It’s time to celebrate.
With the Fourth of July coming soon, it’s time to ready your sparklers and lawnchairs — and your party menu.
Whether you’re hosting or attending, you’ll need something to serve or bring. Here are some ideas from the best foodies the Associated Press has to offer:
From Elizabeth Karmel
It has been years since I learned to make competition-worthy barbecued baby back ribs. And I still consider myself lucky to have learned from some of the best in the business.
My first year at the barbecue competition Memphis in May, the head cook from a team called Bubba’s Bunch befriended me and taught me to make ribs the same way barbecue great John Willingham did. Willingham was the creator of the amazing all-purpose barbecue rub known as W’ham Seasoning. And it is amazing stuff.
Following my rib tutorial, I made those ribs more times than I can count, and have taught them many times in my barbecue classes. I named the recipe after the team who taught me, and they are perfect for a first-timer. Or if you are like me, it may become your go-to recipe for ribs.
All you need are a love of great barbecue and three ingredients — meaty baby back ribs, lemons and my W’ham-inspired rib rub. You can make these on a gas or charcoal grill or a smoker.
If you have never made ribs before, you need to know a few things. Buy a meaty rack with no “bone-shine.” This means that you should inspect your ribs to see how close the butcher got to the bone when they were cutting the ribs. If you can see a bit of the top of the bone on the rack when it is raw, there isn’t enough meat on the ribs. When the ribs are cooked and the meat recedes from the bone, you will have a very bony rack. Make sure you buy racks of ribs that weigh 2 to 3 pounds each.
Most recipes will tell you to remove the membrane from the ribs (and I used to do it, too). But the more I cooked ribs, the more I liked leaving the membrane on the back. One reason is that it holds the ribs together — especially important if there is any bone-shine — and it also is a good indicator of when the ribs are done. When the membrane pulls away from the back of the rack and looks like translucent parchment paper, you know the ribs are done. If you want, you can remove the membrane before you cut and serve the ribs.
When you prep your ribs for the grill, squeeze a lemon over both sides of the ribs to “refresh” them. That little bit of acid creates a brightness, a “clean canvas” for your seasoning and helps the rub adhere to the meat.
Next, season liberally by holding your hand about a foot above the racks and sprinkling the dry rub over the ribs evenly, like you are “raining” rib rub over the racks. Do it no more than 15 minutes before cooking. I like to use a rib grilling rack because it positions the ribs so that the hot air and smoke from the closed grill rotate equally around all of the racks of ribs and you can cook twice as many than if they lay flat on the grates.
As for the actual cooking, true barbecue demands indirect heat. This is what allows the meat to cook slowly, melting the fat and connective tissue. Barbecue also calls for smoke, so be sure to soak wood chips in advance. You can look for two visual clues when making ribs at home: the meat should pull away from the ends of the bones, which should be dry and dark; and the ribs should bend easily without breaking if you gently fold them over.
That covers what you should do. Here’s what not to do.
First, don’t parboil your ribs. It isn’t necessary, and it will rob your ribs of flavor. Ribs should only take 2 to 3 hours to cook and they should be cooked from start to finish on your outdoor grill. Second, if you are a barbecue sauce lover, only put the sauce on the ribs during the final 10 to 15 minutes of cooking. Otherwise the sugar in the sauce will burn while the ribs are still undercooked.
If you follow these tips and the recipe below, you will be amazed at how easy it is to make ribs in your own backyard. All it takes is a little patience and a little love of the game.
BUBBA’S BUNCH BARBECUED BABY BACK RIBS
Start to finish: 3 1/2 hours (30 minutes active)
Wood chips, for smoking
For the rub:
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons McCormick’s Worcestershire Ground Black Pepper Blend (or other black pepper)
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
For the ribs:
4 racks baby back ribs, at least 2 pounds each
2 lemons, halved
1 cup prepared barbecue sauce (optional)
Soak the wood chips in a bowl of water according to package directions.
Meanwhile, to make the rub, in a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. If you prefer your dry rubs to have a finer texture, the ingredients can be combined in a spice grinder and ground until fine. Set aside. Any extra rub can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 6 months.
