Every March, the Oriental Woman’s club hosts the annual Chowder Cook-off on the grounds of the Oriental Marina & Inn at the ONC harbor. The $10 entrance fee along with proceeds from the bake sale benefit their local scholarship fund.

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Cook-off attendees had the opportunity to try a variety of chowders made by area locals while enjoying Oriental’s unique coastal village ambiance. Music was provided by Harbor Sounds and the Tiki Bar was open and serving drinks.

This year’s entries included various clam and fish chowders, corn chowder, lobster/pork roast chowder, and even a Southwest chowder. If you’ve never made it to a Chowder Cook-off the process is pretty simple.

All visitors are given a score card listing each entry. After sampling the chowders they indicate their favorite and submit it to the ballot box. Every vote counts for the competition, last year Harbourside won by ONE VOTE!!!! Details of the contributors and their chowders can be found here at TownDock.net.

The AP team believed that a “true chowder” should be thick enough to stand up a spoon. Our recipe easily met that challenge and was very popular based on the feedback we received.

The base of the chowder we brought incorporated 90 slices of bacon; over 20 more slices were crumbled for a topping.

The wonderful flavor was achieved by simmering fresh chopped celery, leeks, onions and garlic before adding chicken broth, clam juice and potatoes to make the stock.

Once that simmered the creamy chowder was created by adding half-and-half with flour, seasoning, and more half-and-half.

After it thickened, 30 cans of chopped clams and a pound of Fulcher’s frozen clams were added to ensure there’d be chunks of clam in every bite. In addition to the bacon topping there were chopped chives & green onions plus oyster crackers for the tasters to customize their sample.

The recipe is appropriately named “Best Clam Chowder”. We weren’t sure that was appropriate for the cook-off so called it “New England Clam Chowder”.

Hope you enjoy it as much as our visitors did!

AP’s Best Clam Chowder aka “New England Clam Chowder”

Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 35 mins
Total Time 55 mins


  • 8-10 bacon strips divided
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 celery ribs chopped
  • 1 leek finely chopped
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves minced
  • 3-4 small potatoes (red potatoes or Yukon gold) peeled and cubed
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 bottle (8 ounces) clam juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups half-and-half divided
  • 3 cans (6-1/2 ounces each) whole clams, chopped into chunky pieces, drained
  • Bay leaf
  • Chopped fresh chives or green onions for garnish


  1. In a Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp.
  2. Remove to paper towels to drain; set aside.
  3. Add butter to the drippings (you can spoon out some of the drippings if you don’t want to use that much).
  4. Sauté celery, leek, and onion until tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer.
  5. Stir in the potatoes, broth, clam juice, salt, pepper and thyme.
  6. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
  7. In a small bowl, combine flour and 1 cup half-and-half until smooth. Gradually stir into the soup.
  8. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened.
  9. Stir in (drained) clams and remaining half-and-half.
  10. Heat through but do not boil; turn down to low heat; add the bay leaf. Cook for additional 2-3 minutes on low heat.
  11. Add in 4 strips of crumbled bacon.
  12. Crumble the reserved 2 strips of bacon.
  13. Garnish chowder with crumbled bacon and fresh chopped chives.

Story and photos by Terri MacMahon