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Chef’s tips for July 4 grilling

Grilling is part of summer tradition and with the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, there’s no better time to prepare a delicious outdoor feast for friends and family.

Tina Rowe, a personal chef who ran Jonathan’s patio barbecue for several seasons, shared her grilling tips, techniques and recipes.

Before you even fire up the grill, Rowe said selecting the right cut of meat from a high-quality market or butcher can make all the difference. She recommended Brandt Beef, available at Jonathan’s or farmers markets. Her favorite is the baseball cut: “the round piece of meat, the center, the most tender.”

Look for meat with marbling; this is what provides flavor, Rowe said. Her favorite cuts of beef for grilling include New York strip and tri-tip.

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When setting up your grill, allow time for the briquets or mesquite to heat up.

“If using coals or ... some kind of wood, you want to let your fire burn down to white,” she said.

If you can hold your hand over the heat for a count of three, the grill is ready.

There are a few basic supplies cooks should have on hand when grilling.

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“Have a water bottle nearby, your tongs and a landing spot for your meat,” Rowe said.

The water bottle is a safety precaution in case the fire flares up. Long-handled tongs are a good idea, as is an apron and extra towel. Have a brush available to keep the grill clean.

Just before putting the meat on the grill, Rowe suggested applying a light coat of olive oil to the grate with a rag. This will keep meat from sticking.

To score meat with crosshatch grill marks, Rowe lays the meat on the grill at a right angle. Three to four minutes later, angle the meat to the left. Flip and repeat. If the meat is not fully cooked, it can be finished in the oven.

Testing for doneness can be a little tricky, but Rowe offered a clever “rule of thumb.” Touch your thumb to your pinky, then press against the fleshy area right below the thumb. It will feel tight; this equates to well done. Now separate the thumb and pinky slightly. The fleshy area should have a little more give; this is medium. Open and relax your hand, then feel the fleshy area. It will be soft; this is rare.

Chicken and pork should always be well-done, and, Rowe said, using a thermometer will give the most accurate reading. Insert into the thickest part of the meat, away from the bone. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pork and ground meat should have an internal temperature of 160 degrees F, beef and fish should be 145 degrees F, and poultry should be 165 degrees F.

When your meat is thoroughly cooked, put it on a clean plate and let it rest for 10 minutes for the juices to redistribute.

“When it’s resting, that’s when you put the salt on,” Rowe said. Adding salt before cooking can cause the meat to “pickle.”

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Many people enjoy seasoning meat with marinades, dry rubs or sauces. Marinades are ideal for tougher cuts of meat or to add flavor. Fish should marinate no more than half an hour, while chicken and beef can marinate overnight. Dry rubs - a mixture of spices and herbs - are usually applied to beef before grilling, while sauces go on after grilling.

Rowe frequently uses a Brazilian-inspired marinade when grilling chicken. Cover with lemon juice, add garlic, sea salt and four to five sticks of rosemary.

One of Rowe’s favorite vegetable marinades, a taste many La Jollans will recognize from her stint at Jonathan’s, is composed of the juice and zest of four oranges, minced garlic, sliced purple onions, a drizzle of olive oil, fresh herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary or thyme), sea salt and white pepper. Toss with sliced summer vegetables and let marinate 30 minutes. Place veggies in a grill basket and cook to desired tenderness.

“That one smells really good on the grill,” Rowe said.

Another preparation option when grilling is to steam meat and vegetables in foil packets. If traveling to the beach or park or going camping, prepare the packets ahead of time for convenience. Rowe shared an easy-to-assemble foil packet: fish or boneless chicken breast, assorted sliced vegetables topped with lemon or orange slices, onion slices, salt, pepper, garlic, red pepper and fresh herbs.

Part of the fun of grilling is experimenting with different flavor combinations, Rowe said. The other benefit?

You don’t have to clean the oven.

Rainbow Pepper Rub and Raspberry Sauce

Grind red, pink, green and black peppercorns and measure out 4 tablespoons. Add 1 tablespoon cardamom and 3 tablespoons raw sugar granules. Apply to beef and grill.
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To prepare raspberry sauce, add one pint of fresh berries to simple syrup (2 cups of water to one cup of sugar). Add chopped scallions, cracked pepper, cloves, salt, a bay leaf, cinnamon stick, star anise and dry mustard. Let meld over low heat. When berries are cooked, remove whole spices, blend and strain. Serve over beef.