racks or a bundle of chicken wire to do this. Once you have a steady base, you can begin layering the food.
- In traditional clambakes, seaweed is used as a layer between different food items. Many people don’t have easy access to seaweed. Try to get it if you can (it makes the food taste delicious), but you can use clean wet burlap instead.
- Start with a layer of seaweed or burlap on the bottom and then layer with the lobsters (belly down) or chicken. Alternate with corn, potatoes, and hotdogs with layers of seaweed in between. Make sure the can is not packed too tightly to allow for each layer to cook thoroughly. On top, put your clams in a wire basket. Add any seasonings as you go.
- When the clams open, this is a signal that your food is cooked. Depending on how much food you layer in the can, this may take between 1 ½-3 hours.
- Remove the trashcan from the fire, and use long tongs to place the food on separate platters. Put salt, pepper, and lots of butter, and enjoy!
- Use a non-galvanized metal trash can.
- Have an adult maintain the fire and watch over the can at all times.
- Use fire retardant gloves when handling the can and removing food.