American Oceans

12 Types of Clams You Should Know

There are many types of delicious seafood in the world. By far, one of the most delicious is clams!

different types of clams at the seafood market

Whether a simple dish of steamed clams or something more complex, these shellfish are incredibly versatile.

But before you can enjoy all the clams, it’s essential to know how to identify them and cook them best.

Getting to know the types of clams is the first step in becoming a connoisseur. Keep reading to learn about clams before diving into specific species, their characteristics, and how you can cook them! By the end of the article, you will be a clam culinary expert.

What Are Clams?

Clams are bivalve mollusks with two shells held together by a hinge. They have a soft body and siphon, which they use to filter-feed from the water.

woman holding clams

Clams live in freshwater or saltwater habitats, with the majority living in the ocean.

You can divide clams into two types: soft-shell and hard-shell. Soft-shell clams are usually larger and have a thin, brittle outer shell. Hard-shell clams, on the other hand, are smaller and have thicker shells that are harder to open.

Clams are essential in the natural environment as they are a vital part of the food chain. They help to provide a source of food for other animals. Clams are a biological filter of the sea, helping to keep our waters clean and healthy. Clams are also a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids.

Types of Clams

With so many types of clams, it can be hard to tell them apart. This guide will provide you with all the information you need to identify and cook delicious clams.


Quahogs are hard-shell clams in the Atlantic Ocean. Quahogs have a thick shells and usually range in size from two to five inches. They have solid white meat that is firm and has a mild, sweet flavor.

Single quahog clam at low tide on the beach in Cape Cod

How To Serve It

Quahogs are known for their delicious flavor, which is why cooks use them in chowder. They can also be eaten raw or steamed and served with garlic and butter. But if you want to get creative, there are plenty of other delicious ways to serve quahogs!

You can make a flavorful clam tartare by combining diced quahogs with capers, onion, and Worcestershire sauce. Serve the tartare with crackers or toast.

However, my favorite is serving them in a canape. Combine steamed quahogs with smoked trout and a creamy mayonnaise dressing. Topped with a dollop of mayo dressing, a layer of quahogs and smoked trout makes for a delicious and easy-to-assemble appetizer.

Littleneck Clams

Littleneck clams look like Quahogs but are significantly smaller. You can find them in the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. Littleneck clams are usually about one to two inches in size and have a slightly sweet flavor.

Littleneck Clams

How To Serve It

Littleneck clams are great for a quick and easy meal. You can steam them in a delicious garlic-butter sauce or combine them with linguine and tomato sauce.

Littleneck clams are also a great addition to salads. Mix them with fresh vegetables, olive oil, and lemon juice for a delicious and refreshing salad.

For something more decadent, you can make littleneck clam chowder. Start by sautéing celery, onion, and bacon in a soup pot. Add potatoes, littleneck clams, chicken broth, and milk. Simmer the chowder until the potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and freshly chopped parsley.

Cherrystone Clams

Cherrystone Clams

Cherrystone clams are round and about two to three inches in size. Their shells are off-white, and some of the smallest clams on this list. It can take up to 10 of them to make one pound of clams.

They can be found mainly in the Atlantic Ocean. They range from the shores of Prince Edward Island in Canada to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Cherrystone clams have a sweet, delicate flavor and firm texture.

How To Serve It

The mild flavor of Cherrystone clams makes them a great addition to many types of dishes. Try steaming them with a simple garlic-butter sauce or adding them to a pasta dish.

You can also make a fantastic appetizer with Cherrystone clams. Start by steaming them in butter and garlic. Once you cook them, carefully remove them from their shells. Top each clam with some bacon and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Place the clams under a broiler until they are golden brown and bubbly. Serve them with a dollop of sour cream.


Steamers or steamer clams are also known as long-neck clams and are a variety of soft-shell clams. They are oval and have distinctive long dark necks. 

Bucket of steamed clams

These clams are delicate and tender, with a sweet and salty flavor. You can find them in the Atlantic Ocean and the east coast of Canada. 

How To Serve It

As the name suggests, the best way to serve steamers is to steam or fry them. My favorite steamed clam recipe uses white wine, basil, lemon juice, and garlic. These flavors perfectly accent the delicate flavor of the clams. Serve it with a piece of bread so you can mop up all the juices.


