BBQ Grilling Basics for the Fourth of July

It’s only a few months away, but the biggest grilling holiday will soon be upon us. If you are a newbie grilling cook, choose the best grilling machine for you and start preparing your recipes for this great holiday.

Here are some basic BBQ grilling recipes for the 4th of July.

Cooks and gourmands alike understand that no quickly-cooked tender cut of meat compares in texture or richness to a tough cut slowly braised or baked until the connective tissue has melted and the meat is barely clinging to the bone.

In cooler months this is done in the oven or in a Dutch oven on the stove; in summer this makes the home and kitchen too hot and would have the cook indoors when he should be out enjoying the sun. Fortunately, with summertime comes the possibility of barbecuing: hot smoking meat over a wood and charcoal fire.

This is perhaps Man’s oldest cooking technique, but it intimidates some cooks due to its unfamiliarity.

There’s no need for that: if you know how to control heat on your Traeger grill, and know how to roast or bake in an oven, you will be able to prepare good barbecue on your first try. Moreover, since the smoky flavor will be imparted by the pellets, there’s no disadvantage in using gas or electricity instead of charcoal as a heat source.

The Independence Day (Fourth of July) holiday is a good time to try barbecuing; having the day off, one can take things slowly, tend the food while participating in festivities, and end up pleasing the crowd by serving up “gourmet” fare on a day when hamburgers and hot dogs are too common.

On your first attempt at barbecuing, try relatively quick-cooking meats like ribs, chicken, or Cornish hen; save pork shoulder or beef brisket for when you get a better

Many purpose-built hot smokers, ranging from Brinkmann’s $20 Smoke ‘n’ Grill to multi-hundred dollar devices the size of small closets, can be had on the market. Or choose the elite of the elite.

If you have the discipline to leave the lid down and keep the temperature low, an ordinary gas grill can be made a hot smoker with the addition of a water pan and a box or pan for wood chips. Since the only necessary parts are a source of heat, a water pan, and a source of smoke, a cook can also improvise using cardboard boxes or a trash can.

No matter what setup is in use, a rib rack will also come in handy, to fit more rib slabs, chicken quarters, or lamb shanks in the same space. Also have an oven thermometer available if one is not built into the smoker. The cooking temperature should be maintained between 225 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Any higher and one risks tightening the collagen fibers of the meat, toughening it and squeezing out the juices.

Barbecued Dry-Rubbed Ribs

No sticky, sweet sauces here, just spices and smoke.

Unlike most cuts of meat, ribs come from the supermarket needing a bit of trimming. Pork ribs and spare ribs are covered on the inside by the peritoneum, a tough pellicle that keeps spice and smoke flavors off of the meat.

This should be lifted at one corner using a knife, then grabbed using a paper towel and peeled away. If you find this too difficult or can’t lift a corner, score the pellicle between the bones with the point of a very sharp knife; it will pull back a little from the meat at first, and even more so when it cooks.

The peritoneum is sometimes left on beef ribs and sometimes removed. In any case, a full service butcher–difficult to come by in many cities–will be able to do this for you.

Spare ribs need further trimming. A flap of meat called the “skirt” will burn or dry out if cooked as long as the ribs themselves. Lift it up and remove it with a sharp knife.

Cook it with the ribs and eat it when it’s done as the chef’s privilege; by that point you’ll have worked up an appetite. The riblets or rib tips, as well, ought to be removed from the spare ribs.

Two thin bones run approximately orthogonal to the spare ribs; remove the riblets by cutting along these bones on the “riib” side. Save this carilaganeous trimming for the soup or stock pot, or prepare it with the ribs.

Note that the rub recipe contains a large quantity of spice. Save money by buying the packeted spices sold in Indian or Mexican grocers instead of jarred McCormick or Spice Island brand-name spices.

Rub ingredients:

  • 6 tbsp ground cumin.
  • 1/2 cup paprika
  • 1/4 cup chile powder
  • 2 tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp nutmeg or mace
  • 1 tsp Chinese five spice powder (or, if you cannot find it, a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove)
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1/4 coarsely ground black pepper

Mix all rub ingredients in a bowl. Rub both sides of ribs with the spice rub. Cover with plastic wrap or place in food-safe plastic bags and let rest one hour in refrigerator or cooler.

Heat the smoker to cooking temperature before setting up ribs to cook. Smoke over hickory or mesquite for four to six hours, until the meat is pulling away from the bone.

Barbecued Chicken

This preparation, with a generous dash of sage complemented by smoke, is my favorite chicken recipe. People have compared it to “Renaissance Festival” chicken. I wouldn’t know about that, but I’d be willing to guess that poultry has been prepared with herbal rubs since time immemorial. I make this rub by eye and the amounts given below are approximate; alter the proportions until it suits your taste.

Use a roaster chicken and not a fryer, if possible. Do not stuff a chicken headed for the smoker; cooking a stuffed bird at low temperatures is a good way to give one’s self and one’s guests food poisoning.

Rub ingredients (for 1/2 a roaster chicken):

  • 3 tbsp rubbed sage
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4-6 bay leaves (or equivalent amount ground bay, if you can find it
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • 1 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder

Thoroughly wash chicken or chicken parts. Be sure to wash away any bits of liver that may have stuck to the ribs (this happens too often with grocery-store chickens, as they are frozen) and remove the kidneys if present.

Brine chicken or chicken parts for several hours or overnight, if desired.

If using chicken parts, trim away any excess fat and skin. Rub with spices; be sure to tuck some of the rub under the thigh and breast skin.

Smoke over hickory, apple, or other nut or fruit woods for 5 hours, or until temperature of the thigh meat is 180 degrees Fahrenheit. If crisp skin is desired, finish the chicken on a roasting rack in a 400 degree oven, or grill over direct heat, for 10-15 minutes. (I highly recommend this last step.)

Barbecued Mushroom Caps

If you keep a portion of the smoker clear of meat and meat drippings, these can be served to vegetarian or vegan guests, who ordinarily find little to eat at a summer cookout. Nonvegetarians will like it, too.


  • (Portobello or similar “meaty”) mushroom caps, stems removed.
  • Olive oil
  • Rub for ribs, above.
  • Worcestershire sauce (optional, nonvegetarian)

Brush the mushroom caps on both sides with olive oil. Coat with spice rub. Drizzle gill side with Worcestershire sauce, if using.

Smoke 30-45 minutes gill side up, 20 minutes with gill side down.

Grilled Pineapple

Heat another batch of coals in your chimney starter and pour them into a grill or brazier, or use a small gas grill to prepare this unconventional crowd-pleasing appetizer while the barbecue is cooking. Very light smoke from a few wood chips–making this true barbecued pineapple–improves the dish.


  • 1/2 cup canola (rapeseed) or other mild oil
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground anise
  • Pineapple
  • A flavorful dark rum, like Cruzan Blackstrap

Peel and core the pineapple–this is very easily done with a fillet knife–and cut the flesh into spears, one half to three quarters of an inch thick. Mix the spices, a splash of the rum, and the oil in a food-safe plastic Ziploc-style bag and marinade the pineapple spears in this mixture in a refrigerator or cooler for at least one hour.

Add wood chips, if using smoke. Remove pineapple from bag, blot away extra oil (to avoid flare-ups), and grill directly over coals or flame until grate marks appear and pineapple is lightly caramelized, five to ten minutes. Baste with rum and turn; cook other side five to ten minutes more. Remove from grill and baste again with rum.

Serve as a side dish, an appetizer, or as dessert alongside ice cream or pound cake.

Photo by Benjamin Lehman from Pexels

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