The Maine shore dinner—or really just any occasion that involves cooking on the beach—is one of my favorite summer traditions. I grew up spending parts of the summer in Maine, where lobsters were a key source of sustenance. So getting to go back there and cook a few bugs by the water with friends this summer was pretty unbeatable.
The most critical element of a Maine shore dinner is of course fresh seafood (fortunatlye, not a difficult ask in Maine). This is important not just because if you’re going to go to the trouble you might as well have fresh seafood, but also because fresh seafood needs pretty much no prep or seasoning. This means carrying less stuff to your cook spot, less prep and less clean up as well. And while I don’t mind doing a little work, I certainly appreciate a high relax-to-work ratio, especially on a vacation.
Let the fresh seafood do the talking is what I’m trying to say here, no reason to get too ambitious.
So how does it work? What’s the technique? It’s really quite simple. Make a fire on the beach (below the high tide water mark) and throw a selection of shellfish, fish, and corn on the fire. I’ve always had good luck using the grill from a Weber grill to cook on. It’s easy to gather rocks and build up a little wall for the grill to sit on, making sure to keep one end clear, so you can rake hotter coals into the fire as needed.
Finding good dry hardwood is also key. Hardwood burns longer and makes for better coals. Driftwood and pine light up more easily and help you get a fire going though. When cooking with wood, maintaining steady heat can be sort of tricky. Unlike with charcoal, you have to plan ahead and always have a side fire burning, continually making more coals to use throughout the cook. It helps to get a good bed of coals going, but it’s also key to have pieces of wood of various sizes ready to go as well to stoke the fire as needed.
Sometimes the fire starts burning too hot, and that’s when you pour a little beer or water on it to calm it down. It’s that simple. We melt butter in half a beer can and that's pretty much it for "seasoning." Fresh lobsters and mussels don’t need much else, and it also works for the corn. The steamers were a bit of a misfire. I don’t recommend cooking them on a grill because the shells crack so easily. If you do, maybe cook them in a pot or some tinfoil.
As for the lobsters, I steam them in a pot. I know traditional Maine cooks will steam lobsters in seaweed. That’s next level, but maybe a little too much effort for most of us. A pot works fine for me, especially when I’m on vacation, looking to let the seafood do the talking.
Oh and to really elevate the situation, invite friends who know how to make ice cream. That will ensure supreme levels of satisifcation.