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Feasting on the Fourth



Few holidays offer as much to as many different people as the Fourth of July. Super-patriots revel in their country's glory. Historians debate the super-patriots. Musicians strike up tunes like "Yankee Doodle" and "Stars and Stripes Forever." And, for the pyromaniacs among us, no day is more cherished.

Although I've celebrated the country's birthday in each of those ways over the course of my life, nowadays all of them take a back seat to my primary July 4 activity: gluttony.

Like many of my fellow citizens, a proper party in honor of our great nation requires cold beverages, a hot grill and a healthy scoop of ice cream, preferably enjoyed outside in the company of friends.

Grilled tri-tip, potatoes and bourbon peaches are my Fourth of July favorites. Throw in some chips and salsa, a simple salad and five hours of drinking on the patio, and you're sure to see fireworks by nightfall, even if none are launched in your area.

Each of the following recipes is calibrated for six servings.


1 large (3 pounds) or 2 small tri-tip roasts, untrimmed if possible

BBQ rub (recipe below)

Extremely popular in California since the early 19th century, tri-tip is the triangular cap on the sirloin, found where the hindquarter meets the belly. It's my all-time favorite. You can buy it trimmed or with the fat cap intact, which I prefer because it adds moisture and flavor. To get such at tip, you may have to ask the butcher or arrange in advance. Either way, get the biggest one you can.

Preparation: Wash meat and pat dry with paper towels. Set on a plate or a baking rack over a cookie sheet for about one hour so meat comes to room temperature. About 30 minutes before cooking, spread the rub over the meat liberally (excluding the fat cap).

Cooking: Direct heat. Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire, or heat your gas grill to 375. Put tri-tip over the fire (fat cap up) and cook covered, about 8 minutes. Turn and continue to cook covered, about 12 more minutes (time will vary greatly depending on thickness). Check with thermometer, stopping at about 145-150 degrees for medium rare. Remove, cover with foil, and rest no less than 20 minutes.

Cooking: Indirect heat. (This takes longer, but the results are worth it.) Push all the coals to one side, or light gas burners on one side of grill. You also can add smoke at this point, using chunks or chips. Place an oven thermometer directly on the grill, where meat will sit, and look for about 250-280 degrees. Set meat down, cap up, for about 15 minutes, then turn and cook until internal temperature reaches about 150 for medium rare. This should take about 60-85 minutes total. Remove, cover loosely with foil, and rest no less than 20 minutes.

Serving: After meat has rested, carve into thin slices against the grain. Arrange on a platter and enjoy.

BBQ rub

A rub is simply a mixture of dry seasonings that brings flavor to meat and helps it retain moisture as it cooks. There are many prepared rubs on the market now, and hundreds more recipes. To make your own, follow this simple formula, developed by the Food Network's Alton Brown, host of "Good Eats." From this master recipe, the variations are endless.

8 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon any other spice or combination of spices you like (black pepper, onion or garlic powder, even Chinese five-spice powder).

Combine thoroughly and apply to meat.

Grilled potatoes

Cook these while the meat rests.

12-18 small potatoes (fingerling, red, new, etc.)

Olive oil

3 to 4 big pinches salt


2 to 3 large sprigs of fresh rosemary or 4 to 6 sprigs of fresh oregano, roughly chopped

Truffle oil (optional)

Wash, dry and cut potatoes lengthwise into quarters or eighths, depending on their size. You want small, but not microscopic, wedges. Place wedges in a glass bowl. Salt liberally and add black pepper to taste. Add herb and toss to ensure equal distribution. Drizzle with enough olive oil to coat thoroughly without excessive pooling, about 1/4 cup. Let stand for 15-30 minutes before cooking.

Using your fingers or tongs, remove wedges from bowl to a hot grill (up to 450 degrees). Keep the bowl and remaining liquids close by. Close the lid and cook potatoes about three minutes until brown but not burned. Turn and lower the heat to about 375, or by closing some of the vents on the grill's lid.

After four more minutes, check them. Test for doneness by poking them with a fork, just like any other cooked potato, or by sampling. If they need more time, check every two minutes to make sure they don't burn. Remove to the reserved bowl, toss and adjust seasoning. If available, drizzle with a tiny amount of truffle oil, which imparts a rich, earthy flavor. Serve immediately.

Bourbon Peaches

(This recipe is from my mom, Leslie Rouff.)

4 fresh peaches, peeled, pits removed and roughly cut into pieces

3 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons good bourbon

Combine in a large bowl. Stir gently and let stand for 20 minutes.

I almost always serve these over good vanilla ice cream. If you have a few extra bucks, invest in my favorite kitchen gadget, a micro-serrated vegetable peeler. It takes care of peaches in a snap, and can even peel a raw tomato.

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