Written by Carol Bareuther
March 2020
New England Clambake is a custom that dates back well before our forefathers landed on Plymouth Rock. Early Native Americans puzzled out how to cook the region’s abundant seafood, such as clams and lobsters, by digging a pit in beach sand, using hot rocks for heat and creating steam via wet seaweed. Along the way, other ingredients like corn, potatoes and onions were tossed in, too.

“Customers can watch their meal, which begins with clam chowder and

ends with Maine blueberry crumb cake, steamed in our outdoor cooker.”

New England Clambakes didn’t become sought after social functions until the 1900s, driven most likely by romanticism and good old Yankee capitalism. Today, “I think it’s important to be clear that there isn’t a ‘right way’ to do a bake, only the way any certain group or community likes and gets used to doing it,” says Kathy Neustadt, author of Clambake, a History and Celebration of an American Tradition.

That said, here are 10 great places and ways to enjoy a clambake this summer.

Boothbay Harbor, ME

Cabbage Island | New England Clambake | Marinalife
Cabbage Island

Jump your own ship and instead board the Bennie Alice at Pier 6 for a scenic one-hour cruise to Cabbage Island. Under covered picnic tables on this uninhabited 5 1/2-acre island, the Moore family runs Cabbage Island Clambakes from June through September. “Each guest is served a steaming cup of fish chowder, lobster, clams, corn on the cob, potatoes, onions, a hard-cooked egg and slice of our signature blueberry cake,” says Joanne Moore, whose husband and his brother run the business. “The daily four-hour trips depart at 12:30 p.m., leaving plenty of time to explore the island or play a game of horseshoes, volleyball or badminton after the meal.”

Where to Dock: Carousel Marina or Brown’s Wharf Marina, Motel & Restaurant

York, ME

Pavilion or pond-side are perfect places to tuck into one of the many public clambakes put on from mid-May through October by Foster’s Clambakes & Catering. “Customers can watch their meal, which begins with clam chowder and ends with Maine blueberry crumb cake, steamed in our outdoor cooker,” says manager, Cheryl Patten. “We encourage a lively atmosphere with audience participation in such favorites as The Chowder Song.” Foster’s clambakes, founded by namesake Bill and Phoebe Foster in the 1950s, were featured in an early Betty Crocker cookbook and served on several occasions to President Bush and his family at their home 20 miles north in Kennebunkport.

Where to Dock: Wentworth by the Sea Marina or Donnell’s Marina

Ipswich, MA

Eat in or take out from Ipswich Clambake, a 40+ year-old, family-run restaurant and catering operation located in this coastal community famous for clams. In fact, th extra-creamy clam chowder, named the Ipswich Chowderfest People’s Choice winner in 2018, is a first course on restaurant and to-go menus. “We offer New England-style clambakes to go that are prepared in our restaurant and packaged in heavy duty, insulated containers, perfect for on board dining. The food will stay hot for hours,” says catering director, Amanda Means.

Where to Dock: Essex Marina or Newburyport Harbor Marina

Essex, MA

Woodman’s of Essex is a ‘shore to door’ New England clambake operation, says Maureen Woodman, director of catering sales. “We prepare locally sourced seafood on your front steps or dock. Menus include the classics from lobsters, steamers, corn, chowder and watermelon to homemade sides and desserts.” Her grandfather, Lawrence “Chubby” Woodman, invented a way to make a traditional-tasting clambake faster (one hour versus 12) and mobile. Specifically, Chubby used tub-sized, stainless steel boilers placed on specially designed iron grates over a wood-burning fire. That was nearly 100 years ago, and the company still clambakes the same way.

Where to Dock: Cape Ann’s Marina and Resort or Essex Marina

Boston, MA

Every day is New England clambake day at The Barking Crab, a quaint urban seafood shack with open-air, on-the-water, picnic table dining. “Our clambake features a 1 ¼-pound lobster, clams, corn on the cob and homemade potato salad. It’s available for lunch and dinner, and the price varies due to the lobster market price,” says Alexandra Morris, director of operations. “All our lobster is local, and our lobster-men are like family, with some relationships going back nearly 30 years.” The small marina is open May 1 to October 31 and is located behind the restaurant in the Fort Point Channel that offers transient slips for diners.