Prepare the grill for indirect heat at medium-low. You are aiming to maintain a temperature of 300 to 325. If using a charcoal grill, place the soaked wood chips directly on the hot charcoals. If using a gas grill, place the wood chips in a smoking box and set into the grill according to product directions.
Squeeze and rub 1 lemon half over each rack of ribs. Sprinkle the ribs liberally with the spice rub, then let them sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.
Place the ribs, bone-side down, in the center of the cooking grate, or in a rib holder or rack. Grill, covered, for 2 to 3 hours, or until the meat is tender and has pulled back from the ends of the rib bones. Begin checking the ribs after 1 1/2 hours in case your grill is running hot.
Leave the ribs unattended and without opening the grill cover for the first 30 minutes. If the ribs start to burn at the edges, stack them on top of one another in the very center of the grill and lower the heat slightly. Ten minutes before serving, brush the ribs with barbecue sauce, if using.
Remove the ribs from the grill and place them on a clean platter. Let them rest for 10 minutes before cutting into individual portions.
Nutrition information per serving: 1,080 calories; 720 calories from fat (67 percent of total calories); 80 g fat (29 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 320 mg cholesterol; 8 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 77 g protein; 1,690 mg sodium.
From Sara Moulton
If you’ve never tasted fresh lemonade, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s just so much more vivid than the supermarket stuff, much more about the lemon and less about the sugar.
True, juicing the lemons can be a pain, but the process becomes very near painless if you start by softening the lemons in the microwave for 30 seconds. Then all you have to do is add sugar syrup — a mixture of sugar and water, heated until the sugar is dissolved — and some cold water. Done.
In short, it’s hard to top fresh lemonade all by itself. Still, for those so inclined, there are plenty of ways to gild this lily. You can infuse the sugar syrup with fresh herbs. You can add seltzer. You can combine it with other fruit juices, including cranberry, apple and pomegranate. Or — and here is the heart of today’s recipe — you can glorify it with flavor-packed ice cubes.
My favorite ice cubes for lemonade (or iced tea) are pureed fruit cubes. Almost any fruit will work. Just puree it, pour the puree into ice cube trays and freeze them. The right tool for this job is a blender, which purees the fruit more completely than a food processor or an immersion blender. Of course, you can still use those other tools if they’re the only ones you have at hand.
By the way, if you want to get all fancy, you’re welcome to strain the puree before you freeze it, though the gain in smoothness will also mean a loss in fiber.
In celebration of the Fourth of July, we’ll dress up our lemonade with three different kinds of cubes — watermelon, coconut and blueberry for red, white and blue. Holiday aesthetics and electrifying flavor aside, this drink is almost absurdly healthy. Every glass contains a half-cup each of blueberries and watermelon.
By the way, I used to think watermelon was a loser, nutritionally — all sugar and no substance. I was wrong. Watermelon happens to be an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of A, as well as lycopene, potassium and magnesium. And calorie-wise, it’s very modest. A full cup of diced watermelon clocks in at 46 calories.
There’s no confusion about the virtue of blueberries, which are packed with antioxidants. They’re also a good source of vitamin C and fiber. Finally, they team up beautifully with lemon juice.
Thinking of a bright white fruit with which to fill out my tri-color team of ice cubes wasn’t easy. Happily, during a rummage through the cupboard I stumbled upon a can of lite coconut milk. As everyone knows, fruit and coconut go together like fireworks and the Fourth of July.
One of the most appealing aspects of this libation is that its flavor mutates and deepens as the cubes melt slowly in the glass. I suggest giving the process a head start by letting the drink stand for a bit before serving, then encouraging your guests to take their time drinking. Tell them the effect will be like a kaleidoscope for the mouth.
RED, WHITE AND BLUE LEMONADE
Start to finish: 25 minutes, plus freezing
3 cups cubed seeded watermelon (the redder the better)
3 cups cleaned and rinsed fresh blueberries
3/4 cup well-stirred lite coconut milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 cup fresh lemon juice
Fresh mint leaves, to garnish
In a blender, puree the watermelon until it becomes liquefied. Pour the watermelon liquid into ice cube trays (you should have enough liquid for twelve 2-tablespoon cubes). Rinse out the blender, add the blueberries and puree until the mixture is smooth. Transfer the blueberry puree to another ice cube tray. In a third tray, divide the coconut milk between 6 cubes.
