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14 Different Types of Clams

A collage of various clams.

It has been my experience that you either love clams or you hate them. Clams have many different names, and that can make it confusing for people.

They are prettier in their shells than when you take them out. They tend to be salty and chewy but are fantastic in clam chowder.

If you are interested in finding out more about clams, keep reading this article to find out all about the types of clams. 

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

What Are Clams?

This is a close look at a bunch of freshly cooked steamed clams.

Clams are part of the bivalve family. Being bivalve means that they have shells with two hinges. They are found in both saltwater and freshwater.

The clams that people eat come from saltwater. You do not often eat freshwater clams.

Clams bury under the sediment of the ocean, in the mud and sand. The variety of clam is dictated by how deeply they bury themselves. There are thousands of different clams, but they are not all edible. 

Different Types of Clams

1. Hard Shell Clams

Hard shell clams have a short siphon, which is the part of the clam that filters through the seawater to allow them to feed. They like to bury themselves in the sand that is shallow.

These types of clams are often farmed clams. These clams are ideal for steaming, grilling, chowder, and using in pasta. 

a. Quahogs 

This is a close look at a single quahog at the beach.

Quahogs are hard-shell clam variation that is found on the Eastern seaboard. They range from Florida to Canada, most often in Rhode Island. The clams you find in your local grocery store are mostly farmed quahogs.

When quahogs are fresh, they have shells that are closed tightly. They come in shades of brown, cream, white, and gray. They have rings on their shells that range in colors from light shades of brown to darker black and gray.

When you describe clams by size, you are referring to the width of the clam. 

b. Littleneck

This is a close look at a plate of pasta that has littleneck clams.

Littleneck clams are the smallest of the quahogs. A Littleneck clam is the ideal clam for clams on the half shell, which are usually raw. These clams measure a little more than one inch across, which is measured at the hinge.

c. Chowder

This is a bowl of clam chowder with parsley and croutons.

Chowder clams are the largest quahogs and the oldest when they are harvested. These larger clams are best served in stews, soups, and chowders. A Chowder clam is tender when they are slow cooked, making them perfect for any recipe.

d. Middlenecks

This is a close look at freshly cooked steamed middleneck clams.

Middlenecks are also called top neck clams. They measure roughly about two inches. Middlenecks are slightly larger than littleneck clams.

They remain tender and tasty, no matter if they are raw or steamed. They are a decent enough size to eat them grilled.

e. Cherrystones

This is a close look at a bowl of cherrystones with lemon and parsley.

A Cherrystone clam is a popular type of clam. The Cherrystones are a little bigger than Middlenecks. Therefore, they are ideal for use in a pasta sauce or grilled.

Cherrystone clams are about two and a half inches in size. 

f. Manila

This is a close look at a bunch of Manila clams.

While Manila clams are considered a hard shell variety, they have thinner shells than a quahog. A Manila clam is native to the Pacific Ocean but found its way to the northwest coastal region of the US.

They look similar to littleneck clams but tend to be meatier. In addition, they cook in half the time because of their thin shells. 

g. Mahogany Clam

This is a close look at a bowl of pickled mahogany clams.

The Mahogany clam is also referred to a smaller ocean quahog. They are harvested from the coastal waters of Maine. They are the oldest living marine organism as they can live longer than 200 years.

They are a hard shell claim that is easy to find because of their shell that is a red brown color. They can get large, anywhere from one and a half inches to three inches. 

2. Atlantic Surf Clam

This is a close look at a bunch of Atlantic surf clams.

The Atlantic Surf clam is also referred to as a hen clam. The shells on the surf clam is triangular shaped and pale in color.

They usually are not sold in their shell. They are large and difficult to open, so they are mostly sold in cans or in frozen form.

3. Soft Shell Clams

This is a close look at soft shell clams on ice.

Soft Shell clams are also called a steamer clam or Ipswich clams. Soft Shell clams have oblong shells that are light colored. Their shells are brittle and must be handled carefully.

They leave shell crumbs in the mud of the Atlantic Ocean. They bury themselves deeply in the sediment, much deeper than hardshell clams. 

The acidity in the mud changes the color of the shell of a soft shell clam. The darker shells indicate the clams have more flavor. In addition, these clams have larger siphons.

These siphons prevent the clamshell from closing completely, making it important to remove all grit before you cook them.

A soft-shelled clam is typically harvested wild. These are best served as steamed clams or fried clams. The shells of a softshell clam are not edible. 

4. Razor Clams

This is a close look at a bunch of razor clams.

Razor clams have shells that are thin and long. They burrow themselves vertically in the sand. Therefore, you must appropriately clean them, or they will be full of grit and sand. 

a. Atlantic Razor Clams

This is a close look at eight pieces of Atlantic razor clams on the beach.

The Atlantic Razor clams are also known as an Atlantic jackknife clam. They are a soft shell variety that is thinner and longer than many other varieties.

The shells look like a straight edged razor, hence their name. They have a sweet and delicate flavor.

The Atlantic Razor tastes best when it is sautéed, steamed, or grilled. If you pair it with a sauce that does not overpower its own flavor. 

b. Pacific Razor Clams

This is a close look at a single Pacific razor clam.

The Pacific Razor clam is wider and meatier than the Atlantic variety. They have a strong flavor that tastes clammier.

The Pacific Razor variety taste best when they are steamed, grilled, sautéed, and fried. They also taste great in chowder and ceviche. 

5. Geoduck

This is a close look at a bunch of geoduck clams.

The Geoduck clam is a large sized clam that has a funny name and looks even funnier. They are so big, they look strange. They like to burrow themselves in the tidal flats along the Northwest coast.

They have a good amount of flavor and a nice texture. The meat often has a crunchy or salty taste to it.

They are rumored to have an aphrodisiac quality. The Geoduck clam tastes great in sushi or ceviche. This giant clam is ideal for frying or in chowder. 

6. Surf Clams

This is a closed look at a grilled surf clam.

Surf clams are also referred to as skimmers or bar clams. These types of clams live along the Eastern seaboard of the US. They show up in the surf along the Atlantic coast.

They taste great when they are fried into clam strips. A surf clam is ideal for use in chowder. 

7. Cockles

This is a close look at a pile of cockles.

Cockles are not quite clams. The only difference between a clam and a cockle is the direction of the ridge that runs along the shell. The ridges on a clam run from side to side.

The ridges on a cockle run from the edge to the hinge. These are a bit rare to find them commercially in the US.

They can be found along the West Coast, New England, and the Gulf of Mexico. Despite this, you are more likely to find the cockles in a canned that has been imported from Spain or New Zealand.

Cockles have a delicate and sweet taste. They are best in pasta and sauce. 


Are There Any Clams That Are Not Edible?

Just about all clams are edible, however, there are some clams that you cannot eat the shell. Even though steamers are considered a soft shell clam, you cannot eat the shell of a steamer. 

Is There a Time When You Should Not Eat Clams?

There is a common tale that says that we should not eat shellfish during certain months. This tale says that you should only eat shellfish in the months that have the letter R in them.

This means that you can eat clams in the months of September through April. Once it is May, you should no longer eat clams. Shellfish includes clams, oysters, and mussels. 

What Are the Best Clams to Purchase?

The best clams to buy are chowder clams. They are not the best to eat raw, but become soft in a chowder. The next best clam to but is a steamer clam. You should not eat them raw.