Holidays are all about tradition. so little surprise that July Fourth remains the most popular day of the year for grilling. Close to 70 percent of us will be cooking our beloved beef, chicken and fish over gas, charcoal or an open fire on Independence Day, cementing the cookout’s reputation as America’s favorite way to celebrate the Fourth.
Where backyard chefs differ is in how they choose to season the proteins they’re about to throw on the grill.
Some let the meat speak for itself with little more than a sprinkling of salt, but if you really want to transform chicken, beef or fish from something ordinary into a dish that sings, consider a tasty marinade or sauce.
Marinating before grilling infuses meat with flavor while basting it with a complementary sauce while cooking – typically during the last few minutes of grilling or after slicing – gives it sheen and helps build the crust that makes your tastebuds shout “Wow!”
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It’s also good to have a really great spice rub in your grilling arsenal, especially if you want delicious, tender meat on a budget – rubs permeate tough cuts, creating complex layers of flavor.
“They help meat taste and look delicious and they’re crucial to the formation of a tasty, crusty bark,” writes Texas pitmaster Aaron Franklin and co-author Jordan Mackay in “Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto (Ten Speed, $29.99, 224 pages).
What sets a great rub apart from a lesser competitor depends on the whims of the cook. Standard rubs include salt, pepper, granulated garlic and onion and often paprika or dried chilies for a bit of heat; the goal, notes the authors, is to “complement a nice piece of meat, not to obscure a crappy piece of meat. All spices should react well with one another. No one spice should stand out or be too recognizable.”
Restraint, along with balance, also is the name of the game when stirring together sauces and marinades. You want to dress up the meat or fish, not drown it.
Some tips before cooking:
▪ Always apply a rub to meat about 1 hour before cooking, letting it come to room temperature before placing on the grill. This allows the seasoning to “sweat” into the meat, Franklin explains. Also, try to get an even coat of rub over the surface of the meat to allow for even cooking.
▪ Pay careful attention to marinating times; leave it on too long, and it can turn the surface mushy. Poultry takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours; delicate fish and seafood shouldn’t swim more than 30 minutes in a marinade.
▪ Never reuse marinade used on raw meat or poultry unless you boil it first to destroy harmful bacteria.
▪ Sauces should be brushed on the last 5 to 15 minutes of cooking. Keep a careful eye on the fire – most barbecue sauces have sugar in them and you don’t want it to burn.
BBQ chicken rub
This chicken rub has incredible depth and flavor, and works just as well on beef and pork as it does poultry. We used it to season the beer-can chicken at right. Recipe from “Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ” (Oxmoor House, $24.95, 368 pages)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground red pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground thyme
1 teaspoon ground oregano
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Stir together salt and remaining ingredients. Store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.
Beer can BBQ chicken
Talk about presentation! And so easy – just place the bird on the grill, and let the beer escaping the can keep it moist while cooking.
One 4-pound chicken
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons BBQ chicken rub (recipe at left)
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
One 12-ounce can beer
Remove neck and giblets from chicken, and reserve for another use. Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Brush cavity and skin with vegetable oil. Stir together BBQ rub and salt; sprinkle mixture inside cavity and on outside of chicken. Chill chicken 30 minutes to 12 hours.
Let chicken stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Light 1 side of grill, heating to 350 to 400 degrees (medium-high). Leave other side unlit. Open beer. Place chicken upright onto beer can, fitting can into cavity. Pull legs forward to form a tripod, so chicken stands upright.
Place chicken on unlit side of grill. Grill, covered with grill lid, 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until golden and instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 165 degrees. Carefully remove chicken from can. Cover chicken loosely with aluminum foil and let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Firecracker grilled salmon
Recipe from “Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ.”
Six 6-ounce salmon fillets
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
2 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
Vegetable cooking spray
Place salmon fillets in large zip-top plastic freezer bag. Whisk together vegetable oil and next 9 ingredients. Pour over salmon, reserving 1/4 cup mixture. Seal and chill 30 minutes.
Coat cold cooking grate of grill with cooking spray, and place on grill. Preheat grill to 350 to 400 degrees (medium-high) heat. Remove salmon from marinade, discard marinade.
Grill salmon with grill lid 4 to 5 minutes or until fish flakes with a fork, turning occasionally and basting with reserved marinade. Remove and discard skin. Serve immediately.
Fig ancho beer barbecue sauce
For any kind of meat. “Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto” by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay (Ten Speed, $29.99, 224 pages)
4 ancho chilies, dehydrated in 4 1/2 cups hot water, water reserved
12 figs, grilled, stemmed and quartered
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
4 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
One 12-ounce bottle stout or porter beer
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
6 tablespoons fig preserves
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
In skillet over medium heat, sauté chilies, figs and onion in butter for about 10 minutes, until figs and chilies are tender and onion is translucent. Transfer to blender and add sugar, beer, ketchup, both vinegars, preserves, honey, salt and pepper. Purée until smooth, adding as much of reserved chili soaking liquid as needed to reach the desired texture. Store in airtight container in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Makes about 6 cups
Curried coconut milk marinade
Perfect for chicken breast or satay. Recipe from “The Barbecue Lover’s Big Book of BBQ Sauces” by Cheryl & Bill Jamison (Harvard Common Press, $18.95, 336 pages).
One 15-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons chopped lemongrass, bruised with the side of a chef’s knife to release flavor
2 tablespoons palm sugar
2 shallots, minced
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Mix all the ingredients in bowl or large zip-close plastic bag. Use within a few hours for best flavor.
Pour marinade over poultry, massaging it over and under the skin. Allow seasoned poultry to sit for at least 30 minutes at room temperature, or up to a few hours covered in fridge.