This steaming pot of authentic chowda will win a blue ribbon at any potluck gathering.
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Drain clams, but reserve juice; set juice aside.
When ready to cook, set temperature to 180℉ and preheat for 15 minutes. Chop the clams, if they are not already chopped, and spread in a single layer in a disposable foil pan or deep baking dish. Set the clams on the grill grate and smoke the clams for 30 minutes.
Add the cream and 1 cup of the reserved clam juice to the pan; Smoke for an additional 30 minutes. Set aside.
Increase the temperature of the Traeger to 325℉. Put the butter and bacon in a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. Cook until the butter is melted and the bacon has begun to sizzle and render its fat.
Stir in the onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Don't forget that the bacon will also add its own saltiness.)
Stir in the flour and cook for 5 to 8 minutes; do not let the flour brown. Add the potatoes, bottled clam juice, bay leaves, and fresh thyme. Allow the mixture to come to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender. (The potatoes will take 12 to 15 minutes to cook once the liquid boils.)
Stir in the smoked clam and cream mixture and simmer for 5 minutes. If the chowder is too thin, stir in a small amount of instant mashed potato flakes. If it is too thick, add more clam juice until the right consistency is achieved.
Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Before serving, pull out the bay leaves and any thyme stems and stir in the parsley. Finish with oyster crackers and hot sauce. Enjoy!
*Cook times will vary depending on set and ambient temperatures.
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