Three Top Miami Chefs Offer Advice for Your Fourth of July Barbecues
Whether you’re cooking burgers or something more ambitious, heed this counsel
The Fourth of July is synonymous with grilling in the U.S., but for three of Miami’s finest first-generation American chefs, grilling was far more of an everyday occurrence growing up.
“We do not have a special celebration that brings people around a BBQ or a grill,” says Carlos Torres, executive chef of Villa Azur. “In Colombia, we get together with our family and friends every Sunday to celebrate with each other.”
“Over there,” he says, “we do more of an Argentinian-style barbecue — chorizo, blood sausage, chunchullo, steak, chicken and vegetables — while here in the U.S., it’s either burgers and hot dogs or a classic smoked barbecue.”
Dina Butterfield, chef de cuisine at Uchi Miami, says the same is true in Mexico, where instead of grilling on a dedicated holiday like the Fourth, “we get together on weekends and have a big barbecue with everyone on the block, family and friends. I haven’t seen that here.”
The menu for such a cookout, she says, might feature carne asada with grilled onions and nopales.
“Depending on the area, we also like to grill fish or shrimp,” she adds. “There are other kinds of grilling as well like street corn, gorditas, tortillas, etc. In the U.S., the variety is not as extensive and more straightforward.”
With such rich experience, it’s no surprise that these chefs’ menus for the Fourth will feature way more than burgers and dogs. They tap into their roots — as well as inspiration from further afield — to set Florida’s finest ingredients off to their best advantage. And they’re more than happy to share their tips to help home cooks do the same.
Carlos Torres, executive chef of Villa Azur
Chef Carlos Torres learned many of his grilling skills from his father in Colombia, but after living in the U.S. for so long, he says he has come to enjoy “classic American” grilling, “with good burgers and hot dogs and slow-cooking some ribs.” Whatever you’re grilling, he recommends starting with top-quality meat and some essential temperature control, before it even gets close to a flame.
“Let it get to room temperature,” he says. “This will allow the juices to distribute better when cooking.” Above all, take your time before digging in. Torres recommends resting cooked meat, chicken and fish for half the time you spent cooking it. “This will allow for a better temperature distribution and it will help retain the juices as well.”
What Chef Torres is grilling this summer: “Fish. I love grilling whole fish like branzino or snapper or a whole fillet of salmon.”
Dina Butterfield, chef de cuisine at Uchi Miami
Chef Dina Butterfield first encountered the binchotan at Uchi Miami eight years ago, and to this day, the traditional Japanese grill remains her ideal cooking method for creative, Japanese-inspired dishes like grilled escolar with yuzu marmalade. “I like it because the charcoal lasts longer,” she says, “which results in very consistent heat.”
Whether working with the binchotan or a good old Big Green Egg, for Butterfield, successful grilling starts with patience — specifically, ensuring you let your grill get hot enough to quickly release the food once it’s cooked.
“When grilling fish, I recommend beginning with the grill at least 400 degrees,” she says. “If not, the skin of the fish and/or the fish will stick.”
What Chef Butterfield is grilling this summer: “Vegetables. I love grilling squash!”
Jonathan Jimenez, executive chef of Quarterdeck Restaurants
Colombia native Chef Jonathan Jimenez’s inspiration — whether in the kitchen or over a backyard barbecue — stems from his love of travel. “I have always been interested in different cultures, especially when related with food, spices and techniques,” he says.
He cites Thailand as one of his all-time faves, particularly for grilling, which locals do over wood charcoal using small clay pots and bamboo skewers. “My other favorite country would be Argentina,” he says. “For me, they are the king of grilling since they take it so seriously.”
For direct-heat grilling, Jimenez has an easy trick to check if the coals are hot enough. Extend your palm over the grill and see how long you can keep it there (without being a martyr). More or less, he says, one second translates to around 550 degrees, two seconds to around 450 degrees and four seconds to around 350 degrees.
What Chef Jimenez is grilling this summer: “When I have friends and family come over, I like to start with small bites like Argentinian pork sausage, sweetbreads and Thai pork-butt skewers. I always recommend having a good dipping sauce. This is just an appetizer while people wait for the main entree. I recommend grilling beef ribs, ribeye and outside skirt steak. Also, I recommend grilling vegetables — zucchini, peppers, sweet potato or any vegetable of preference.”
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