Grilling ideas for the Fourth of July

July 2, 2014 

Nothing beats a fire-grilled burger, an all-American favorite for the Fourth of July. JULIAN BRUNT/Special to the Herald

It seems contradictory, but when it starts to get hot, and the humidity is on the rise outside, it's time to get the grill out.

You'd think a cooler season would be a more popular time to stand around a flaming hot grill, but there must be some deep-seeded gene that calls us to make fire and roast meat in the summer.

For most applications, a wood fire in your grill is the most flavorful way to go. It is also more difficult and requires more attention than a charcoal fire. Deciding just how much wood to start with, and what kind of wood you want to use, are questions that can only be answered with experience. If you hesitate too long you will lose the intense fire that cooks best, if you start too soon then the flames will burn your food.

If you just can't face working with a wood fire, fill your grill with hardwood charcoal. It will give you pretty good results. Next best is a gas grill, but using wood chips that have been soaked in water will help. A gas grill without wood chips comes in dead last.

The recipes here are all pretty basic. The first one presented is a cheeseburger, surely an icon of American grilling and, when done right, nothing beats a fat burger, dripping with melted cheese and stacked high with condiments. The kind of cheese you can use is an almost endless list, but you might try using pimento cheese. It is really over the top and stunningly good.

The steak and chicken recipes below are equally as simple, just take your time and your results should be great.

BEST CHEESEBURGER

Remember that what makes a burger juicy is the fat content. If you buy lean ground beef, your burger will be dry and uninteresting. The best course of action is to grind your own, with at least 20 percent fat. If you can't grind your own, pick out a chuck roast you like, or even better, some short ribs, and ask the butcher to grind it for you.

1 pound freshly ground chuck (four big burgers)

1/4 cup finely diced onion

3-4 cloves finely chopped garlic

Lots of freshly ground black pepper

1 cup roughly grated Gruyere cheese

1 red bell pepper

1/4 cup or less mayonnaise

Diced hot pepper (optional)

Get your grill going well in advance of cooking time. Combine the freshly ground beef, onion, garlic and lots of black pepper in a large mixing bowl and mix with your hands until it is completely incorporated. Form into four patties and set aside. Grill the red bell pepper on your grill and then remove the blackened skin under running water. Chop the bell pepper and combine with the cheese, mayonnaise and more black pepper. Set aside.

Knowing when your burger is done is a skill that takes some practice. The best way is to use your finger to gently press on the top of the burger. The harder it is, the more well done it is. If the burger is hard to the touch and does not give at all, it is over-cooked and fit only for the dog.

Grill your burger carefully, never using a fork to turn it. That punctures the crust the hot fire has given it and allows the juices to

drain away into the fire. Use a metal spatula and turn as often as you like, but, again, never press down with the spatula, as that forces those precious juices out and makes your burger dry. Three or four minutes before your burger is done, top with the cheese mixture and put the lid on. The cheese has got to be melted, hot and delicious. Remove from the grill, place on your favorite bun and serve at once.

CLASSIC STEAK 101

The most important step is buying the best-quality beef you can find. Beef comes in three grades; prime, choice and select. Any other designation, such as "premium" should not be trusted. Prime is the best and is what you should use if at all possible. The best cuts to grill are generally thought to be rib-eye, hanger, flat iron and skirt. Health-wise a good portion to serve per person is 3 to 4 ounces, but let's leave that up to personal choice.

Just to keep it simple, this recipe calls for a hanger steak. Note the use of soy sauce, it is a major ingredient in many prepared steak sauces or marinades.

1 hanger steak

Freshly ground black pepper

2-3 tablespoons soy sauce

Optional a tab or two of butter

If you are using wood or charcoal on your grill, make sure the fire is just right before you start to grill. The flames should be subsiding, but the grill should be scorching hot. Let the steak come to room temperature before grilling. Slapping a stone-cold piece of meat on a hot grill is just not a good idea. Using tongs, and never a fork, place the steak on the grill. Let it sit a while, you don't need to constantly turn it like you might a burger. Wait three minutes then turn it, consider the color, give it a poke with your finger, gingerly, and make your best guess as to when it will be cooked as you like it. Remove from the grill, top with the butter if you like and allow to rest at least five minutes before serving.

GRILLED CHICKEN

1 package boneless chicken thighs

1 bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce

Black pepper

Follow the instruction above to get your grill going. Season the chicken with pepper and place on the grill. Turn with tongs until you have a nice sear, give it a squeeze with your fingers and when it is firm it is done. Just 3-4 minutes before it is done, brush on lots of barbecue sauce, cook a minute or so longer, turn and apply more sauce. Continue until the chicken is done and the sauce has started to blacken. Serve at once with more sauce as a side.

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