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4th of July grilling: What to cook, how to prepare it

Wednesday - 7/2/2014, 6:44am  ET

Nathan Anda, of Red Apron Butchery, talks pork, beef and creative hot dogs for summertime grilling. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON -- This year, July 4th falls on Friday, giving everyone an extra day to absorb all the festive parades, fireworks, baseball games and carnivals.

The long weekend also brings three days worth of excuses to fire up the grill, open a cold one and celebrate with friends and family.

If you need some inspiration for your cookout menu, Nathan Anda, of Red Apron Butchery, and Fiona Lewis, of The District Fishwife, have some advice on what to cook and how to prepare it.

The Classics: Hot dogs and Hamburgers

You can't go wrong with the traditional spread of hamburgers and hot dogs, but you can dress these summertime staples up a bit. For hamburgers, Anda goes beyond conventional ground beef to create a rich and savory burger patty.

"We use a coarse grind of brisket, chuck, short rib, sirloin and round, so we call it ‘an all-animal grind,'" says Anda, who doesn't add anything to the beef, other than salt and pepper, before throwing it on the grill. "I think with using the different cuts of meat that we have, it brings different flavors and textures."

Nathan Anda likes to cover his Atomic Dog with a Vietnamese slaw for a cooling effect. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)

Anda, who sells a variety of hot dog flavors at his three D.C.-area Red Apron locations, explores toppings and flavor combinations beyond catsup and mustard.

He likes to cover his Atomic Dog -- which is loaded with chili powder, cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes -- with a Vietnamese slaw. "So you have hot with cool," Anda says.

And he likes to serve Red Apron's provolone-stuffed Italian hot dog with peppers and onions.

Anda braises the butchery's cheddar dog with beer, onions and coarse mustard; he serves his bacon hot dog with iceberg lettuce and ranch dressing for a play on a BLT.

And for those who prefer champagne and foie gras over beer and dogs, Anda's foie gras hot dog puts an American spin on the French classic.

"It's a little more upper crust, but right now cherries are in season, so you could do a little cherry relish [on top of the hot dog]," he says.

Don't shy away from cooking or braising hot dogs in the oven. Anda -- who certainly knows his way around a grill, but doesn't have one at his apartment -- says this method can often enhance the flavor.

"With the meat-to-fat ratio, [hot dogs] actually benefit from cooking in the oven," he says. "And you can also boil them in beer and stuff like that."

Ribeyes and burger patties at Red Apron Butchery's Union Market location. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)

A Cut Above the Rest

If you want to stray from the traditional this weekend, Anda recommends a few crowd-pleasing cuts of meat for the open flame. His lineup includes a 100-day-aged bone-in ribeye, a porter house, a skirt steak and a chuck-eye steak, "which is off the shoulder of the beef and it cooks beautifully."

He's also a fan of the bavette steak for the grill, and a ribeye cap -- his personal favorite -- which he says is similar to a flank steak.

"It has a little more chewiness to it, but more of a beefy flavor," Anda says.

When it comes to preparing the beef, Andra recommends two of the rubs he makes at Red Apron. The first is a combination of Szechuan pepper corns, red chili flakes, rosemary and thyme.

"It's got a depth of spice, but it's not overly spicy," he says.

The second rub he likes -- made from coffee, paprika and cayenne -- achieves more of a barbecue flavor.

"It's a whole lot of goodness, and it benefits from a long cooking."

Sure, the hot dog represents the pig, but Anda says several other cuts of pork are perfect for summertime grilling. He's a fan of thick, bone-in pork chops (they take a while to cook, but they're nice and juicy, he says) and two specialty cuts of pork: secreto, the pork version of a skirt steak; and pluma.

Anda says sausages are another go-to grilling option for summer cookouts. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)

"Pluma is on the bottom part of the loin. It means ‘feather' in Spanish and it's the piece of meat that is found on the feather bones of the pig," Anda says. "It's very tender; it's just delicious."

To season the pork, Anda uses a rub of lemon zest, toasted fennel seed, thyme and oregano. And on his cookout menu, he's more than happy to stick to the classic cookout sides.

"What's better than coleslaw and potato salad on the weekends, you know?"

Look to the Sea

Fiona Lewis opened The District Fishwife with her husband about five months ago. Since then, she's stayed busy bringing an assortment of fresh catches to seafood lovers at Union Market.

Choosing the right seafood to cook on the grill can be tricky; not every variety holds up perfectly. But Lewis has a few tricks up her sleeve for even the lightest and flakiest of fish.

The obvious, no-frills choices for grilling are swordfish, tuna and salmon, Lewis says. The oil content in these varieties keeps them intact on the grates. She also likes scallops at a cookout.

"Get a nice high heat on the grill, about two minutes on either side; keep them nice and rare on the inside," Lewis says about grilling scallops.

The flavor of an American red snapper is enhanced on the grill, but cooking the fish requires a little insight.

"The skin sticks to the grill a little bit, but it's OK and it's doable. What you can't do is turn it over," she says.

Fiona Lewis is the owner of The District Fishwife at Union Market. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)

The way to cook the snapper is over indirect heat. If you're cooking on charcoal, bank all of your fire on one side, Lewis says. Oil the grill, oil the fish skin and place the fish skin-down on the grill over high heat.

"Sear it for a few minutes and then move it over to indirect heat and let it finish cooking through," she says. "You leave it skin-side down the whole time and that way you get a nice, smoky flavor coming through."

The best thing about this method, Lewis says, is there's no need for a marinade -- just salt and pepper. The smoky flavor the grill gives the fish is enough.

Another fish perfect over an open flame is snakehead fish, an invasive species in the local area's waterways, Lewis says.

"They're fantastic on the grill. They're actually a white-fleshed fish, but you can flip them over as well. So grill both sides, the same way you would with tuna or swordfish," she says.

Razor clams and oysters are easy and open on their own when cooked on the grill -- just be careful when they're done, Lewis says.

"They get a little hot and steamy, so just be careful how you open them; they'll just sort of pop open after about a minute or so if your grill's nice and hot, and you've got a nice warm oyster."

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