Americans may quibble on the correct terminology for a Fourth of July feast (barbecue or cookout—which side are you on?), but we can all agree that gathering and grilling outdoors is a tradition bursting with red, white and blue.
Denver chef Troy Guard—who has cooked everywhere from Hawaii to Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan—has learned about cooking with fire from cultures around the world. “In Korea, barbecue is obviously a big staple of their cuisine," he says. "But they do that inside restaurants."
The communal grilling culture—that "social, talkative atmosphere where you get to see and smell and hear the food cooking" that we're accustomed to in the United States—also exists in Argentinian asados, Australian sausage sizzles and other traditions around the globe. But when paired with flags and fireworks, burgers and dogs, the backyard cookout becomes distinctly American.
As of July, Guard will have 10 restaurants operating in the Denver area—including Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winners Guard and Grace and TAG Restaurant—many specializing in wood-fired and grilled cuisine. Being constantly surrounded by heat and smoke, you'd think the chef would take Independence Day off, but he fully embraces the cookout tradition. "The last seven years, we've closed the restaurants on the Fourth of July," he says. "We get together at the park and we have a potluck. I usually bring the main proteins, either ribs or bratwursts, chicken, burgers, all of that."
This year, he's upping the ante, treating his fellow revelers to grilled bone-in rib eyes, prepared with a homemade dry rub and topped with maître d'hôtel butter, a classic compound butter made with lemon juice and parsley. He'll make the formidable cut of beef more picnic-friendly by "slicing it up for the neighbors, so everyone can pick at it pupu—or Hawaiian—style."
To extract the most flavor from a rib eye, Guard chooses cuts with a bit more marbling and leaves the bone in when cooking. He recommends generously seasoning the meat, then allowing it to come to room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes before throwing it on a hot grill. Punching up the rounds of maître d' butter with a dash of cayenne and crushed red pepper adds to the richness of this special-occasion dish.
At his restaurant Guard and Grace, the chef serves this rib eye preparation with grilled baby carrots. To round out his cookout, Guard plans to add some classic Fourth of July sides, like corn on the cob and green beans. Any vegetables you choose to serve, he says, can also be seasoned with the steak rub and the maitre d' butter.
Although Guard and Grace sommelier Todd Rocchio particularly enjoys the super Tuscan Podere Sapaio Sapaio 2006 with steak, to continue the theme of this American holiday, he recommends a Napa Cabernet to pair with the luxurious rib eye. The La Jota Howell Mountain 2012 is one of his go-to reds at the restaurant. The wine's mountain fruit has ample "tannins and acidity to cut through the rich marbling that the rib eye brings to the table." Below, Wine Spectator recommends 11 Napa Cabernets for $40 or less for a backyard blowout.
Recipe courtesy chef Troy Guard, Guard and Grace, Denver, Colo.
For the maître d' butter:
Mix all ingredients with a whisk or in a mixer. Roll into a log and refrigerate until hardened.
For the dry rub:
Combine all dry rub ingredients, mixing evenly.
For the rib eye and carrots:
1. Pour some of the dry rub onto a large plate. Drizzle about 1 teaspoon canola oil on each steak and rub it all around to coat. Press each steak down into the rub. Turn the steak over and repeat, making sure that the 2 sides of the steak are completely seasoned by the rub.
2. Grill over a medium flame, about 6 minutes per side for medium-rare. Let rest.
3. Meanwhile, in a bowl, toss the baby carrots in canola oil to coat and sprinkle with the remaining rub. Reserve any leftover dry rub that has not come into contact with the steak in an airtight container for future use.
4. Grill the carrots over low heat, turning frequently, until soft.
5. If desired, slice rib eyes or serve whole. Top with 1 round of maître d' butter per steak, plus parsley and carrots. Serves 2 as an entrée.
Note: The following lists are selections of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More wines can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.
LOUIS M. MARTINI Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2013
A wholesome expression of earth- and graphite-driven Cabernet, commingling with road tar, roasted herb and dark berry flavors. Crushed rock minerality enlivens the finish. Drink now through 2024. 51,000 cases made.
FLORA SPRINGS Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012
Up-front notes of creamy, toasty oak make for a pleasant introduction, leading the way for supple blackberry and wild berry fruit, accented by shades of espresso and licorice. Ends clean and pure. Drink now through 2024. 6,876 cases made.
RAYMOND Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Reserve Selection 2013
Elegantly styled, with refined spicy oak, currant, dark berry and licorice notes. Shows an impressive integration of flavors and textural nuance. Drink now through 2024. 21,900 cases made.
BUEHLER Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Estate 2013
A supple, graceful, enjoyable style, with understated currant, creamy oak, dried herb and cedar notes, firming on the finish where the tannins become more evident. Drink now through 2023. 2,600 cases made.
WHITEHALL LANE Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012
Presents a powerful core of mocha-infused blackberry, plum and currant flavors, with charcoal, graphite and iron notes. A minerally, textural edge accompanies the long, clean finish. Drink now through 2024. 12,428 cases made.
ATALON Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012
This red is focused on dried berry, earth and cedary oak flavors, with taut tannins. Drink now. 12,900 cases made.
EMBLEM Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012
Very intense and marked by a strong oak presence, this exhibits firm, vibrant blackberry and wild berry fruit, with gravelly, earth-laced tannins. Ends with a woody aftertaste. Drink now through 2024. 10,000 cases made.
ROBERT MONDAVI Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012
Very appealing, with a supple, graceful presence and modest currant, anise, loamy earth and new leather scents. Ends clean and simple. Drink now. 147,678 cases made.
MOUNT VEEDER Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012
A solid effort, firm, dense and rich, with loamy dark berry, cedar, anise and gravelly flavors, ending with gripping tannins. Drink now through 2024. 41,658 cases made.
TRUCHARD Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Carneros 2012
An elegant, refined style, with a mix of dried berry, herb, cedar and earth notes, all in proportion. Drink now. 4,800 cases made.
SEQUOIA GROVE Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012
A hearty, rustic, old-style Napa Cabernet, rich and extracted, well-oaked and gutsy, with tiers of dark berry, dried herb and cedar. Delivers a crushed rock minerality on the finish. Drink now through 2023. 29,293 cases made.
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