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How to Clean Clams

This is a close look a bowl of asari clams.

Clams are great little seafood options. You can dig them up clams yourself if you want. You can find them at your local seafood shop, or if you are lucky, you are able to buy them right off the boat. No matter how you like your clams prepared, you have to start by cleaning them. The last thing you want is to slurp up sand and salt with your clams. A gritty clam does not make a good eating experience. Continue reading this article to find out how to clean clams. 

Related: Clams vs. Mussels | Clams vs. Oysters | Types of Clams | What to Serve with Steamed Clams | How to Store Clams | Clam Alternatives

Step 1: Get Rid of the Bad Clams

This is a close look at a pair of hands going through the clams.

You want to check your clams to make sure they are all good. If you see clamshells that are open, tap the top of them to see if they close. 

If a hard shell clam does not close, throw them away because the clam is dead. If it is a soft shell clam, it will not close all the way, but you will see some movement. If the soft shell crab does not move, throw it away. You should get rid of all the dead clams quickly because they become a breeding ground for bacteria. 

You also want to remove any clamshells that are damaged, chipped, or broken. 

Step 2: Gather Materials

You want to unwrap your clams, so they can breathe if you have not already as part of step one. You also want to store them in a cool place until you are ready for them. You want to make sure you have three big bowls. The bowls need to each be big enough to hold all of your clams. You want a scrub brush and cold water. 

Step 3: Bowl One

This is a close look at a bunch of clams in a bowl to sand out.

Fill your first bowl with cold or cool water. You can use tap water for this step. Do not use warm, hot, or boiling water because it will kill the clam. Now, put all of the clams into the cold water. You want to soak clams in water. 

Clams are bivalves. This means when clams breathe, they filter water. As they filter the freshwater, they are pushing out saltwater and sand from their shells. Thus, the clams are cleaning themselves. Put the bowl with clams in the refrigerator and let it sit for 20 minutes. 

Some people put cornmeal in the water to help the clams do their work. However, cornmeal is not really needed. 

Other people put salt in the water to help mimic the saline content in the ocean. 

Step 4: Remove the Clams

After 20 minutes, the clams will have had enough time to remove all the sand from their shells. Take the bowl of clams out of the refrigerator and place clams from the first bowl to the second one. You want to take them out by hand. Do not dump one down into the next. Do not use a strainer. All this does is pour the grit from the water over the top of the clams. 

Step 5: Use Your Second Bowl

This is a close look at a bunch of clams being cleans at the sink.

Fill up the second bowl with cold water and salt. When you gently remove the clams from the first bowl, you want to place them in the second bowl. Let the clams soak in this second bowl of water in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. 

Step 6: Use Your Third Bowl

After 20 minutes, take the bowl out of the refrigerator. Fill the third bowl with cold and salted water. Take the clams one by one from the second bowl to the third bowl. They are going to soak once more for 20 minutes. This third time should be the last time you have to soak the clams, but if you notice there is sand, grit, or dirt at the bottom of the bowl after 20 minutes, you will want to soak them again. 

Step 7: Scrub the Clams

This is a close look at a bunch of clams being scrubbed with a brush at the sink.

Once you have finished all those steps, now it is time to scrub the clams clean. Use a stiff bristle brush to remove all dirt, grit, and debris from the shell. Now, you should have a clean clam, and it should be ready to cook. 

How to Clean Little Neck Clams

This is a plate of pasta with clams.

Step 1: Scrub the Clams

Scrub the littleneck clams while you are running them under cold water. Then rinse the clams with cold water until the water is clear. 

Step 2: Soak the Clams

Mix 4 cups of cold water and 1/4 cup of salt in a large bowl. Soak the clams in the saltwater mix for 20 minutes to 2 hours in the refrigerator. Soaking in water helps to draw out more sand. 

Do I Need to Shuck My Clams?

Depending on how you are cooking your clams will dictate if you need to shuck them. If you want steamed clams, or you are having a clam bake, you do not need to shuck the clams before you cook them. If you plan to use them in chowder or pasta, you want to shuck them first. 

How to Cook Clams

A bunch of clams being cooked in a cream sauce.

If you are not interested in shucking your clams, you can still have perfectly steamed clams. You want to make sure you have a perfectly cooked clam, or they will be rubbery. You want to make sure you have a pot or pan with lid. You want to fill your pot with just a splash of some liquid. It can be melted butter, white wine, or chicken stock.

You can add some garlic to the pot for a little flavor. Put the live clam in the pot and steam clams over medium heat for about 5 to 7 minutes. You should be sure to put the lid on your pot. Some clams will cook faster than other clams. You should shake or stir your pot during steaming to give your clams the room they need to open. 


Do I Need to Clean Clams Before I Cook Them?

If you are using littleneck clams and are planning to steam your clams or serve them at a clam bake, you do not need to clean or shuck the meat of the clam. You should know that this means that you may not have gotten all the sand out of the clamshell. You may be alright with that, but will your guests? 

How Long Will Clams Last in the Refrigerator?

Clams will last for two whole days in your refrigerator, if they have been handled properly, and you have provided the optimal conditions. If you buy whole clam in their shell, they must be live upon the sale. If they are fresh and unshucked, the clams must be in a burlap or other natural bag that is porous, and they should be able to handle storage in the refrigerator for two days. Be careful that you do not leave the clams in the refrigerator for too long.