What are the best clams for steaming?

Everyone has their own way of enjoying seafood, particularly when it’s about feasting on clams. Imagine a warm summer evening, the sun just beginning to dip below the horizon as you sit at your family picnic table covered with newspaper. The smell of drawn butter and a pot of steam clams is hard to resist. If you are steaming clams for the first time, a popular question is, which ones are the best for steaming? Let’s explore this flavorful journey together.

What are the differences between these types of clams?


Also known as soft shell clams, these are cherished for their tender meat and sweet flavor. They’re perfect for eating straight out of the shell or dipping in a butter sauce.


Cherrystones are medium-sized hard-shell clams. They’re a bit tougher than their soft-shell counterparts, but make up for it with their briny, full-bodied flavor.


The smallest of the hard-shell clams, littlenecks offer a delicate, sweet taste that’s particularly cherished in New England clam chowder recipes.

Best clams for steaming

For steaming, three types stand out: Steamers, Cherrystones, and Littlenecks. Steamers, with their sweet, tender meat, lend themselves beautifully to the steaming process. Cherrystones, while slightly tougher, offer a robust flavor that can stand up to strong aromatics like garlic and wine. Littlenecks, with their delicate taste, are often considered the epitome of clams for steaming.

How to prepare clams for steaming

To prepare clams for steaming, start by soaking them in cold fresh water for about 20 minutes. This encourages them to expel any remaining sand. After soaking, give them a good scrub under running water to remove any grit on the shell. Discard any clams that remain open after this process; they are likely dead and not safe to eat.

Next, cook your aromatic ingredients (like garlic or onions) in a pot over medium heat before adding the clams. Add a splash of wine or broth, then the clams, and cover the pot. The steam generated within will cook the clams, making them open up to reveal the juicy, cooked meat inside.

Ingredients for a Classic Steamed Clams Recipe

  • A selection of your preferred clams (Steamers, Cherrystones, or Littlenecks)
  • Garlic
  • White wine
  • Lemon juice
  • Butter

Understanding Clam Sizes and Quantities

Every clam variety comes in different sizes, and understanding these can help you choose the best clams for your meal. Steamers are usually sold by weight, while Cherrystones and Littlenecks are often sold by count. A pound of Steamers can yield about 10 to 12 clams, while a dozen Cherrystones or Littlenecks are perfect for serving two to three people.

Clam Sizes

  • Steamers: Sold by weight, usually yielding 10-12 clams per pound.
  • Cherrystones: Medium-sized, typically 2.5 to 3 inches across.
  • Littlenecks: Smallest hard-shell clams, often about 2 inches in diameter.

Clam Quantities

Steamers: A pound serves one person as a main dish.
Cherrystones and Littlenecks: A dozen serve one to two people.

How Many Clams in a Bushel?

When buying clams, especially for a larger gathering, they’re often sold by the bushel. But how many clams exactly are in a bushel? This can be a bit tricky as it largely depends on the size of the clams. Let’s break it down for our three main types: Steamers, Cherrystones, and Littlenecks.


Despite being the smallest of the hard-shell clams, Littlenecks are larger than Steamers. A bushel of Littlenecks is typically around 400 clams.


If you are buying topnecks, you can expect 200 clams per bushel.


Cherrystones are a bit larger, so a bushel would contain fewer clams. You’re looking at approximately 150 Cherrystones per bushel.


Chowders are some of the largest clams you will see in a seafood market. As the name implies, they are used primarily in soups and chowders. Can you eat them steamed? You can but, they tend meatier and tougher, compared to the varieties below. There are roughly 100 chowders in a bushel.

Remember, these numbers are just estimates. The actual number can vary based on the specific sizes of the clams you’re getting. So next time you’re planning a clam bake or a steamed clam feast, this guide should help you estimate how many bushels you’ll need to satisfy your guests’ appetites.

What is the best way to serve steamed clams?

Steamed clams are best served hot, straight from the pot. They’re often presented in a large communal bowl, accompanied by individual dishes for discarding the shells. A drizzle of the leftover broth from the pot adds extra flavor, and a side of melted butter for dipping is a must. Don’t forget a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over the top for that hit of citrusy brightness that enhances the clams’ oceanic flavor.

For a more formal setting, you can also arrange them on individual plates, with a bit of broth, a lemon wedge, and a small dish of melted butter for each guest. And always remember to provide a separate bowl for the empty shells!

Best side dishes to serve with steamers

The best side dishes for steamed clams should complement the seafood’s subtle flavors without overpowering them. Here are a few suggestions:

  • A simple, crusty baguette is perfect for sopping up the flavorful broth.
  • A light, crisp green salad with a vinaigrette dressing provides a refreshing contrast.
  • French fries or sweet potato fries add a comforting, hearty element.
  • Deep fried hush puppies

Exploring Clam Varieties Around the World

While we’ve focused on Mid-Atlantic clam varieties, there are many more varieties around the world. For instance, Manila clams are popular in Asia and the Pacific Northwest, while Razor clams are appreciated in both Europe and North America for their unique shape and texture. It’s always interesting to experiment with these varieties if you get the chance!

Best Wines to Pair With Clam Dishes

Pairing wine with clams can enhance your dining experience by complementing or contrasting the seafood’s flavors. Here are three excellent options:

Sauvignon Blanc

This crisp, acidic white wine cuts through the richness of the butter and complements the brininess of the clams. Its citrusy notes also tie in beautifully with the squeeze of lemon often served with steamed clams.


Chablis, a dry white wine from Burgundy, France, has a subtle minerality that echoes the fresh, oceanic flavor of the clams. It’s high acidity and medium body make it a good match for seafood dishes.


A white wine from Italy, Vermentino is known for its bright acidity and aromatic citrus and floral notes. It pairs wonderfully with clams, enhancing their sweet, delicate flavor.

Simple Steps to Making Clam Chowder

New England clam chowder, a classic dish made with littleneck clams, is a delicious way to enjoy your seafood. Start by cooking bacon in a pot, then add onions and celery, cooking until soft. Add flour to make a roux, then gradually add in clam juice and milk, stirring until thickened. Add potatoes and cook until tender, then stir in the clams, cooking just until they open. Season with salt and pepper, and finish with a touch of cream and fresh parsley.

Summarizing the Best Clams for Steaming

To conclude, whether you choose Steamers, Cherrystones, or Littlenecks for your clam feast largely depends on your personal taste preference. Each offers its unique texture and flavor that can shine in a steamed preparation. Remember to prepare your clams properly, cook them over medium heat, and serve them with tasty sides and a well-paired wine.

So the next time you find yourself longing for a seafood feast on a warm summer evening, you’ll know just how to whip up a pot of the best-steamed clams. Grab a baguette, pour some wine or your favorite beverage, and get ready for a memorable Mid-Atlantic culinary journey.