Manila clams are easy to tell from other clams due to their uniquely colored hard shells. The shells are often shades of blue, brown, and purple with unique geometric shapes.

Manila clams

These clams are some of the most common in the world, and many farmers cultivate them. You can find them throughout the Pacific Northwest.

How To Serve It

The best way to cook Manila Clams is to steam them. Although you can also bake, poach, or saute them. This steamed Manila recipe perfectly shows how quickly you can put together a meal of delicious steamed Manila clams.

Soft Shell Clam

Soft shell clams are also known as sand gaper or Essex clams. They are saltwater clams commonly found in tidal flats, estuaries, and muddy areas.

Soft Shell Clam

This clam species is considered invasive in many areas, so eating them is an excellent way of controlling their population.

How To Serve It

A pot full of soft shell clams can become a delightful meal with the addition of some wine, spices, and olive oil. If you give this Mediterranean-style recipe a try, it’s sure to become a favorite and one you will make many more times.

Surf Clam

Surf clams, also known as hen clams or bar clams, are giant clams found in the Atlantic Ocean. You can easily recognize them by their large rounded shells and light purple or pink inner lining.

Surf Clam

Surf clams can weigh up to 3 pounds and measure up to 8 inches in length. You can find them hiding in the sand on many beaches.

How To Serve It

You can serve surf clams raw, steamed, fried, or baked. My favorite is adding them to a stir fry with ginger and Shaoxing wine. This recipe will absolutely knock your socks off.

Atlantic Jackknife

You can find the Atlantic jackknife in estuaries and shallow areas of the Atlantic Ocean. It is easily identified by its long, thin, pointed shell.

Atlantic Jackknife clam

The shells are often yellowish-brown and have distinctive black marks on them. The Atlantic jackknife clam is a bivalve that grows up to 6 inches in length.

How To Serve It

One of the best ways to cook Atlantic jackknife clams is Vietnamese style. This recipe calls for you to grill them with fish sauce, olive oil, and lime juice. 


Cockles are small hard-shell clams found in saltwater and brackish water. They are usually no bigger than two inches long and come in various colors, including brown and yellow.

cockle shells for sale in the market

Cockles are some of the most common clams in the world and can be found in most seafood restaurants.

How To Serve It

It is easy to add cockles to any seafood recipe, but serving them with brown butter and garlic sauce will bring out the flavor of these delightful little clams. This recipe will be an instant favorite.

Pacific Razor

Pacific razor clams are found in the Pacific Ocean from Alaska to California. They have long, thin shells and can grow up to 9 inches in length.

Razor Clams on the beach

They are sometimes confused with the Atlantic jackknife clam, but Pacific razors have a sharper edge, and you can identify them by their unique purple and yellow hues.

How To Serve It

You can serve pacific razor clams in many ways, but the best is by deep frying them. This recipe calls for a light panko batter, which adds a crunch to the clams.


Geoducks are some of the largest clams in the world, and you can find them on the Pacific Coast. They have long, thin shells that are usually yellowish-brown in color.

Geoduck clam

The geoduck is an iconic clam species extending from Alaska to California.

How To Serve It

Geoduck is a delicacy and is at its best in recipes that accentuate the quality of the geoduck. The best way to do this is serving it sashimi style. This recipe shows how to prepare the geoduck and create a delicious sashimi dish.

Chowder Clams

Chowder clams are a colloquial term used to describe various clams used to make chowder. Common chowder clams include cherrystone, quahog, and littleneck clams. 

These clams are all found on the eastern coast of the United States and are anywhere from 2-4 inches in size. 

How To Serve It

The best way to serve chowder clams is in clam chowder. Start by sautéing onions, celery, and bacon in a soup pot. Add potatoes and the clams, along with chicken broth and milk. Simmer the chowder until the potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally.

Wrapping Up

Clams are a delicious seafood option that you can cook in many different ways. We’ve just touched on some clams, but there are many more types out there.

Whether you prefer steamed, fried, or sashimi style, we hope this list has inspired you to try new kinds of clams and discover your favorites. Bon Appetit!

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