by Liz Scott
For giant sized fireworks on Independence Day, nothing beats an authentic Texas style BBQ. While your neighbors are grilling the usual hotdogs and hamburgers, you’ll be offering up a spicy array of traditional Texas fare to make them green with envy as the tantalizing aroma of kicked-up spareribs wafts over the fence. And they won’t believe all the exuberant “Yee Haws!” they’ll hear are possible without even a drop of alcohol!
While you’re grilling up the finger licking good Spareribs with Sarsaparilla Barbecue Sauce, your guests will be dipping into the zesty, black-eyed pea Texas Caviar while sipping away at a super refreshing “Pink Champagne,” Texas style. The hoopla will truly begin, however, when you bring to the table your medley of traditional, good old Texas BBQ dishes including a Creamy Mac ‘n’ Cheese Salad and the real deal Garlic Butter Texas Toast. By the time you are slicing Granny’s Peanut Butter Cream Pie for dessert, your cowhands will be wondering if the fireworks haven’t already started! Needless to say, I won’t be dieting this weekend. Enjoy!
Texas Pink Champagne
Start things off with this novel, refreshing drink that makes the most of the state fruit of Texas–the red grapefruit. Texas produces two of the world’s finest varieties: the Ruby Sweet and the Rio Star, important crops since the early 1900’s. They are enjoyed in many recipes as well as on their own, and here they’ll add a lovely pink hue to lemon-lime soda for a super thirst quenching drink on the Fourth.
Fresh squeezed is, of course, the best to use, but feel free to purchase a carton of ruby red grapefruit juice in your refrigerated section. In a pinch, you can substitute pink grapefruits or their juice, or even the red-colored blood orange for those who shouldn’t mix grapefruit with certain medications. In any case, strain the grapefruit juice, fresh or refrigerated, to remove the pulp so the appearance of your “pink champagne” is less cloudy.
Make this up just before serving to maximize the fizz of the soda. Having everything well chilled will eliminate the need for ice in the glasses unless it’s a really hot day. Champagne flutes, in this case, are a bit too dainty for a Texas BBQ! Choose tumblers or Collins glasses instead—or festive red, white, and blue plastic cups.
8 cups (64 ounces) ruby red grapefruit juice (about a dozen whole grapefruits juiced), strained and chilled
Two 32-ounce bottles lemon-lime soda, chilled
1. Stir together the grapefruit juice and soda and serve ice cold in tumblers or cups.
Keep unused portions refrigerated.
Texas Caviar with Corn Chips
What to serve with Texas pink champagne? Why, Texas caviar of course! This famous dip made from black-eyed peas has many variations, but one thing is for certain, all Texans agree it must be made in advance and allowed to marinate so the flavor is at its best when served. Two or three days are probably enough—just keep it in a covered container in the refrigerator and give it an occasional stir. Usually quite spicy, the level of intensity is up to you in the quantity of jalapenos you add as well as the cayenne pepper. Remember, however, that it will get hotter and hotter the longer it is allowed to sit.
You can replace one can of black-eyed peas with the equivalent amount of canned white hominy, delicious cooked corn kernels that have had the hull and husk removed, popularly used in Hispanic cuisine. I love them and am always looking for an excuse to use them in a recipe, but sometimes they are difficult to find so I am excluding them here. The usual things to scoop up your “caviar” with are tortilla chips (or Saltine crackers – a Texas favorite). But any type of large corn chip will go well, Fritos Scoops! being my favorite here.
Three 15-ounce cans black-eyes peas, drained and rinsed
One 4-ounce jar chopped pimentos, juice included
2 to 3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
½ medium-size green bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped
1 medium firm, ripe tomato, seeded, and chopped
¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
¼ teaspoon or more red cayenne pepper
1/3 cup light olive oil
½ cup apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a large mixing bowl combine all the ingredients and stir together with a rubber spatula. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, for 1 or 2 days and up to 1 week.
2. To serve, mound the caviar on a large round serving platter and surround with the corn chips.
You can be sure that the Fourth of July will find some type of ribs on the grill – baby back or beef, rubbed or smoked – all cuts and methods are popular barbecue fare, but true Texas rib aficionados will be turning to the common pork sparerib for the most uncommonly delicious and flavorful result. Spareribs come from the lower portion of the ribs and are usually fattier, contributing to their flavor. A normal rack can weigh about 3 to 5 pounds (mostly bone) and in general, one pound per person is an adequate portion-size. Therefore, three racks will serve ten people nicely, but if your BBQ guests are known to be big eaters, err on the side of extras and throw in one more. When racks are cut in half they are called slabs, which are easier to work with, so cut each rack in two and trim any excess fat before beginning.
Dry rubs are a great way to enhance the flavor of all meats that end up on the grill so plan to rub the slabs a day ahead. Smoking is another way to enhance flavor and many experienced grill masters swear by it. It can be an intricate and long process, however, so to get the best of both worlds, we’ll be roasting the ribs first in the oven and then finishing them on the grill over some smoky wood chips. A last minute baste with the delicious accompanying barbecue sauce will add a final layer of flavor.
Many basting and barbecue sauces contain alcohol in the form of beer or bourbon since their tenderizing properties can contribute to a better result. Here, sarsaparilla soda, a popular beverage of the Old West, will perform the same function and add a subtle sweetness to the sauce. Birch beer or root beer could also be used. Try to find a good quality soda that is made from pure cane sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup for the best flavor and finish. The sauce can be made up to a week ahead and refrigerated until the Fourth of July.
