Ask the Test Cooks

Here’s How the ATK Books Team Will be Celebrating the Fourth of July

This is how test cooks do cookouts.

Published June 27, 2018.

You don’t have to be a test cook to feel the pressure to serve something impressive at your Fourth of July party. Hot dogs and hamburgers are a given, so here’s what other dishes some of the members of the America’s Test Kitchen books team have in store for their upcoming celebrations, from low-and-slow brisket to a Midwestern specialty. (And if you’re looking for more recipe ideas, check out these nontraditional recipes that deserve a place on your July 4th party menu.)

Julia Collin Davison, Executive Editorial Director

I'm going to tackle Cook’s Country's new Texas Barbecue Brisket recipe. It's easy, but takes time, patience, and a little planning. It took over 2 years and 500 pounds of brisket to get this recipe just right, and it uses two cool new tricks: a charcoal snake and a Texas crutch. I'll be sure to post pictures on my Instagram account when it's done.

Master of the Grill

With recipes and techniques arranged by skill level—from The Basics to The Easy Upgrades to The Serious Projects—cooks of all stripes can dive in and choose their outdoor cooking adventure.
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Russell Selander, Associate Editor

For a Fourth of July cookout where I know there will already be burgers and hot dogs, I'm bringing two dishes. I have a Mediterranean-based couscous salad that I love to make from The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook: the Simple Couscous with Carrots, Raisins, and Pine Nuts. It's perfect as a side as it goes with almost anything. I’m also bringing some Thai Chicken (Gai Yang). I developed this recipe for How to Roast Everything (based off of a recipe that used cornish game hens) where you marinate a chicken overnight in a combination of fish sauce, cilantro, garlic, sugar, and coriander, grill it, and serve it with a super simple sweet-spicy-sour dipping sauce. It is fantastic and a crowd pleaser. It's perfect for an outdoor barbecue and for anyone who already ate their weight in beef and pork!

Lawman Johnson, Associate Editor

For me, the Fourth of July conjures happy thoughts of family, friends, fireworks, and food—and the latter can make or break a Fourth of July cookout. When you cook for a living, the pressure is real. Your friends and family expect to be wowed at every gathering. Since burgers and dogs will undoubtedly have a great presence, along with steak tips and chicken (fried or otherwise), I've decided to be a little more unique, while at the same time keeping it simple to satisfy my family and friends’ culinary expectations. What does that mean, you ask? Mussels. Their briny taste and tender texture make for great outdoor eating, especially when pair with a cold beer or crisp, dry wine.

Afton Cyrus, Associate Editor

I am almost always at my family's cabin in northern Maine for the Fourth of July, so our cookouts are a little more. . . primitive. The cabin (called a "camp" in Maine terms) is on a lake way up in the wilderness near Mount Katahdin, and has no electricity, running water, or cell phone service. It does, however, have a little 3-ring propane stove and a tiny charcoal grill outside, and as the camp cook, I love the challenge of making beautiful meals within some pretty limited parameters. Cook's Country’s recipe for Grilled Cumin-Rubbed Flank Steak with Mexican Street Corn is always a big hit (especially when made with fresh corn snagged at roadside stand on the drive north), and has easy prep and ingredients. And in Maine, red snapper hot dogs are a must! A grilled red hot dog, toasty bun, and this no-cook Watermelon-Tomato Salad are perfect camp fare for the Fourth. Topped off with s'mores toasted up at a bonfire on the beach, it's a true taste of summer.

Fresh Strawberry PieTexas Brisket

Dan Zuccarello, Executive Food Editor

There always seems to be plenty of coverage for appetizers and salads at summer cookouts, so I like to make dessert. And since early July in New England is peak strawberry season, my favorite choice is a Fresh Strawberry Pie. The recipe is really straightforward: a simple pre-baked pie crust gets filled with whole fresh strawberries that have been tossed in a homemade strawberry jam. The secret is a combination of fruit pectin and cornstarch in the strawberry jam that helps to hold the berries together for ultimate sliceability. Topped with whipped cream and you have the taste of summer ready for the dessert table. Just be sure to save yourself a slice—I promise it won't be around for long.

Camila Chaparro, Test Cook

As a child growing up outside of Pittsburgh, PA, summer barbecues and block parties were not complete without one dish: strawberry pretzel Jell-O salad. Rice Krispy Treats, peanut butter kiss cookies, and mini cherry cheesecakes, move aside. For me, pretzel Jell-O salad was where it was at: strawberries suspended in ruby red Jell-O, jiggling above a satisfying layer of cream cheese and whipped cream, the sweet smoothness of the top two layers contrasting with a crunchy, salty bottom of crushed pretzels, sugar, and butter. My family were transplants to southwestern Pennsylvania and this dessert fascinated me as a child, never having seen it prepared in my house, but appealing to my love of sweet and salty combinations and kid-friendly ingredients. Though I haven’t made or eaten it in years, now living in New England with my own children, I think it’s time to bring this classic midwestern dessert to our Fourth of July table. I might even share it with my kids.

What’s on your Fourth of July menu? Let us know in the comments!

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