It doesn’t matter how hot it is, there’s just something irresistible about getting people together around a grill. The difference between a run-of-the-mill cookout and a seriously memorable barbecue comes down to the details. Sure, you can buy a box of frozen burger patties, some deli counter salads and sides, a six-pack and call it a day. But with a few easy upgrades, you can take your chill feast to the next level.
From procuring some local hot sauces to put on the buffet to making the world’s creamiest potato salad from scratch, here are eight tips and half a dozen recipes to help you up your barbecue game.
First, the basics of how to grill
Make a better burger: Cooking a burger may seem simple: just toss it on the barbecue. But there are a few simple ways to ensure a perfect patty, including letting the meat come to room temperature before grilling and cooking them over indirect heat.
Hot dog! Do you know the secret to easy-to-manage, perfectly cooked hot dogs? A stick. That’s right, skewering your hot dogs helps you control them and even allows for fancy spiral cuts that can help them plump up and get crispy edges.
Don’t let meat have all the fun: Veggies benefit from a smoky char and grilling can help caramelize the natural sugars in fruits. At your next barbecue, try grilling lettuce, peaches and citrus.
Safety first: There is no party foul quite so heinous as food poisoning. So be sure to follow food safety best practices like washing your hands well before handling food, cooking meats to the proper temperature and keeping foods out of the “danger zone” by chilling bound salads and keeping your cooked food hot.
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A barbecue is by nature a simple affair, which means every element needs to shine. It’s a great excuse to showcase Arizona artisan makers and producers.
Get some great local meat: We love supporting local ranchers and it isn’t hard to do, either by purchasing from them directly at farmers markets or the stand at the Red Mountain Cattle Company in Mesa, or at one of the fantastic butcher shops around the Valley that specialize in sourcing the very best cuts of Arizona-raised meat.
Heat things up with local hot sauces: We have some fantastic hot sauces being made right here in Arizona. Big Red’s has nine hot sauces and two smother sauces — blackberry rum and AZ Jerk, which are a pretty rad upgrade to typical barbecue sauces. Swap your Tabasco for a bottle of Arizona Salsa and Spice Company’s award-winner Miss Reapper hot sauce, made with honey, aged jalapeños and a touch of Carolina reaper and ghost peppers for a heat-lovers flex. You can order most of these local sauces online or pick them up at the farmers market.
Buy the right bottle: You’ll no doubt have a cooler full of craft brews on hand, but it’s nice to have options. At great bottle shops around the Valley, you can score expert recommendations to get just the right bottle, at the right price, to match your meal and the vibe.
Get the rest delivered: Do yourself a favor and just get the rest of your ingredients, colas and chips delivered, after all, you’ll be outside enough this weekend. From AJ’s to ALDI, most major grocers in metro Phoenix have a delivery option for a nominal fee.
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The best side dishes to make at your BBQ
If you get great meats, they almost take care of themselves, but don’t sleep on your side dishes. In most cases, homemade always tastes better than packaged, and these recipes are a foolproof and super-easy way to add a special touch to the spread.
The creamiest, smokiest potato salad, ever: Think you don’t like potato salad? Robin Miller’s recipe might change your mind. This combination of buttery-soft potatoes, satiny mayo dressing, smoky bacon and sweet pimentos is likely to convert even the most skeptical. Pro tip: pre-portion this creamy potato salad into small Dixie cups to make backyard eating a breeze.
Perfect pasta salad: Put down the diced celery. Miller’s pasta salad will make you re-think everything you think you knew about what a pasta salad can be with colorful corkscrew pasta tossed with salami, cheese, olives, veggies and a garlicky, herby, lemon dressing. This is, quite possibly, the best pasta salad you will ever eat.
Doggo buns: If you’re going to take your typical hot dogs and dress them up Sonoran-style with bacon, pinto beans, salsa, crema, avocado and pico de gallo, the key to completing this iconic version is the bun. While it might seem like a lot of work to make your own buns, there really is no substitute for the strong, yet tender, slightly sweet Sonoran doggo bun and chef Minerva Orduño Rincón’s recipe for classic Sonoran hot buns is tried and true.
Don’t forget dessert. Save some space for strawberry pavlova,carrot cake
Strawberry pavlova is an impressive-looking dish that is light, crispy, creamy and perfect for summer gatherings. If you can nail the merengue, which can and should be made ahead of time, it’s also pretty easy to make. Miller shares her tips and tricks for making perfect pavlova every time.
Carrot cake has no season. It is a crowd-pleasing winner all year round and Miller’s version kicks things up a notch with an orange-scented, ultra-moist batter. Make it into cupcakes to maximize portability or double the recipe and stack your cakes into a dramatic two-tiered show stopper if you want to add a little drama to dessert.
Make-ahead sangria: Does a cocktail count as dessert? If not, it should. Sangria is an ideal barbecue sipper since it’s light, refreshing and can be made ahead of time in big batches. Amelia Goe offers a sangria recipe that’s a great starting point and can be adapted to suit your taste and what’s in season.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: What to grill for the perfect July 4th BBQ, plus recipes, side dishes