Much as grilling’s evolved lately, the Fourth remains a sacred occasion. So we turned to chef Max Hansen to ensure that our epic cookout pleases even the strictest of traditionalists: Dad.
Grilling’s shed a lot of its wonky etiquette over the last few years, mostly because Dad’s no longer the only one manning the Weber. Those codes of conduct, it’s clear now, were implemented to protect his place on the throne, as though he was performing black magic out on the deck, and only when he named his successor would he cough up his secrets. But now, even eight-year-olds are doing it. And we’re grilling foods that are definitely charring Dad on the inside—watermelon! snapper! He’ll come around, though. Just give him some space.
Dad, however, wasn’t all wrong. The guy treated the Fourth like it was his Super Bowl, prepping his charcoal and tools as dawn broke, standing in clouds of smoke all afternoon long, handing over platter after platter of burgers he hand-formed the night before, wieners in toasted buns (some with cheese, which he despised, but he aimed to please), perfectly pink T-bones, fatty ribs, and on and on. A coup was the furthest thought from anyone’s minds then.
So Monday, we’re going to stage an epic cookout in honor of dear-old Dad, because the Fourth, after all, is about remembering where we came from. To ensure that we do right by him, we turned to Max Hansen to show us the way. Hansen’s cooked for and alongside countless big-name celebs and dignitaries over his career, but grilling is second nature to him. He does it year-round. What’s more, as the chef/owner of Max Hansen Carversville Grocery, he’s a walking, talking field guide to Bucks County’s markets and artisan vendors. Yup, Dad, turns out we were paying attention all along. And, thanks.
All meat is not created equal
This, you’re likely well aware of by now. A free-range chicken tastes a lot gamier than the factory-farmed drumsticks we grew up eating. The difference is obvious in grass-fed beef, too, and even nitrate-free hot dogs. The time to bank on that difference not being so obvious is when you’re serving a carnivore’s delight. Quality, not quantity. No amount of rub is going to salvage a Deal-of-the-Day skirt steak.
Hansen favors the Fredericksburg, PA-based FreeBird for his chickens. Once you’ve got that bird in hand, brine it and, when the time comes, grill it over a medium heat.
For his beef, Hansen heads to Haring Brothers Country Butcher Shop, in Ottsville, and None Such Farm Market, in Buckingham. At the latter, butcher Bob Jones cuts two-and-a-half- to three-inch boneless rib-eyes, at Hansen’s request—thick-cut steaks cook more evenly, he says—from the farm’s own Hereford Angus. He prefers Haring Brothers’ burgers for their slightly higher-than-typical fat content, which helps keep them moist regardless of their doneness.
Cleaning is non-negotiable
If you don’t start the day wiping down your grates, there’s only one possible outcome: Leftover fat’s going to flare up and lay ruin to all that expensive meat. Five, 10 minutes of basic house cleaning will make life easier for you throughout the afternoon—because meat doesn’t stick to a clean grate—and allow your food to taste as you intended, not like the remnants of a stamped-out campfire.
Thick-cut veggies are your friend
This may seem obvious, too, but it’s a mistake that’s often repeated: Keep your vegetable cuts on the larger side. That way, they won’t slip through the grate, and you’ll have an easier time cooking them. Thinly-sliced or -cut veggies tend to char faster than they cook. And, just like your meats, start with the best quality you can get your hands on. If you don’t pluck it from your own garden, get it from a farmstand. And then keep the dressing simple: olive oil (extra-virgin’s overkill here), lemon juice, salt, pepper and some herbs. That’s it.
All that remains now is keeping an eye on Dad. A smile’s coming, but he’s not going to be obvious about it.