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How to Tell if Clams Are Dead?

Last Updated on February 26, 2024 by Lauren Beck

Clams are a delectable and healthy type of seafood that can be incorporated into many meals, including chowders and pasta. It is crucial to know how to determine if clams are deceased to prevent foodborne illness and guarantee the tastiness of your dish.

This article will discuss the various ways to tell if clams are dead, along with tips for buying, storing, and preparing fresh clams.

Ways To Tell if Clams Are Dead

  • Smell: Fresh clams should have a clean, ocean-like smell. If the clams smell fishy or have a strong, unpleasant odor, they may be dead or dying.
  • Appearance: Live clams will have tightly closed shells, while dead or dying clams will have open shells that don’t close when tapped.
  • Texture: Live clams should feel heavy and firm, with no cracks or chips in the shells. Dead or dying clams may feel lighter and softer with cracked or chipped shells.
  • Reaction: If you tap a live clam, it should quickly close its shell. It may be dead if the clam doesn’t react or only partially closes its shell.

Tips for Buying Fresh Clams

When buying fresh clams, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure that you get the best quality product:

  • Choose a reputable fishmonger or seafood market to buy your clams from.
  • Look for clams with tightly closed shells and a clean, ocean-like smell.
  • Avoid clams that are already open or have cracked or chipped shells.
  • Ask the fishmonger when the clams were harvested and where they came from. Freshly harvested clams will have the best flavor and texture.

Storing Fresh Clams

Fresh clams are highly perishable, so it is essential to store them properly to ensure their freshness:

  • Keep clams in a mesh bag or an open container in the refrigerator.
  • Do not store clams in a sealed container or submerged in water; they need air to breathe.
  • Do not store clams in a freezer, as this will kill them.
  • Use clams within two to three days of purchase.

How to Clean Fresh Clams?

Cleaning fresh clams is a crucial step in preparing them for cooking:

  1. Rinse the clams in cold water to remove any sand or grit.
  2. Soak the clams in a bowl of cold water for at least 30 minutes to allow them to expel any sand or grit from their shells.
  3. Scrub the shells with a stiff brush to remove any dirt or debris.

Tips for Preparing Clams for Cooking

Clams on top of Ice
  • Once you have cleaned your clams, you are ready to prepare them for cooking:
  • Discard any clams that have cracked or chipped shells or are already open.
  • Tap each clam lightly with your finger to make sure it is still alive. If the clam doesn’t close its shell, it is dead and should be discarded.
  • Store live clams on ice until you are ready to cook them.

How Do You Know If Steamed Clams Are Done?

Steaming is a popular cooking method for clams, but how do you know when they are done? Here are some signs that your steamed clams are cooked to perfection:

  • The shells will have opened fully.
  • The meat inside the clam will be firm and slightly opaque.
  • The meat will easily pull away from the shell.

How Long Should I Steam Steamer Clams?

The cooking time for steamed clams will depend on the size of the clams:

  • Small clams (such as littlenecks): Steam for 5-7 minutes.
  • Medium clams (such as manila or middleneck): Steam for 7-10 minutes.
  • Large clams (such as cherrystone or quahog): Steam for 10-12 minutes.

Why Do Dead Clams Not Open?

Dead clams do not open because they are no longer alive to respond to the heat and steam during cooking. It is important to discard any dead clams before cooking to avoid the risk of food poisoning.

How Long Should Clams Sit In Water?

Clams should sit in water for at least 30 minutes to expel any sand or grit from their shells. This process, called “purging,” will help to ensure that your clams are clean and free from grit when you cook them.

How Long Can You Soak Clams For?

Clams should not be soaked for more than two hours. After two hours, the clams will start to die, and the meat may become tough and rubbery [1].


Knowing how to tell if clams are dead is essential for any seafood lover. By following the tips we have outlined above for buying, storing, cleaning, and preparing fresh clams, you can ensure that your clams are safe to eat and taste their best. Remember always to discard any dead or open clams and to steam your live clams until they have fully opened. With these tips in mind, you can enjoy delicious, fresh clams in all your favorite seafood dishes.


Lauren Beck
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