How To Add A Smoky Flavor When Grilling Clams

If you've never grilled clams before, this is your invitation. Though many of us associate this type of seafood with steamers or chowder, grilling clams is a great way to cook these flavorful mollusks that are not nearly as difficult as you might think. The shell makes it a brilliant barrier against the heat of the grill, protecting the meat within. And if you're a fan of smoky flavors, there is a wonderful way to get your grilled clams tasting as if they've emerged from a long smoke.

While smoking is a different process, this trick does incorporate elements of a classic, indirect smoking method. To try this technique, move the pre-grilled clams away from direct heat to the cooler half of the grill, where they won't be exposed to the high heat and risk overcooking. Then you can add apple, hickory, cherry, or any other type of wood that you like, and lightly smoke the clams for 20 minutes. The clams emerge with a great smoky flavor but in less than half the time of a traditional smoke. 

How to grill clams

The process of grilling clams really begins with your choice of clam. On the East Coast, you could go with littlenecks, which are small, sweet, and tender, or the more sought-after cherrystones, which are larger and more savory. Both are great for grilling. On the West Coast, there are the hard shell manila clams, though these really lend themselves better to steaming.

Once you've decided on the type of clam you'll be using, they need to be cleaned. Once this step is done, you can cook the clams directly on the grill grate, however, depending on the size of the clams and the gap in the grate, they could fall through and be lost. This is where a clam basket, cast iron skillet, or oven-proof pot comes in handy. They act as a vessel to hold the clams, but you still get the flavor provided by the grill.

When you've selected your vessel of choice, you can grill clams over direct heat for about five minutes. At this stage, you'll check to see if the clams have opened up. Remove any that have and continue cooking for another two to three minutes to give the other clams an opportunity to open and release juice. Once all your clams are open and steaming, they are ready to go. Then you can return them to the grill to get that smoky flavor, for a delicious meal you won't soon forget.