Fourth of July is truly the pinnacle of summer grilling season (thanks for the warm-up, Memorial Day). With more than $7 billion spent on food each year, it’s no surprise that it’s the biggest cookout day of the year.
Whether you’re throwing a traditional backyard barbecue, a pre-fireworks or pool party, the hardest part is always deciding what to cook and how to cook it. There’s the simple route of brats, burgers, dogs; the classic chops, ribs, and BBQ chicken; or smoked pork, brisket, or tri-tip for the more ambitious. Whichever route you go, we've rounded up our favorite tips, cuts and recipes (and tunes) for the grill to help get you started. Join your fellow Americans this season and fire up your grill in celebration of ‘Murica.
Pick Your Protein
Beef: Aside from the traditional ground chuck or ribeye steak, there are several cuts of beef that work well on the grill. A thin hanger, flank or skirt steak will cook in just minutes and carry a lot of flavor from marinades. If you go the kabob route, go for a top round or London broil that will feed a crowd without breaking the bank. If you have time and a smoker, brisket never fails to impress.
Chicken: We recommend thighs over breasts, especially if you’re grilling for a crowd. Thighs are easier and faster to cook and almost impossible to overcook. Leave the skin for extra crispiness or paint a glaze or BBQ sauce on to create caramelized layers.
Pork: The possibilities are really endless when it comes to pork, especially if you own a good smoker. If you’re going the homemade sausage route, go for a fatty cut (85% lean) like pork trim or butt. For the grill, we recommend any and all chops and ribs.
Seafood: Going the seafood route will ensure you’re not stuck manning the grill all day while your guests are relaxing. But make sure to go for a fish that won’t flake all over your grates--Shrimp skewers, seared ahi steaks, and fish tacos are delicious and versatile for the grill.
Burgers: The classic ground chuck is always a safe bet, but if you want to go big, try using a blend. Adding ground pork will up the fat content of your burger, making them juicier and more flavorful. Ground lamb also has a higher fat content that works well for burgers. If you grind your own meat, try adding some pork fatback to your grinder along with a leaner cut of beef. This works especially well if using ground venison, which is typically too lean on its own for a burger.
We recommend purchasing meat from your local butcher or meat counter, but if you have to buy prewrapped meat from your local grocery sure, make sure it's the freshest available. Stay away from meat that has a lot of red juice floating around in the package or meat that doesn't spring back when pressed with a finger: both could be signs it's been sitting too long or got too warm.
Tis the Season to Season
Underseasoning your proteins is probably one of the most common mistakes in cooking and grilling in general. With all the time, money, and energy spent into getting the meat and having it cooked just right, you don’t want to be disappointed with flavorless meat.
If burgers are on the menu, skip the bland, premade patties. Buy ground beef or pork (or both) and mix in a great seasoning blend. We like Better Burger Seasoning or mixing in any PS Fresh Bratwurst Seasoning. Steaks should be marinaded overnight or seasoned with a steak rub right before hitting the grill. Chicken, ribs or pork should be brined overnight or rubbed with a smokey-sweet-salty blend. For an extra flavor boost, smother them generously with a BBQ Sauce or Glaze and reapply every 10-15 minutes to build caramelized layers.
Direct vs. Indirect Heat
The best way to grill for a crowd is to make sure you have a space for direct and indirect heat. Direct heat is perfect for thinner meats or anything that will cook quickly when heated at high temps (think burgers, sausage, steaks, shrimp or other seafood cuts). Placing thicker cuts of meat (like chops, tenderloins, whole chicken cuts, prime rib) over indirect heat will ensure they cook throughout without charring.
If you’re a gas griller:
- Preheat your grill at least 15 minutes in advance to ensure even/consistent cook. To utilize indirect cooking, turn off one or two burners and cook with the lid closed.
If you’re the king of the coals:
- Stack your coals. Instead of spreading your charcoal evenly over the bottom of your grill, try piling them off toward one side.
When it comes to cooking or grilling any kind of meat, treat it kindly: don’t smash, press, or squish it. It may be tempting to hear the sizzle as you press your grill spatula down on a nice burger patty, but what you’re just losing all those delectable juices. The same goes for steaks, chops and other cuts--pressing down will not make your meat cook faster.
Try to avoid flipping your meat more than once, especially burgers which can easily crumble apart and lost their shape if flipped or moved too often.
Grill with Safety in Mind
The worst-case scenario for any BBQ would be for everyone to go home sick from undercooked meat. But then again, no one wants to bite into a dry, chewy piece of overcooked steak. To make sure you’re grilling at safe temps, keep a meat thermometer on hand while manning the grill. And keep in mind that beef, pork, and chicken internal temps will rise 5-10 degrees after taken off the grill. We recommend shooting for the USDA regulations for safe cooking temps:
|Product||Minimum Internal Temperature & Rest Time|
|Beef, Pork, Veal & Lamb Steaks, chops, roasts||145 °F (62.8 °C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes|
|Ground meats||160 °F (71.1 °C)|
|Ham, fresh or smoked (uncooked)||145 °F (62.8 °C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes|
|All Poultry (breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, wings, ground poultry, giblets, and stuffing)||165 °F (73.9 °C)|
|Eggs||160 °F (71.1 °C)|
|Fish & Shellfish||145 °F (62.8 °C)|
|Leftovers||165 °F (73.9 °C)|
|Casseroles||165 °F (73.9 °C)|
Also, be sure to wash hands, plates, and utensils after handling raw meat. If you’re grilling multiple things at once, it can be tempting to use your tongs to move your steak over for a new piece of chicken, but just don’t. Keep two tongs at your grill station, one for transferring raw protein and one for removing and turning the cooked.
For the Smokers
Smoking is a great way to enhance the natural flavors of your meat by infusing it with mouthwatering wood-fired flavor. If you decide to go this route, be sure to plan ahead and decide which wood chips or pellets you’ll be using.
The wood you select should harmonize with (and not over-smoke) the type of meat you will be smoking. Since it is imperative to have some initial knowledge of pairing wood to meat, we've created this chart with insights to flavor profiles and recommendations for pairing meat with popular wood types.
Tips & Tricks
- Make sure you have enough propane in your tank the day before grilling (at least). To check how much is left, use one of these 4 tricks.
- Rub your grates with a potato cut in half for an easy way to keep your lean proteins from sticking.
- Throw a bundle of rosemary on the grill to keep the bugs away.
- To clean your grates, roll up a ball of aluminum foil or cut a wedge of raw onion and scrub with tongs.
Our Favorite Recipes for 4th of July
Get Fired Up
No backyard barbecue is complete without the perfect summer playlist. No need to sweat it, we've got you covered with our BBQ Meat Sweats mix that'll keep you rockin' and grillin' all day long.