Having been born in America, yet raised in England, I have mixed feelings about Independence Day. However, there is one part of the holiday I can certainly get on board for: barbecue.
While I can argue with myself for hours over the relative strengths and weaknesses of my two countries, in the arena of barbecuing America has England well and truly beaten.
Barbecuing is an art, but it's one of those that everyone and their uncle thinks they can do and most really can't. So to help out the self-elected grill masters this Fourth of July holiday (and spare their guests), the Idaho Mountain Express has rounded up a few great grilling tips from some local experts.
Art Wallace, head chef at the Sun Valley Clubhouse, is passionate when it comes to the art of the grill. Being a professional chef, to him, it's all about the tools.
"Be sure to prep your grill. Clean it really well," he said. "If you don't want to take it in the house to clean, you can fire it up as hot as blazes, let everything turn to ash, then wipe it off."
Once the grill is ready to go, be sure to get it hot, hot, hot.
"The biggest mistake people make when grilling is not preheating," he said. "Not getting the grill hot enough. A good measure of whether it's hot enough or not is that you should hear the meat sizzle when it hits the grill."
Depending on what's on the menu, Wallace opts to have a really hot area of his grill and a cooler part. Here are his top tips for cooking the perfect barbecue:
( Take your meat out of the fridge an hour before you're ready to cook it. Meat cooks much better when it's at room temperature.
( Don't move the item—if you move it too soon it'll stick. That's where people get in trouble, especially with fish. Put it on the grill. Don't move it. And when you think it's time to move it, wait another minute.
( Know your meat. A rib eye steak is the perfect cut for the grill. Just a little salt and pepper. Perfect. Flank steak is another good option. It's a classic summer grill item. Slice it against the grain and it looks beautiful. Don't overcook it.
( A good, quick marinade for a flank steak is some Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, tomato paste, olive oil, some herbs, garlic and perhaps a little anchovy. Be sure to avoid acidic ingredients, especially if leaving it to marinade for a while. The acid in things like lemon juice, vinegar and wine will cook the protein.
( A great unusual summer grill item is watermelon. Grilled watermelon salad is delicious. Make it with grilled haloumi cheese and hearts of palm. Cut the watermelon really thick and just throw all the ingredients on the grill. Basically, the same principals of grilling meat apply to anything you want to throw on the grill.
Mike Woodall, manager of the meat department at Atkinsons' Market in Ketchum, has doled out countless of hours of grilling advice to his customers over the past decade and a half.
"Around Fourth of July we sell a lot of our pre-marinated items: marinated chicken, beef, lamb and veggie kebabs," he said. "Also, marinated baby back ribs and flat iron steaks, because they're all ready to go, it makes it easy."
Rib eye, New York and fillet mignon steaks also fly out the door, but it's fish that has proven to be one of the most popular grilling items.
"Our salmon and halibut are our two most popular fish items for the grill," Woodall said. "We sell literally hundreds of pounds over the Fourth of July holiday."
Fish can be a daunting grill item, delicate and easily destroyed. Woodall offers his tips for cooking it to perfection.
( If you're going to do a boneless fillet, get your grill very, very hot.
( Leave the skin on and put a little olive oil on the fish, as this helps caramelize it and hold all the moisture in when it hits the hot grill.
( If you have a fairly thick fillet, start it meat-side down on the hot grill, cover it with the lid and leave it for about two minutes.
( While it's still fairly rare it's easy to slide a spatula underneath, flip it over to finish it—about another couple of minutes. Roughly about five minutes total.
If you're looking for something a little different to throw on the grill this year, Woodall suggests marinated game hens.
"Split game hen is great on the grill," he said. "It's basically a little tiny chicken. They're very, very good. Better than chicken."
One final tip, gleaned from Chris Edwards, a former freelance chef and longtime Ketchum resident, may be hard to do at a fun-filled Independence Day barbecue. But it's a great piece of advice.
"My only grilling tip is to not walk away from the grill," said Edwards. "Watch your meat!"
Jennifer Tuohy: email@example.com
Idaho Mountain Express' staff Independence Day barbecue menu
A few suggestions from our staff for crafting the perfect Fourth of July party menu. Invitations are welcome:
Appetizers: artichoke dip, devilled eggs, snow cones.
Sides: potato salad, corn on the cob, coleslaw, summer veggie salad, macaroni salad, baked beans, watermelon.
On the Grill: hot dogs, hamburgers, steaks, rack of ribs, veggie kebabs.
Desserts: strawberry and blueberry shortcake, cupcakes and ice cream sundaes in festive colors.
Drinks: beer, wine, mojitos, gin & tonic.