Clam Sizes

Hard clams are marketed according to size, which has a lot to do with the way they’re prepared. Hard clams (Mercenaria mercenaria) are usually referred to in the following sizes:

  • PASTA NECKS (PN) are the smallest hard clams commonly sold for food use on the east coast. They are tender and easy to digest. Their delicate flavor goes well in light sauces, pasta or rice dishes.
  • LITLE NECKS (LN), small and tender, are usually steamed open or eaten on the half shell.
  • SPECIALS (SN) can pass as littlenecks or small topnecks. They are the most versatile and sought after.
  • TOP NECKS (TN), typically eaten raw on the half shell, grilled open or as a baked clam appetizer such as clams casino.
  • CHERRYSTONES (CHE), are sometimes eaten raw by those who like value for money, but are most often used for baked clam appetizers.
  • CHOWDERS (CHO) are largest and toughest hard clams and usually wind up in chowders or fritters.

Sometimes there is controversy over the size names. This is the standard of the New Jersey Seafood Marketing Group (NJSMG) and is generally the terminoligy used throughout the east coast of the United States. The minimum legal sizes for wild and farmed clams vary from state to state. The hinge dimension is the shortest dimension across the clam. The width is the longest dimension. The relationship between these dimension varies with growing conditions. Most clams are machine sorted by their smallest dimension.

  Width Weight
PN less than 7/8” under 24 lbs / 500 ct
LN greater than 7/8” over 24 lbs / 500 ct
SN greater than 1” over 17 lbs / 250 ct
TN varies somewhat – usually greater than 1 ¼ “ over 20 lbs / 250 ct
CHE varies greatly about 20 lbs / 100 ct
CHO varies about 20 lbs / 50 ct