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Aug 20, 2011 01:42 PM

A question about grilling clams

Should the clams (littlenecks) go directly onto the grill, or into a pan (maybe with a little EVOO, garlic, parsley) that goes on top of the grill? Also (and I know this is a topic for another board), what wines pair best with grilled clams? Thanks!

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  1. You can do either, but I put them directly on the grill just until they pop open. If they are not perfectly level you may lose some juice. You could squirt some flavoring from a squeeze bottle into them as they open to add some zip (your choice of whatever you like).

    Wine could depend upon what added flavors you like. Could be a Sauv Blanc or even a Riesling or Gewurz. Your preference should dictate.

    1. In a pan would be a lot easier since, as acgold said, you risk losing some juice on the grill. And you do have to be vigilant and pull each one off as it opens, while the pan gives you a little more leeway. Though even with those I keep a pretty close eye.

      1. I decided I didn't want to lose that precious clam nectar, so I opted to grill them on a pan. They were delicious, but I honestly can't say I could tell they were grilled. Now I'm wondering if putting them on the pan kind of "neutralized" the grilling effect, or if I should have used some wet hardwood chips for smoke.

        9 Replies
        1. re: CindyJ

          "Grilled" clams don't really pick up up any specific grilled flavor, as you would get with a steak, chicken breast or burger. Their shells just get in the way. Clams directly on the grill or the in a pan will have the same lack of grilled flavor. Smoking them or using hardwood chips may add a slight smokiness, but clams normally cook quickly and won't necessarily have time to pick up any smoke. Sad, but that's just the way it is. Same goes for oysters in the shell on the grill.

          The easiest way to deal with smaller clams on the grill is in a perforated vegetable grilling pan.

          1. re: bushwickgirl

            Exactly, because of the nature of the way we cook these kinds of shellfish -- they're done the moment the shells open, so obviously no smoke or grilled flavor can get to the meat itself. It all goes to the shell. If you eat them directly off the half-shell you'd pick up some grilled flavor from the shell but if you even use a fork you'd not really get much grilled flavor at all.

            Different for something that might spend more time on the grill without a shell barrier, like a split lobster tail or a peeled shrimp.

            If you had some form of baked preparation -- like a clams casino or similar -- you could do that on the grill or in a smoker and you'd pick up some smoke flavor. Or just try shucking them first, place in a pan on some salt so they don't tip over, and grill with some wood chips, lid closed.

            (I just realized I just assumed you orignially put them on the grill closed and pulled them off as they opened.)

            1. re: acgold7

              You assumed correctly. As they "popped" open, I removed them, repositioned the remaining clams over what appeared to be the hotter part of the grill, and closed the lid again.

              This all leaves me wondering why I grilled them at all. It would have been easier to just cook them in a pan indoors.

              1. re: CindyJ

                I sometimes put a bit of partially cooked bacon on top, if you're looking for smokiness.

                1. re: coll

                  Mmmmm... bacon and clams are great together!

                  1. re: CindyJ

                    I just saw an interesting tidbit in the Food & Wine eletter; a chef was grilling oysters, and allowed the butter he made (a blend of whole butter, Tabasco, leeks, etc, he lost me at Tabasco, not my fav hot sauce) to dip or spill, when the oysters wobble, onto the charcoal to create smoke from the burning butter, which in turn smokes the oysters. Mm, not sure how smoky they'd be. Guess you could try that with your clams.

                    Here's the recipe link:


                    1. re: bushwickgirl

                      Interesting! I also wonder how smokey they'd be. There are easier ways to create smoke, though, and since the oysters are shucked first, they might benefit from the smoke more than the clams would.

                2. re: CindyJ

                  The bacon would only do good.

                  There was a thread here at one point discussing a technique using pine needles in the grill to add a "piney' flavor to grilled clams; not a very desirable addition, imo, but IIRC, the needles burn off very quickly and don't impart any flavor to the clams, plus there's the off chance of starting more of a blaze than you'd care to.

          2. Do it on a pan! I learned the hard way, threw them on the grill, had clam juice drip all over the grill and it was a mess to clean up.

            2 Replies
              1. re: erica

                Thanks, erica. That recipe looks really good. The one I ended up using was a variation of this one: I added the clam juices to the breadcrumb mixture, I used chopped parsley in place of the basil and I added a bit more garlic than the recipe called for (so what else is new?). The crunch from the toasted breadcrumbs was nice with the clams.

            1. Though not technically grilling, I do like to use my grill to cook clams. I use a large disposable foil pan, add the clams, some white wine (1/4 to 1/2 inch in the bottom of the pan), butter, chopped garlic, finely chopped tomatoes, maybe some chopped parsley, put the whole pan on the grill and cook until the clams pop open. I usually don't bother pulling off the opened ones as they cook because they generally all open within about two minutes after the first ones open, and it doesn't seem to negatively impact the already done ones. However, if it is taking longer than that, I will have a bowl ready to pluck out the done ones.

              Not a traditional grilling or steaming, sort of a blending of the two. Doing it on the grill has the benefit of not heating up my kitchen, and I usually make these as a starter for a steak dinner, so I'm already heating up the grill.