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Clambakes Ordered Online: Worth Getting?

A traditional New England clambake involves a beach, a fire, and a pit lined with stones.

However, for diners without access to that kind of setting or great local seafood, online vendors are stepping in to help, deliver all the fixings right to their customers' doors.

The question is, are the meals any good?

The Early Show contributor Vera Gibbons decided to find out.

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She ordered clambakes from six companies and had them sent to her New York City apartment.

She then invited Tanya Steel, from the culinary Web site Epicurious.com to help her evaluate the contents.

There are a dozen or so companies that offer to ship ready-to-cook clambakes, so you can enjoy lobsters and clams in your own kitchen. Many people also send them as gifts.

Gibbons selected a variety of companies, from Mom-and-Pop operations to big corporations. She only tested companies based in New England, ones that ship nationally, and that back their products with money-back guarantees.

Of course, each company offers a variety of clambakes at different price points.

Gibbons picked the lowest-priced option from all six, options that are designed to feed two people, and that are advertised as "classic" or "traditional."

Steel looked at how fresh all of the seafood appeared, analyzed the other foodstuffs included in the order, and checked out the directions to see if they were clear and correct.

LEAST EXPENSIVE: Lobster Gram, Livelob.com, $96

The Wall Street Journal awarded this clambake marks for "best value" a few years ago. It's the only company Gibbons could find offering a clambake for under $100. (In most cases, you'll spend around $150 on a clambake for two; shipping on most clambakes adds about $30 or $40 to the total price) The company started as a one-man operation and has grown. It gets its lobsters directly from Maine lobstermen every day, then packs them up and ship them to you.

Gibbons and Steel were pleasantly surprised by the quality of this clambake for the price, naming it their No. 2 choice. The package itself was neatly organized and surrounded by plenty of gel packs, so it was certain to arrive cold. The lobsters were frisky, the clams looked good. You receive clam chowder, new potatoes, corn, and even a fresh lemon to squeeze over it all.

MOST DISAPPOINTING: Gortonsfreshseafood.com $125

Mail order clambakes are expensive, so you want to be thrilled with your dinner. Unfortunately, one of the lobsters from Gorton's was DOA (dead on arrival). Big, expensive bummer. We wanted to test this product because Gorton's is a name that many people are familiar with -- it's the company behind frozen fish sticks and other ready-to-eat seafood at grocery stores across the country.

Gibbons called Gorton's to let them know what had happened and that we were talking about this on TV. The company, of course, was apologetic and said this rarely, if ever, happens. Gorton's offered us what they offer all of their customers in similar situations -- either a replacement clambake or a gift certificate to use another time. All the companies have similar policies, and Gibbons says not to order from a company that doesn't offer something along those lines.

Finally, this clambake didn't include corn, potatoes, seaweed, or a pot for cooking the lobsters.

TOP CHOICE: Legal Seafoods, legalseafoods.com, $155

Legal Seafoods is a well-known seafood chain, founded in the Northeast. To be honest, neither Gibbons nor Steel had high hopes for this one, figuring some of the smaller companies would turn out fresher seafood. However, they were pleased to discover that this clambake came with a giant pot for cooking, seaweed, corn, and potatoes and sausages, in addition to the clams and lobsters.

Steel said the pot was good quality -- you would probably spend around $30 for a similar pot in a store. Steel was also excited to see that the corn wasn't pre-husked. That helps keep the vegetable moist and fresh. Also included -- clear instructions! That's an essential element that not every clambake included.

A note on the seaweed, technically called rock seaweed: Steel says you can't have an authentic clambake without this ingredient, so the companies that included it got big points in her book. You actually put the seaweed in the pot when you steam the clams and lobsters; it lends a salty, authentic flavor you can't achieve any other way.

Another clambake Gibbons and Steel liked was from thelobsternet.com ($144; all of this company's prices include shipping). The Lobster Net, based in Bangor, Maine, was the first company to sell lobsters online; it began doing so in 1996. You can choose to have your lobster arrive cooked, if you prefer. You also receive a pot, seaweed, clams, seafood bisque, corn, sea salt, and lemon juice.

So, in the final analysis, was it worth it to order a clambake online? If you do your homework and order a clambake that comes with the pot, the veggies, the seaweed and other "essentials" then YES, it's worth it. You know going in that this isn't going to be a cheap dinner; it's a treat or a gift. Overall, Gibbons and Steel agreed that the seafood quality was good, and that, in many parts of the country or small towns, you couldn't get lobsters and clams this fresh. When all is said and done, the seafood is the most important element of the meal, and the online vendors did a good job delivering quality lobster and clams straight to Gibbons' door.

For tips from Epicurious.com on preparing clambakes, click here.

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