The Fourth of July is all about fire.

Between the bombs bursting in air and the sheer amount of lighter fluid squirted on charcoal, it's a good bet the air will smell a bit smokier than usual.

If you're like most Americans, you'll cook a little something over open fire this Fourth. It's practically your duty.

To help you manage all of that flame and still come out victorious, dinner only reasonably charred, a few authorities on grilling have offered some smoking briquettes of wisdom.

Hands Off!

When most people hit the grill this Fourth, it's a good bet they'll have burgers on the mind. Along with the ground-beef fanaticism also come the usual cross-contamination warnings: Clean anything that's touched raw meat! Wash your hands!

James Beard Award nominee Jamie Purviance, author of Weber's New Real Grilling, says to keep those hands to yourself, too. “Don't touch the food too much,” he says. “It's such a common mistake; people are inclined to fiddle with it constantly.”

Purviance says obsessively moving food around the grill — poking it, prodding it and otherwise harassing it — are all fast-track ways to messing up meat.

“One of the big reasons we like the flavor of grilled food is because it has this nice, seared and caramelized quality about it," he adds. "And that only happens when you leave food alone for long enough.”

Not only do you run the risk of incomplete caramelization, you might tear up your meat. “It always sticks when you put it down initially, particularly fish and chicken," he continues. "Every time you lift the meat too early, you're generally leaving behind something that would have tasted great — and would have released very cleanly — if you had just left it alone long enough.”

Pork and Chorizo Burger

James Beard Award winner Jamie Purviance's pork and chorizo burger.

Once you've mastered the art of stillness with fish and steaks, take it one step further with burgers: Never, ever press the patty. “It's pretty common out there," Purviance says. "That pushes fat right from out of the burger into the fire, and that causes flare ups.”

It also ruins the burger's overall juiciness. But Purviance thinks he understands why humans do it. Along with our tendency to fiddle comes the urge to squish a burger when it begins to puff up on the grill.

“People don't want a domed burger, so they just press it down and flatten it,” says Purviance. To avoid the problem, squash before you cook. “Make a well with your thumb in the patty and, when the burger wants to puff up, instead the center part of the burger rises up to meet the rest. Then you have a nice, flat burger,” he adds.

Global Griller

Steven Raichlen hosts the American Public Television show Primal Grilling and has written books on global grilling since 1998. He's been featured in The New York Times, Bon Appetit and Saveur as an authority on flame.

His latest blog focuses on what grills to buy and features an active barbecue board with posts from grill enthusiasts around the world. (Here are some of Raichlen's tips on how to take grilling to the next level this summer.)

Steve Raichlen

Steven Raichlen is the creator of Barbecue University for PBS.

The man knows his meat. But that's not to say that meat is all that's on his mind. There are plenty other things out there waiting to be cooked over open flame.

Raichlen suggests grilling anything from nori brushed with sesame oil, to peaches skewered with cinnamon sticks. In Azerbaijan in the Caucasus mountains, Raichlen even found a man who grilled coconut-crusted ice cream balls, shish kebab-style.

“In my own personal repertory, I'll often smoke-roast desserts like a blueberry crisp, indirect-grilled with a handful of wood chips over the coals so you get that smoked flavor,” he says.

When outdoor cooking is on his mind, Raichlen says wood is his preferred fuel. “But that does require some special equipment and knowledge,” he adds.

Assuming most people don't have the time, patience or practice to wait for fire to grind wood into smoldering embers, natural lump charcoal purchased from the store is the next best thing.

“That being said, I do own gas grills,” Raichlen says. “I take a rather ecumenical approach — my goal is really to get people outside and grilling, no matter what their fuel.”

But before you step outside and get to grilling (at least the type of high-heat, direct grilling most people will do this summer), remember the grillmaster's mantra, Raichlen says.

“Keep it hot, keep it clean and keep it lubricated,” he says. “Always start with a hot grill grate, clean it with a stiff, wire brush, and lubricate it with a tightly folded paper towel, dipped in (vegetable) oil, and then draw it across the bars of the grate.”

The benefit? “Food won't stick and you'll get really great grill marks,” he says.

Check out Raichlen’s recipe for Hill Country Brisket with Coca-Cola Barbecue Sauce.

Easy Smoking

If gas is your preferred fuel — it’s rather quick to fire up, after all — Raichlen says a wood-fired flavor can easily be achieved with a pre-made smoker box nestled in the grill's "flavorizers."