Where to Dock: Boston Yacht Haven Inn & Marina or Constitution Marina

Spectacle Island, MA

This 105-acre island, one of 34 islands and peninsulas that make up Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park, is where clambakes are held weekly from late June through Labor Day. “Enjoy a hearty clambake and views of the sun setting over downtown Boston,” invites Liz Cook, associate director of programs and communications for the nonprofit, Boston Harbor Now. The meal includes lobster, steamers, corn on the cob, side dishes and dessert. Meat and vegetarian options are also available. Reach Spectacle by ferry from the city’s Long Wharf Pier. Or cruise over on your boat and dock (first come, first served) at the island’s marina or grab a mooring.

Where to Dock: Spectacle Island Marina or Safe Harbor Marina Bay

Chatham, MA

Surf and turf takes on a new meaning when applied to the New England clambake served to guests, visitors and locals at the Beach House Grill at Chatham Bars Inn on southeast Cape Cod. “Attendees feast on lobster, corn, potatoes and, of course, clams. All seafood is caught locally around Chatham, and all produce is sourced from our eight-acre farm,” says executive chef, Anthony Cole. In addition to clambake staples, a chef-manned tomato station with vine ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil pasta pomodoro and fried green tomatoes with a Cajun remoulade. The Inn’s New England clambake is offered weekly, usually on Thursdays and Fridays, from early June through August. The first seating is at 6:00 p.m., but arrive early by 4:30 p.m. to watch chefs prepare the pit.

Where to Dock: Outermost Harbor Marine or Chatham Yacht Basin

Rehoboth, MA

The New England clambake is as much a demonstration as it is a meal at the Francis Farm, set 11 miles east of Providence, RI, where the first such repast was served in 1890. “It takes a certain instinct to know when it’s time to pull the tarps off the bake out of the seaweed. Too soon, and you’ve lost the bake, as cooking isn’t done, and it can’t be restarted. Too late and the juices and flavor are gone,” explains David Taylor, president and the family farm’s owner. The menu features clams with drawn butter, fish, sausage, white and sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, brown bread and watermelon. The farm hosts four to five clambakes for the public each summer, with the first set for Memorial Day weekend (May 24) and the second on Father’s Day, June 21.

Where to Dock: Fox Point Marina

Newport, RI

Clambakes-to-Go is for sale from McGrath Clambakes & Catering, which specializes in bakes and Rhode Island lobster boils. The take-out menu includes a 1 ¼-pound lobster, soft-shelled steamed clams, mussels, corn on the cob, chouriço (a spicy Portuguese sausage), red bliss potatoes and a clear broth quahog chowder made from an old family recipe. McGrath’s accommodates to-go orders for 10 people or more, with free delivery in the Newport area to a beach or marina. “We do cater a few public clambakes too like at the Jonathan Edwards Winery in Stonington, CT, in July and Newport Polo in Portsmouth, RI, in August,” says Melissa McGrath, event and office manager. 

Nestled on the bluffs overlooking Narragansett Bay, Castle Hill Inn’s pit is the site of a great reveal during the two public  clambakes held each July. “When the lobsters are done, our culinary team does a full unveiling, where we discuss the history of clambakes and the techniques we use,” says executive chef, Lou Rossi. “Our clambake is traditionally prepared over a wood fire. We cook the lobsters, local corn, potatoes, and chouriço in custom-built, stainless-steel cages lined with rockweed, a seaweed indigenous to our region. Rockweed is perfect for this application, because it has pockets of saltwater that burst during cooking, adding flavor to everything it touches. The only variant for us is that instead of cooking quahogs in the fire, we steam littleneck clams in a broth made with vinho verde wine and smoked rockweed. They’re sweeter and far more tender than a quahog.” The inn’s clambake is served on its sprawling lawn, where guests can listen to music and play bocce or croquet. The 2020 dates are July 14 and 20, from 6:00-8:30 p.m.

Where to Dock: Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina or Newport Marina