Ted Dombrowski qualifies because of his Big Green Egg and Nate Thurston for the “Grates of Hell.”
Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appetit has it covered, thanks to the newly published “The Grilling Book” and the collective experience of the magazine’s staff.
It’s a trio of experts, two local and one a Southern ex-pat, who know a thing or two about food meeting fire. So, for one of the most popular grilling days of the year, we asked: “What would you serve for a Fourth of July cookout?”
Dombrowski is the proprietor of Ted’s Butcherblock on East Bay Street. His is a store of many trades: meat and cheeses and gourmet goods; salad and sandwich spot; special dinners and wine and beer tastings.
But every day, Dombrowski has something cooking on his Big Green Egg. He’s become addicted to the oval-shaped, ceramic cooker that can be used as both a grill and smoker.
The parade of proteins includes pork ribs, beef brisket, salmon, steaks, really anything that the glow of a charcoal fire can make taste good.
For an Independence Day menu, his first order of business is, how many people?
For a smaller group, he loves doing traditional hamburgers and sausages such as bratwurst or sweet Italian links sauteed with onions and peppers that remind him of his New Jersey upbringing.
But beware of taking on too much, especially burgers. “If you get over six, eight people, you can’t cook your burgers to order,” Dombrowski says.
Cooking them in advance isn’t feasible, either, he says. “There’s no way to keep them juicy or prevent them from drying out.”
For a bigger group, Dombrowski would look at doing a larger, low-and-slow type cut of meat on the smoker, like a boneless pork butt or a beef brisket. Yes, they take a longer time — up to eight hours for the pork and 12 to 14 for a full brisket.
“Personally, I love doing brisket, but it’s a commitment. It takes a long time,” he says.
But one can start the cooking ahead of time and be able to vacate the grilling post to enjoy the party.
Or, larger cuts of meat can cook for a time on the grill, then be wrapped in foil and finished in the oven, Dombrowski says. “Then you don’t have to tend to the grill at all.”
Dombrowski isn’t against steaks, but he always thinks of the Fourth of July as more casual food.
Asked to name the best meat cuts for grilling, Dombrowski says:
Pork: A thick rib chop, preferably a Kurobuta or heritage breed.
Chicken: The cut is not as important as a pre-soak in a salt solution. “My thing with chicken is brining. I’m a big proponent of brining (poultry) to maintain moisture.”
Fish: A whole fish, like a snapper. “People are getting more adventurous.”
Overall, his single best piece of advice for grilling out: Don’t “overwork” meat, meaning excessive flipping or moving it around.
“Allow whatever you’re cooking to cook and develop flavor, a nice sear,” Dombrowski says.
Into the fire
Executive chef Nate Thurston of Stars restaurant on King Street prefers to focus on a vegetable side for a July 4th cookout, letting local and in-season produce take center stage instead of the meat.
For one reason, Thurston is sweet on the bicolored or “speckled” corn he’s getting from Sidi Limehouse and a Silver Queen-type sweet white corn from Ambrose Farms.
His dish is a bit labor-intensive for serving a crowd, but would offer a lot of “wow” factor for a small gathering.
He came up with a grilled “loaded” corn: brushed with Duke’s mayo, then sprinkled with a confetti of crispy country ham bits, grated aged white cheddar cheese and charred-and-chopped green onions.
“It’s a fun way to make grilled corn a little more interesting,” he says, and draws its inspiration from “elote,” or Mexican street corn.
But there’s no Mexican seasonings or ingredients in Thurston’s version. “We tried to make it all Southern,” he says.
At Stars, which opened in October, much of what the kitchen does is live-fire cooking. The showpiece is a 4,500-pound Argentine-style grill whose move from the truck to the inside of the restaurant shut down King Street for 10 minutes, Thurston says.
“It takes three guys to move it an inch,” he says.
Fired by a combination of red, white and live oak wood that’s “local” — Wadmalaw Island — the grill has different features for different cooking needs. One is a rotisserie, another is a nonstick stainless steel grate that is raised and lowered by a wheel and is used for cooking fish and vegetables, and yet another grate is used for cooking cuts such as steak.
Surprisingly, the restaurant’s wood-grilled tuna is the most popular protein on the menu, even besting beef, Thurston says. “We sell a lot of fish,” he says, “and I purchase more vegetables than anything else.”
A need to grill
New York City isn’t the most conducive of places for outdoor cooking, but Knowlton has figured out a place: his fire escape. The need to grill speaks to the Atlanta native’s Southern roots.
Restaurant and drinks editor of Bon Appetit and author of “The BA Foodist” column, Knowlton has worked for the magazine for a dozen years, “the longest tenured employee,” he jokes.
The newly published “The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide From Bon Appetit” (Andrews McMeel, $45) was a team effort led by chief editor Adam Rapoport, Knowlton says. The book contains more than 300 recipes threaded with tips and how-to details.
“We love doing this; we love doing this at home and wanted to share it,” says Knowlton, who was in Charleston last month for a Bon Appetit “Grub Crawl” event and a book signing.
Knowlton is a purist: “To me, charcoal is the only way to grill.”
He strongly favors natural lump charcoal versus standard briquettes. “It’s a game changer in terms of flavor, like going from the microwave to a home-cooked meal.”
A chimney smoker is a must for the serious griller, he adds.
As for celebrating the Fourth, Knowlton likes seafood on the menu, such as grilled shrimp or fish.
