Great American Cookout

Published 3:34 pm Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cookouts have been happening all over the world since man discovered how to create fire on demand. Without refrigeration, meat had to be either cooked and eaten quickly after slaughter or preserved by a spicing or smoking process.

At cookouts, people gather around a fire or grill to watch, smell, then eat. Like the fires of prehistory, this is also the place to drink, sing songs, and tell stories. The cooking can mean barbecuing meats or grilling vegetables, breads, even, desserts!

Burgers have become an American summer tradition. Whether you choose classic charcoal or easy gas, the aromas and ambience of outdoor cooking create a wonderful, warm-weather experience. In this column, lets raise the taste levels to new heights.

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The menu starts with an appetizer featuring fresh crudits. Choose from celery, jicama, peppers (green, red, and yellow), broccoli florets, cauliflower, zucchini, baby carrots, and cherry tomatoes cut as needed to work as dippers. Prepare two wonderful dips that are somewhat unusual but tasty, a smoked oyster-ripe olive and a dill seed. (These recipes and the following ones are free on

The main dish features burgers either a blue-cheese hamburger or a spicy black-bean vegetarian option. (Take a shortcut by purchasing delicious Morning Star Chipotle Black Bean Burgers.) For meaty hamburgers for four, take basic ground chuck, add a few spices and a surprise filling. This recipe is adapted from ones served at La Maison Troisgros in Roanne, France and Club 21 in New York.

1 pound ground chuck, shaped into 8 patties (about 6 diameter and thick)

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons ground pepper

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons dry mustard powder

4 Tablespoons crumbled blue cheese

4 whole-wheat sourdough English muffins

4 leaves of romaine lettuce

1 large tomato, sliced into 4 slices

1 Tablespoon prepared mustard

1 Tablespoon mayonnaise

On one of the shaped patties, sprinkle a tablespoon of blue cheese. Top with another patty and seal the edges with your fingers. Continue, making three other sandwiched patties. Dust the formed patties with salt, pepper, garlic, and dry mustard.

To cook the burgers outside on a grill, times vary depending on which method you choose. As a guide, allow 10 minutes per side in a slow charcoal smoker or 5 minutes per side on a hot charcoal/gas grill.

As the burgers are cooking, toast the muffins on a baking sheet under the broiler. 1 or 2 minutes will turn them golden brown.

Spread mayonnaise on each muffin half, put on a burger and a dollop of mustard. Add lettuce leaf and, finally, a tomato topped with caramelized onions. No matter your preference (meat or vegetable), youll find the topping of caramelized onions on a fresh tomato slice to be incredible.

For a hot summer day, the perfect low-carb side dish is a garlicky green bean salad. And, a beautiful dessert course features Red, White & Blue Parfaits sweetened cream with ripe strawberries and blueberries. To quench your thirst, serve luscious lemonade or a selection of domestic beers.

Editors Note: Remember that all the recipes mentioned in this column (sized for 12 people) are free, available on-line at

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