Or, go DIY and make a pouch out of aluminum foil, stuff it with a handful of wood chips (soaking keeps them smoldering rather than burning), and poke it full of holes to allow the smoke to permeate the meat with its flavor.

Is there any advantage to purchasing the box? “Well, we're dealing with a field that involves a lot of guys and their love of gear,” Raichlen says. “I would never discourage anyone from buying gear that would get them excited about the process.”

Though Raichlen says the world of grilling involves plenty of boys with their fire-breathing toys, he says the field is certainly not the sole dominion of dudes.

“In Southeast Asia and the Balkans, it's not dominated by men,” he says. “Women are actually the grill-masters in those regions.”

Though the U.S. is lagging in co-ed grilling, we're catching up. “Grilling has become more bi-gender and, I would say, much more popular with women,” Raichlen says.

Girl Grillmasters

Just ask Sonja Groset, a Seattle-based food writer and the content producer and recipe editor for

“I think we all know that women grill a lot,” Groset says, adding that the majority of users are women. “And we know they love to grill and grill often.”

The top five search terms entered by aspiring grillers? They're a far cry from burgers and dogs.

According to Stephanie Robinett, director of communications for, the most sought-after recipe is grilled artichokes. Close behind are grilled pork chops, followed by grilled corn, shrimp and chicken.

“You don't see a hamburger or a hot dog on that list at all,” Robinett notes.

Though grilled corn may sound simple, there are tricks to making it perfect, Groset says. Top among them is cooking the cob in the husk. “Peel back the husk and pull off the silk,” she says. “When you put the husk back on, it creates a nice steam pocket. You can put some seasoning and butter in there and then wrap it back up and grill it.”

Robinett says other vegetables are trending up in the recipe searches, too. In particular, everyone seems to want to know how to make a grilled romaine salad these days (try the simple recipe below). "It's really tasty," Groset says.

Getting Fruity

The art of grilling fruit is also on the rise.

“I love grilled pineapple,” says Groset. “It tastes so good with a little bit of char.”

Ripe peaches, she says, are also excellent on the grill. "Cut them in half and remove the pit and grill them for quite a while until they slump, and all of those natural sugars start to bubble out to the exterior," Groset says. "Try that with a little whipped cream or ice cream. It's just delicious.”

Kent "The Deck Chef" Whitaker, author of more than one dozen cookbooks including "Smoke in the Mountains," also believes just about anything can be grilled.

"I still love a good burger or dog on the grill, but I also like grilling things like my grilled pound cake, pizza (and) meatball kabobs," he says. "With the lid closed, you have an oven perfect for biscuits and such."

Kent 'The Deck Chef' Whitaker's grilled pound cake with berries

Kent "The Deck Chef" Whitaker's grilled pound cake with berries

If you purchase a grill-top griddle, you can even make pancakes and eggs on the grill, he says. "These days, even a low-cost grill from a chain store offers side burners and more," he says

Whitaker's signature dessert, grilled pound cake, is proof of the versatility of the grill.

It can be made with scratch or store-bought pound cake and an assortment of fruits. Though the recipe calls for sliced strawberries and strawberry ice cream, we recommend adding blueberries and substituting vanilla ice cream for the strawberry for a more red, white and blue-themed treat.

Light up your Fourth of July cookout with these sure-fire grilling recipes:

Coca-Cola Barbecue Sauce

From “How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques and Recipes” by Steven Raichlen

Makes 2 cups 


  • 1 cup Coca-Cola
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Wright’s Liquid Smoke
  • 1/4 cup A-1 Steak Sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

  1. Combine the ingredients in a heavy saucepan and gradually bring to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Reduce the heat slightly to obtain a gentle simmer.
  3. Simmer the sauce until reduced by a quarter — 6 to 8 minutes.
  4. Transfer the sauce to clean jars and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until serving.
The sauce will keep for several months. Perfect for chicken, ribs, and pork.

Grilled Romaine

Original recipe from

Serves 2


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon steak seasoning
  • 1 lemon, juiced

  1. Preheat grill for medium heat and lightly oil the grate.
  2. Drizzle olive oil over romaine lettuce and season with steak seasoning.
  3. Place lettuce cut side-down on preheated grill.
  4. Cook until lettuce is slightly wilted and charred, about 5 minutes.
  5. Drizzle with lemon juice to serve.