“I love fish tacos. I think they are the greatest invention in the last 100 years. In the summer, I’m all about quick and easy, and I think seafood is a natural.”
But barbecued pork ribs aren’t out of the question, even if you don’t have hours to spend tending a smoker. The book’s “Best-Ever Barbecued Ribs” employs an oven-cheat method — bake first, finish on the grill — that produces tender, flavorful ribs with minimal effort, he says. It’s one of his favorite recipes in the book and like what his own family did.
Knowlton says he was “heavily involved” in the drinks chapter and has a favorite in there as well that is in tune with a patriotic theme: Rose, Bourbon and Blue.
“It’s like a sangria. It’s my go-to summer cocktail.
“The biggest thing in the summer is to keep it simple, four or five ingredients” at most, he says. “It’s not the time to make your own tinctures.”
Southern Street Corn
Serves 6 (3 ears cut in half; double recipe for 6 whole ears)
For the charred onions:
3 green onions
Salt and pepper
For the grilled corn:
3 ears corn
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup mayonnaise, Duke’s preferred
3 ounces aged white cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup fried and crumbled country ham (or bacon) bits
Prepare a fire using natural lump charcoal; the fire should be medium-hot (able to hold palm of hand above the grate for no more than 3 to 5 seconds).
Toss onion stalks with a little olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Place on grill and cook, turning as needed, until the green parts develop some char.
Meanwhile, rub corn ears with butter and season with salt and pepper to taste. Grill, turning as needed, until the corn develops some char all around, six to 10 minutes.
Once the onions are done, remove from grill and blot with paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible. Chop the green parts into small pieces and reserve.
When the corn is ready, remove from the grill to a platter and let cool for a few minutes (so the mayonnaise won’t completely melt and dissolve; the mayo is the binding agent for everything else to stick to). Spread a generous tablespoon of mayonnaise over each ear of corn. Season with black pepper. Sprinkle cheese and ham over the corn, and then with the chopped green onion. Cut ears in half and serve.
— Recipe by Stars executive chef Nate Thurston
Best-Ever Barbecued Ribs
2½ tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon paprika
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 pounds baby back ribs (8 racks) or spareribs (4 racks)
Vegetable oil, for brushing
Low-salt chicken broth (optional)
1½ cups store-bought or homemade barbecue sauce, plus more for serving
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine first 5 ingredients in a small bowl. Place each rack of ribs on a double layer of foil; sprinkle rub all over ribs. Wrap racks individually and divide between 2 baking sheets. Bake ribs until tender but not falling apart, about 2 hours for baby back ribs or 3 hours for spareribs.
Carefully unwrap ribs; pour any juices from foil into a 4-cup heat-proof measuring cup; reserve juices. Let ribs cool completely. (Do ahead: Ribs can be baked up to 3 days ahead; the flavor will be more developed, and the cold ribs will hold together better on the grill as they heat through).
Cover and chill juices. Rewrap ribs in foil and chill. Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to high.
Brush grate with oil. Add broth or water to rib juices, if needed, to measure 1½ cups.
Whisk in 1½ cups barbecue sauce to blend. Grill ribs, basting with barbecue sauce mixture and turning frequently, until lacquered and charred in places and heated through, seven to 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board; cut between ribs to separate. Transfer to a platter and serve with more barbecue sauce.
— Adapted from Bon Appetit’s “The Grilling Book”
Sweet-and-Spicy ShrimpWith Mint Sauce
Brown sugar brings out the natural sweetness of the shrimp, and cayenne delivers the heat. If you like a mild molasses flavor, use light brown sugar; for a stronger molasses flavor, use dark brown sugar.
¼ cup (packed) light brown sugar or dark brown sugar
3½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
2 tablespoons plus ½ cup vegetable oil, divided, plus more for brushing
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled, deveined
2 cups (packed) fresh mint leaves
6 or more metal skewers
Mix brown sugar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons oil, cayenne, lemon zest and ½ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour. Meanwhile, place mint, remaining 1½ tablespoons lemon juice, and remaining ½ cup oil in a food processor. Pulse, scraping down sides occasionally, until mint is finely chopped and mixture is smooth. Season mint sauce to taste with salt.
Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to high. Brush grill grate with oil.
Thread shrimp onto skewers. Grill shrimp until just opaque in the center, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Serve with mint sauce.
— Adapted from Bon Appetit’s “The Grilling Book”
Rose, Bourbon, and Blue
This patriotic cooler combines two summer favorites, iced tea and sangria, with that all-American spirit, bourbon. For the tea, we like orange pekoe; for the wine, a fruity rose from Spain’s Rioja.
7 tablespoons raw sugar
2 cups fresh blueberries, divided
2 cups freshly brewed unsweetened black tea
1½ cups fruity rose
1 cup bourbon
¾ cup fresh lemon juice
8 lemon slices
Stir sugar with 7 tablespoons hot water in a small bowl until sugar is dissolved; transfer to a food processor.
Add 11/2 cups blueberries and puree until smooth. Set a fine mesh strainer over a large pitcher. Strain blueberry mixture, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible; discard solids. Add tea, rose, bourbon and lemon juice. Chill until cold, about 2 hours. Cut remaining ½ cup blueberries in half; add to pitcher.
Fill Old-Fashioned glasses with ice. Divide cocktail among glasses. Garnish with lemon slices.
— Adapted from Bon Appetit’s “The Grilling Book”