Transfer all of the trays to the freezer and freeze until solid, preferably overnight.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool.
In a pitcher combine 1/2 cup of the sugar syrup with the lemon juice. Add 3 cups of cold water, then taste and add additional sugar syrup if desired. Chill until ready to serve.
To serve, place 2 watermelon cubes, 2 blueberry cubes and 1 coconut cube in each of 6 rocks glasses. Top the glasses with lemonade, then garnish with mint. Let sit for 10 or so minutes to allow the cubes to melt slightly and flavor the lemonade.
Nutrition information per serving: 150 calories; 20 calories from fat (13 percent of total calories); 2 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 40 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 33 g sugar; 1 g protein; 10 mg sodium.
From Alison Ladman
One variety of pepper just isn’t enough to get this potato salad ready for your July Fourth celebration. So we upped it to three — black pepper, cayenne pepper and roasted red peppers — each adding their own distinct flavor. And don’t worry, the bite of black and cayenne peppers are tamed by the sweet roasted red peppers and the sour cream dressing.
Want to add fourth and fifth varieties? Mix in some diced mild Peppadew peppers (tangy, but not much heat) and banana peppers (sweet and crunchy). For a crunchy contrast, you even could add a sixth with a diced fresh green bell pepper.
THREE-PEPPER BARBECUE POTATO SALAD
Start to finish: 1 hour (15 minutes active)
2 pounds red potatoes, cubed
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained, patted dry and chopped
4 scallions, chopped
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Salt, to taste
Place the potatoes in a large pot and add enough water to cover them by 1 inch. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are just tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes, then spread them on a rimmed baking sheet to cool. Sprinkle the cooling potatoes with the vinegar, then refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the sour cream, barbecue sauce, chili powder, garlic powder, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Stir in the roasted red peppers, scallions and cheddar.
When the potatoes are cool, gently stir them into the sour cream mixture until well coated. Season with salt. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
From Alison Ladman
Just because summer seems to scream for pie doesn’t mean we are eager to crank up the oven. This is especially true at the Fourth of July, when we’d rather focus on the grill and preparations for fireworks.
All of which is why we are especially thankful for the delicious ease of icebox pies. No baking — in fact, barely any cooking at all — is needed to create our sweet, rich raspberry coconut icebox pie. It blends fresh raspberries with a whipped cream-cream cheese-coconut milk filling that is cool and satisfying.
While we love the combination of raspberries and coconut, feel free to substitute the berry of your choice. Strawberries, blueberries or blackberries all would be good choices. And to help you really get a jump on the festivities, this pie can be prepared up to two days in advance.
RASPBERRY COCONUT ICEBOX PIE
Start to finish: 2 hours (30 minutes active)
For the crust:
1 cup toasted shredded coconut
10 chocolate sandwich cookies, crushed
4 tablespoons butter, melted
For the filling:
1/4-ounce packet gelatin
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup unsweetened fruit juice (or water)
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup cream of coconut
1/2 cup raspberry jam
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups fresh raspberries
1/2 cup toasted shredded coconut
To make the crust, in a medium bowl mix together the coconut, chocolate sandwich cookies and butter. Transfer the mixture to a 9-inch pie pan and press it evenly across the bottom and up the sides. Set aside.
To make the filling, in a small glass dissolve the gelatin in the 2 tablespoons of water.
In a small saucepan over medium-high, bring the juice to a boil. Stir in the dissolved gelatin, then remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the cream cheese and cream of coconut. Add the raspberry jam and gelatin and mix until smooth.
In another medium bowl, use an electric mixer with clean beaters to whip the cream until it holds medium peaks. Working in 2 batches, gently fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture. Gently fold in the raspberries, reserving a few for garnish. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pie shell. Top with the toasted coconut and the reserved raspberries. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Nutrition information per serving: 520 calories; 350 calories from fat (67 percent of total calories); 39 g fat (26 g saturated; 15 g trans fats); 90 mg cholesterol; 40 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 29 g sugar; 5 g protein; 190 mg sodium.
Pepper Potato Salad
Baby Back Ribs