July Fourth Picnic Survival Guide

With the passing of June and the first week of July underway, the holiday on everyone's lips is Independence Day this Friday, the 4th of July.

But why am I not jumping for joy at the thought? It's not a lack of patriotic spirit, and it's definitely not a dislike for food, booze, and explosives. It's that a lot of the time, the food at most 4th events is... well, not quite up to snuff. I know, I know- chef snobbery, right?

Don't get me wrong, I love hot dogs and burgers, baked beans, and red, white, and blue america-shaped jello molds (represent, Aunt Madeline, represent). Unfortunately, more often than not, those weenies and burgers end up not just charred, but burnt--not just smoky, but carbonized--and only edible paired with way too much ketchup, or relish, or some other special family sauce.

With all of us on otherwise special meal plans or counting our carbs, that we are spending our hard-earned nutritional party time on sub-par grub drives me crazy! So... With all due respect to our grill master Activators out there, I'm gonna give the low-down on some good habits to both maximize the good stuff and minimize the bad, for both fun and nutrition's sake.

BURGERS

First off, when selecting ground beef, fat content is your friend. Personally, I go for an 80% lean to 20% fat ratio. This helps keep the meat moist and flavorful. Secondly, get the grill hot, but flames should not be jumping. If they do, move the burgers off the heat and let the coals burn down a bit more. Also, some buns are really oversized. Try slicing a bit off the top, or using english muffins or other smaller bread options. Last but not least, be judicious with your condiments. A good squirt of ketchup can be great. You should not be using more than, say, the size of a quarter amount for a regular sized burger. A burger should taste principally like burger, not condiment.

HOT DOGS 

There's a little more leeway on this end. Hot dogs benefit more from a good char than most things, and for the most part, a hot dog is a hot dog, nutritionally speaking (I'm not a fan of low-fat dogs, but don't let me stop you). One thing I make a point to do, though- slice a little of the bread off your hot dog roll. I say this from both a trainer and cook standpoint. Unless you're adding something super heavy to your weenies (chili, for example), a standard roll is just too much bread, and I either end up with several bites of just bread (no fun) or every mouthful has more bread than dog.

GRILLED CHICKEN

Ummm ... Don't dip it in lard, I guess? You're pretty good on this one as is. Marinade in a refreshing lemon, rosemary, EVOO, cracked pepper medley and you'll be good to go!

GREENERY

With this much meat and starch on the list, make sure that potato salad isn't your only salad. Have fun with this- throw some peaches or berries in with your greens, maybe some almonds or walnuts, and stick to a lighter dressing. Trust me, it's a nice contrast.

.... Also, if the grill is fired up ... make sure you grill some of my all-time favorites:

VEGGIES!

Onions, peppers, squash, even whole heads of romaine lettuce take well to the grill!

BONUS TIP: And one last tip for the grill, friends- remember that food continues to cook after it comes off the grill. A burger that's medium on the grill will be medium-well a couple minutes after it's taken off. Don't be afraid to give your meat a touch to test doneness (the more firm it feels, the more done it is) or even to use a thermometer.

So have fun, stay safe, and eat well, my friends! Happy 4th to all!