A Guide to Different Types of Clams

Matthew All Recipes, Clam Recipes, Culinary Tips & Techniques, General, Seafood Tips & Techniques 12 Comments


Littlenecks, topnecks, steamers, mahoganies…the shellfish industry is filled with confusing terms for clams, some of which refer to the variety of clam, and some merely refer to the size of the clam.  Here’s a quick and easy guide to help you sort them out.

The six varieties of clams that you’re most likely to encounter are:

Atlantic Hard Shell Clams (aka Quahogs):

The quintessential American hard-shell clam, quahogs are the clam most people think of when they think of clam chowder, clam strips, baked clams, spaghetti with clam sauce, etc.  When in doubt, choose quahogs.

Quahogs are graded by size, with the different grades having different traditional names:

Name Size
Littlenecks 10-12 per pound
Middlenecks 8-10 per pound
Topnecks 5-7 per pound
Cherrystones Avg. 3 per pound
Chowders 1-2 per pound

On the Marx Foods store we’ve grouped the sizes by general culinary applications:

How They’re Prepared:

Small Quahog Clams (Littlenecks, Middlenecks & Topnecks): Are a great choice for any dish where you want to serve whole clams. Pasta dishes, soups, stews, appetizers, simply steamed…whatever you’d like.  Some people even like to enjoy littleneck clams raw.

Large Quahog Clams (Chowders & Cherrystones): Are usually chopped or ground before use.  They’re an ideal choice for soups (usually chowders), fried clam strips and baked clams (aka “stuffies”).


Mahogany Clams:

Mahogany clams are a variety of Atlantic hard-shelled clam with a stronger, brinier flavor than the common quahog.

How They’re Prepared: Mahogany clams cook similarly to the smaller quahogs.  Their more pronounced flavor allows them to stand out in dishes with strong ingredients like bell peppers and tomatoes.


Manila Clams:

Originally Japanese in origin, manila clams were accidently introduced to the American west coast during the seeding of Japanese oyster varieties.  They are a hard-shell variety with ridges and are prized for their cleaner, sweeter flavor.

How They’re Prepared: Manila clams can be cooked similarly to the smaller Atlantic hard shells (littlenecks, middlenecks & topnecks).  They can also be eaten raw.


Razor Clams (aka Razor-Shells, Jackknife Clams):

One of the rarer clam varieties, razor clams get their name from their long, thin shape that resembles a straight razor.  In the US you can find both Atlantic and Pacific varieties of razor clam (there are also additional types in Europe).  The Atlantic clam is straighter and thinner (and looks most like a razor), while the Pacific razor clam looks more like a stretched/elongated regular clam.  They have tougher neck portions and more tender belly portions like a steamer clam.  Pacific razor clam meat tends to be on the tough side compared to other varieties, but they are quite tasty.

How They’re Prepared: Razor clams are often chopped or cooked for long periods in to make them tender.  They can be broiled, baked, fried or stir fried.


Steamer Clams (aka Ipswich Clams):

Steamer clams are an East Coast variety with softer shells and small, chewy necks.  They never completely close, leaving room for the neck to protrude from the shell.  Their flavor is sweeter and creamier than most other clam varieties.

How They’re Prepared: Steamer clams are most often steamed or breaded and fried.  Before cooking them the dark outer membrane around their “necks” should be removed.

 Geoduck Clams


Geoduck Clams (aka Mirugai):

Extremely large, geoduck clams are considered a delicacy in Japan and some other parts of Asia.  They have a unique crisp, crunchy texture and a mild, balanced shellfish flavor.  Some cultures consider them an aphrodisiac, likely because of their phallic appearance.

How They’re Prepared: Geoducks can be steamed, sautéed, or served as sushi, sashimi, or ceviche.

Geoduck Recipes


Browse More:
Clam Recipes

Comments 12

  1. Very interesting! I always thought little necks and steamers were the same thing. Still remember clam digging with my Dad and my cousins when we were kids. We were never allowed to go barefoot because of the razor clams. I never knew people ate those until just a few years ago! Between lobsters and clams, we used to beg for hot dogs and hamburgers after a while in the summer. LOL I’m not into seafood anymore (see, too many clams and lobsters), but I still love a good Stuffed Quahog now and again.

  2. I love a good tutorial. It’s always fun to learn about different varieties of ingredients. I’ve always been intrigued by geoduck clams since I saw them on Top Chef.

  3. Hi,

    I had fried clam strips and a Long Island restaurant yesterday and I never had such thick fried clams before anywhere. Some were fine, but some were rubbery. What type of clam do you think they used? Most places I have always gone serve the thin strips that are tender. I did not ask the waitress as the place was very busy and it was her first day on the job. They also gave me the runs that night. The clams were about 3 times the size of the normal clam served for fried clams.

  4. Post

    Hi Dee,

    We can’t know for sure of course, but my guess is that they were sliced chowder or cherrystone quahog clams. They’re often used to make fried clam strips, but can be tough if they aren’t sliced thinly enough.


  5. What can you tell me about the clam that smells like watermelon when opened? Oyster suckers often get them when harvesting oysters on the Oregon coast. Thanks c

  6. Post

    Hi Carolyn,

    Unfortunately we haven’t heard of clams that smell like watermelon before, so we don’t have any information to offer you.

    Sorry we weren’t able to help!


  7. I remember going Claming in the summer when we were going to have a Clam boil at my Vavo and Vavoo’s house man those were the days. then my vavo would get the Large Quahogs and she would stuff them she would have to make like 30-50 just to make everyone happy God I love them. all this took place in Fall River Mass.

  8. thanking you for all information on clams. Had so many questions best for chowders, steamed. My husband from Washington state knows a lot about clams, living in Ca. we don’t get the varied. At least I haven’t seen in stores. Especially goeduck, razor clams. Thanks again foe helpful info. Will be calling to place order.

  9. A lifelong clam eater (71 years old), I remember back in the day when East Coast hard shell clams were placed in one of 3 categories – chowder, cherrystones and little necks. And since, generally speaking, the smaller the clam the pricier it is, over the years the industry has come up with what are essentially smaller versions of the old cherrystone – the top neck and mid-neck – so they can get a higher price. What passes for today’s cherrystone is really nothing more than a small chowder, way too tough to enjoy on the half shell, which for my money is the only way to eat a clam.

  10. Post
  11. I would like to know where I could obtain a copy of your picture on the 7 different sizes of clams. I would like to use it at my clam stand. Please let me know.

    Jim Cavaretta

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.