For the dry rub:
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 ½ tablespoons coarse salt
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
1 ½ tablespoons garlic powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
3 or 4 racks pork spareribs, cut in half and trimmed of excess fat
3 cups hickory wood smoking chips, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes
Oil for the grill
Sarsaparilla Barbecue Sauce (see recipe below)
1. In a small mixing bowl whisk together the dry rub ingredients. Massage the rub into the meat sides of the sparerib slabs, wrap well in plastic (2 slabs together is fine) and refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Unwrap the slabs and place, slightly overlapping, in 2 large roasting pans. Bake uncovered, periodically pouring out the rendered fat, until the ribs are tender, 3 to 4 hours.
3. Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to medium-low and place the soaked wood chips over the coals or in a smoker box. Lightly oil the grill grates and place the ribs in a single layer on the grill (work in batches if necessary) and cook, turning occasionally, 20 minutes. Baste the ribs with the barbecue sauce during the last 10 minutes of grilling. Transfer to a cutting board, slice down between the rib bones to make individual portions, and serve immediately with extra barbecue sauce for dipping.
Sarsaparilla Barbecue Sauce
2 cups sarsaparilla soda
2 cups ketchup
½ medium-size onion, finely chopped
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon light molasses
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon each ground cumin, paprika, and garlic powder
½ teaspoon each ground ginger and coriander
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash cayenne pepper or more to taste
1. Combine all the ingredients in a medium-size saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow to simmer until thickened and reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Stir to prevent sticking.
2. Taste for seasoning, including sugar and lemon juice, adjust if necessary, and cool before storing in a covered container in the refrigerator. Use to baste spareribs and as a dipping sauce (see above.)
Creamy Mac ‘n’ Cheese Salad
This cool and creamy macaroni salad is the perfect compliment to your smoked and spicy ribs. Dotted with bits of delicious orange cheddar cheese, your guests will be reaching for seconds and thirds before the meal is through. The secret to its creaminess is a double dosing of mayo and milk, one the night before and the other just before serving.
A small dice of cheddar cheese is what you are after and sometimes you are able to find pre-diced or crumbled cheese, as opposed to shredded, in packages, which will save time. If not, simply slice the cheddar chunk into 1/4-inch-thick slices and crumble with your fingers. Half a pound of solid cheese will yield about 2 cups diced or crumbled. Mild, medium, or sharp is fine to use, whichever you prefer.
1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked, drained and rinsed under cold water to cool
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 medium-size celery stalk, peeled and finely chopped
½ cup sweet pickle relish
1/3 cup chopped pimento
1 ½ cups mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
½ cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1 ½ cups diced or crumbled orange cheddar cheese
1. In a large mixing bowl combine the cooked macaroni, onion, celery, relish, and pimento and stir gently to combine. In a small mixing bowl whisk together 1 cup of the mayonnaise, all the sour cream, and ¼ cup of the milk. Add to the macaroni and stir well to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and stir in the cheese. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
2. Remove the macaroni salad from the fridge and stir to loosen (mixture will be somewhat dry.) In a small mixing bowl whisk together the remaining ½ cup mayonnaise and ¼ cup of milk, and add to the salad, stirring until creamy. Taste for the addition of salt and pepper, and serve immediately.
Garlic Butter Texas Toast
No Texas-style barbecue would be complete without Texas toast, the Lone Star State’s answer to garlic bread. Huge slices of firm white bread, slathered with garlic butter and plopped on the grill, Texas toast is the perfect accompaniment for your Independence Day party.
Buy whole, unsliced loaves of bread, sometimes called Pullman loaves, or look for thick pre-sliced packages occasionally available in the bread aisle. Sourdough and Italian varieties of bread also work well, but to be authentic stick with the above. These take a few mere minutes to grill, so they can be done just before sitting down to eat. You can also embellish them a bit by sprinkling some shredded cheese on top for melting or add chopped fresh or dried parsley flakes to the butter mixture.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
6 garlic cloves, peeled and mined
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
2 loaves firm white bread, cut into 1-inch-thick slices
1. In a small mixing bowl, stir together the butter, garlic, salt, and cayenne pepper. Spread a thin layer of the butter mixture on both sides of the bread slices and toast on the outer edge of a gas or charcoal grill until lightly golden, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Serve immediately.
Here’s a super finish to your Fourth of July Texas barbecue and a dessert that will no doubt be requested in the future on a regular basis. Surprisingly light and fluffy, but full of creamy flavor, this no-bake peanut butter cream pie is so easy to prepare you may decide to make two just in case!
Regular commercial creamy peanut butter is the one to use here as the healthier, more natural types have a tendency to separate. Pre-made graham cracker piecrusts make this a breeze to prepare, but you can certainly make one from scratch if you prefer. In addition, you can also try using the prepared chocolate cookie crusts, which would go equally well with the peanut butter flavor. Purchase a good quality hot fudge sauce and just before serving, heat it in the microwave and drizzle over the top of the pie or over each individual slice. When you serve up this incredible finale, don’t be surprised to hear a universal “yum” and “yes, please” no matter how full of ribs your guests may be!
1 cup creamy peanut butter
One 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon nonalcohol vanilla extract
One 9-inch prepared graham cracker pie crust
One jar hot fudge sauce
1. In a medium-size bowl using an electric mixer, beat together the peanut butter, cream cheese, sugar, and butter on high speed until smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. In another medium-size mixing bowl with clean beaters, beat the cream and vanilla together to form stiff peaks. Stir 1/3 of the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture to loosen it, then fold in the rest. Pour the mixture into the pie crust and spread evenly. Refrigerate overnight.
2. When ready to serve, heat the hot fudge sauce in the microwave according to jar directions and, using a fork, dip and drizzle the hot fudge over the top of the pie, or over each slice of pie. Serve immediately.
All recipes from Sober Celebrations: Lively Entertaining Without the Spirits by Liz Scott, 2007.