When you intend to serve your clambake to a small group of up to eight people, you can make use of a large enamel pot and cook over a stove or barbecue grill at home, or bring the pot to a picnic area where grills are available. (You can also buy a clam steamer in hardware stores in areas where clambakes are common. These large pots come in 16 or 20 quart sizes, have two separated compartments for the food, and a spigot at the bottom for draining off the clam juice and water.) If you use a large pot, line its bottom using a couple of inches of seaweed and add a quart of water. Place a test potato near the edge of the pot where it won’t touch the other food ingredients when you pull it out. Add the rest of the food in the same order you will for a large bake and pack seaweed around the top and sides of the inside of the pot. Then cover and cook until the test potato tells you the food is done. Mix the broth of water and clam juice with melted butter to make a dip or spread for the food.
Estimating Food Portions
For each adult guest at a typical clambake, plan on serving: 1 pint of clams; 1 lobster and/or 1/2 chicken; 1 or 2 ears of corn; 1 or 2 potatoes; 1 or 2 hotdogs; a couple of small onions; and 1/2 cup of butter or margarine. If you think the guests will have room for dessert (and they normally do) add watermelons to your shopping list. And don’t leave out the liquid refreshments; seafood and open-air cooking can conjure up quite a thirst. To serve the food, you’ll need sturdy, non-absorbent paper plates, big heat-resistant paper cups for the clams and small ones for the melted butter, enough napkins, and hand-sized rocks for each guest to use for cracking the lobsters open. To set up the pit, line up the cinder blocks in two parallel rows around 4 feet apart. If you use rocks instead of blocks, make sure they are stacked to a height of 1 1/2 to 2 feet. Between these walls, loosely pile your firewood to a height of about 1 foot. This would leave space for the fire to breathe. Lay the steel sheet on top of the two block walls. Spread a 6- to 8-inch deep layer of wet seaweed above of the metal sheet. Then center the food bin on top of the seaweed. Put two test potatoes, each in a different cheesecloth bag, at diagonally opposite corners on the wire bottom of the bin. Be sure the strings attached to each bag are long enough to trail down over the sheet metal’s edge, so that you will be able to reach them easily.
Because the bottom of the bin will be hottest, the foods that typically take the longest to cook make up the first or bottom layer you put in the bin. For this certain bake, that means that the potatoes and Bermuda onions go in first. Next comes the chicken (cut in half and completely defrosted when purchased whole or frozen). Next are the lobsters, and then the corn (still in its husks), together with the hotdogs. The clams, dropped into cheesecloth bags to hold them from being scattered among the other foods, comprise the final layer in the bin. If you’re baking for a large group and your food bin is tightly packed, it may help to tuck the food snugly into its bin using a small tarp. This will help hold the food in its bin and keep it separated from the seaweed. It would also help contain heat and moisture. But the small tarp is optional. Whether or not you use the extra tarp, you must cover the food (or small tarp) with a layer of seaweed, around 2 to 3 inches deep. Then top this final layer of seaweed with a tarp big enough to be tied down around the food bin to help keep the moisture and heat.