Last updated on August 1st, 2020
Having a backyard fire pit was one of my big suburban homeowner dreams since the day we moved into this house. I don’t need a lush, rolling lawn—just give me a fire to cook on and a place to sit nearby and enjoy my beer.
So when I was angry about something or other six years ago, I decided to put my rage to good use for once. I grabbed a shovel and started digging a big hole in the backyard to build my own fire pit seating area.
One trip to Target later and I had the outdoor campfire arrangement I always wanted.
Over the past six years, I’ve put the fire pit to good use for much more than simply sitting around and roasting s’mores.
Apart from mountain pies, grilled clams are my favorite fire pit meal of every summer.
One of the best things about living in New Jersey is the local summer food—and clams are a big component of that.
I can grab a few dozen, throw them over the flames, and have dinner in minutes, quicker than it takes for condensation to form on the bowl of my wine glass.
When cooking on my fire pit, I use a basic campfire grill grate that rests on the edges of the metal pit above the flames. You can also grill clams on a charcoal grill exactly the same way.
If you only have a gas grill (which I also have!), you can simply heat the grill to medium-high and place the clams on your grill grate.
If you want to add any wood chips in a smoker box, that’s up to you. For me, the clams cook so quickly that it doesn’t seem worth it.
The other crucial component to grilled clams, other than the heat, is a cast iron skillet.
That’s how you catch all the precious salty juice that drips out of the bivalves as they pop open and bathe the clams in buttery sauce. It’s really a self-contained meal!
I’m happy to eat my grilled clams with only a big stack of toasted crusty bread on the side for soaking up all the briny butter.
But with a few ears of corn on the grill and some baby potatoes wrapped in foil packets, you can do a clambake-style meal easily.
The recipe that follows uses another one of my favorite summer ingredients: garlic scapes. If you can’t find any where you are, just use fresh garlic cloves in their place.
- 2 dozen littleneck clams
- 1 loaf crusty bread, such as a baguette or ciabatta, sliced
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2-3 garlic scapes, thinly sliced into rounds (or 2 large garlic cloves, minced or sliced paper-thin)
- Scrub the clams well under running water and place in a large bowl.
- Prepare a fire pit with a campfire grate or a charcoal grill for high heat (direct flame). Or preheat a gas grill to medium-high, about 500 degrees.
- Place the bread slices on the grate and toast for 1-2 minutes per side, just until browned and slightly charred at the edges. Remove with tongs and set aside on a platter.
- Place a 9- to 10-inch cast iron skillet or Dutch oven on the grate and add the butter.
- Once the butter melts, add the garlic scapes and stir to coat.
- Let the scapes sauté in the butter while you use the tongs to place the clams on the grate.
- Let the clams cook and watch them closely. As soon as a clam pops open, carefully move it from the grate to the skillet, making sure to preserve as much clam juice as possible.
- If any clams are stragglers who don't open, discard them. Better safe than sorry!
- Serve the clams with the toasted bread to soak up all the salty garlic scape butter in the pan.
Fresh, live clams are best purchased and eaten in the same day. To store them until you're ready to cook, remove the clams from their bag and place in a colander. Fill a large bowl with ice and place the colander over the ice in the bowl. This keeps the clams chilled without submerging them in fresh water, which can kill them.
Cover the bowl with a towel and refrigerate until you're ready to scrub and prep.