By Ann Cipperly

As fireworks light up the night sky, be sure to have plenty of good food for celebrating the Fourth of July. Whether you are at the lake, beach or relaxing at home, plan a menu ahead to include a grilled or smoked entree to enjoy the festivities instead of being in the kitchen.

Many folks in our area enjoy spending time at the lake. While Lake Martin is the closest, our family enjoys time at Smith Lake. With so many good cooks in our family, we recently spent a relaxing time at Smith Lake and savored delectable dishes.

My brother, Rodney Sanders, cooked tasty burgers on the grill, and his wife, Debbie, served German-Style Potato Salad and other delectable sides. While the burgers were simply seasoned with salt and pepper, the extraordinary flavor came from the lump charcoal Rodney had made from hickory wood.

Making his own charcoal started last winter. Rodney’s son-in-law, Todd Scott, has a love for grilling and barbecuing. He had been doing a great deal of research on how to improve the flavor of grilling meats.

One of those ideas was making homemade lump charcoal. First, they searched a couple of home improvement stores to find a metal trash can with a lid. They were looking for a large one, but ended up having to settle for a smaller version, which was still a good size.

The next day, Rodney and Todd started early on this project. They filled the metal can with pieces of hickory that were about 6 inches long and 4 inches in diameter, covering it with the lid.

Then they arranged the wood for the fire and placed rocks round it. They sat the metal can – filled with the pieces of hickory – on the rocks and lit the fire. They built a fire around the can, and kept the flames going for 15 hours, adding wood to the fires. They let the fire die down during the night.

It was important not to open the trash can during this time. Otherwise, it would have burned the wood.

The result was having their own product, which they have named Smith Lake Small Batch Lump Charcoal.

If you want to try this sometimes, you can use hickory, pecan, oak or cherry wood. Just remember to keep the fires going and do not open the can until finished and allowed to cool.

Of course, you can grill a good burger without making your own charcoal. Follow these guidelines from the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association.

Set grill to medium and let heat for a minimum of 10 minutes if using gas or until coals turn white if using charcoal. Form patties and season liberally with salt and pepper. Place a dimple in the center of the burger patty to minimize shrinking and optimize cooking.

Place burgers on the grill and cook approximately 4 to 5 minutes, depending on size and thickness. Flip burger and grill an additional 4 to 5 minutes or until the center of the burger reaches an internal temperature of 160°F.

Avoid pressing down on burgers and only flip burgers once during cooking.

Along with burgers, pulled pork barbecue and brisket are also popular for the Fourth of July. Pulled pork can be cooked in a smoker, oven or slow cooker. Check out the recipes for these three versions to see which one is best at your home.

Prepare dessert a day ahead. Two easy choices are Old Fashioned Buttermilk Pie and Southern Butter Glazed Pound Cake. It is easy to double the recipe for the buttermilk pie, and the large cake makes about 16 servings. For a festive look for the Fourth, serve either one of these with blueberries, strawberries and whipped cream.

Whatever is on the menu this year, celebrate the country’s birthday by taking a few minutes to be thankful for living in a free nation and remember all of those who paid the price for that freedom we enjoy.

Cipperly can be reached at

Lemonade Tea

Vondalyn Hall

5 cups water

3 family size tea bags

6-oz. can frozen lemonade concentrate

1 to 1 1/4 cups sugar

1 tsp. almond extract, optional
Lemon slices
Place 5 cups water and family size teabags in a large container and microwave on high for 10 minutes. Remove teabags. Add
frozen lemonade concentrate and sugar to the tea mixture. Stir until sugar is dissolved and lemonade is completely blended.

Pour into a 64-oz. pitcher and add as much water as needed to fill the container. Add almond extract, if desired. Refrigerate until chilled. Add lemon slices just before serving.

Alabama Firecrackers

Jim Young

2/3 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. onion powder

½ tsp. black pepper

Two 1 oz. envelopes ranch dressing mix

3 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes

16.5 oz. pkg. saltine crackers

Place vegetable oil, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, ranch dressing mix and crushed red pepper flakes in a 2-gallon plastic zipper bag. Seal the bag and smooth with your hands to thoroughly combine the oil and spices.

Place crackers into bag, seal, and turn the bag over to cover crackers with the spice mix.

Let bag sit for about 1 hour, then turn again. Repeat several more times until the crackers are well-coated with spice mix, and allow the bag to sit overnight. Remove crackers and serve.

Cherry Tomatoes Stuffed with Avocado Cream

1 medium-size very ripe avocado, peeled and pitted

2 tsp. lemon juice

1 small clove garlic

¼ tsp. dried basil

4 oz. (half of an 8 oz. pkg.) cream cheese, softened

¼ tsp. salt

Dash liquid hot sauce

1 ½ pints, small ripe cherry tomatoes
Parsley sprigs for garnish

Combine avocado and lemon juice in bowl of electric blender or processor; puree until smooth. Add garlic, basil, cream cheese, salt and hot sauce. Whirl until smooth. Transfer to medium-size bowl. Refrigerate mixture until stiff enough to pipe into tomatoes.

Cut very thin slice off tops of tomatoes, scoop out with small spoon. Drain upside-down on paper towels. Fill tomatoes with avocado cream using a small spoon or a pastry bag with rosette tip. Garnish tops with small sprigs of parsley. Makes about 30.

Brisket Rub

Jim Collins

¼ cup kosher salt

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup black pepper

¾ cup paprika

2 Tbsp. garlic salt

2 Tbsp. garlic powder

2 Tbsp. onion powder

2 Tbsp. chili powder

2 tsp. ground red pepper (optional)

Mopping sauce:

12 oz. can of beer or Coke

1 cup apple cider vinegar

½ cup water

½ cup Worcestershire sauce

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 Tbsp. brisket rub (from above)

Rub generous amounts over entire surface of brisket. The brisket can be cooked immediately, but is best if allowed to sit in refrigerator for a day or two.

Cook brisket 45 minutes per pound at 300 degrees. Mop meat every 20 to 30 minutes. Another variation is to cook for 3 to 4 hours on a smoker and then freeze for future use, cooking at 350 degrees for three hours when thawed. This recipe makes enough for two good-sized briskets. Leftover rub keeps well in airtight container. Enjoy!

Sharon’s Pulled Pork in Smoker or Oven


1 cup molasses

1 pint barbecue sauce (prefer Sweet Baby Ray’s)

1 cup vinegar

1 cup lemon juice

1 cup pickling salt

2 quarts water

3 cloves garlic, chopped

3 Tbsp. black pepper

6 to 8 pound Boston butt


1 Tbsp. chili powder

1 Tbsp. onion powder

1 Tbsp. paprika

Combine brine ingredients in 6-quart stockpot. Add Boston butt, making sure it is completely covered in the brine. Cover tightly with foil and marinate overnight in refrigerator a minimum of 12 hours. Any less time does not do the pork justice.

In a small bowl, combine chili powder, onion powder and paprika for the rub.

Remove Boston butt from brine and pat dry. Sift the rub evenly over the shoulder and then pat onto the meat making sure as much of the rub as possible adheres. Tip on meat rub: wear rubber gloves when rubbing in spices and more will stick to the meat!

Preheat smoker or conventional oven to 210 degrees F. Place butt in smoker or oven and cook for 10 to 12 hours, maintaining a temperature of 210 degrees.

If you use a conventional oven, cover tightly with aluminum foil. Begin checking meat for doneness after 10 hours of cooking time. Use fork to check for doneness. Meat is done when it falls apart easily when pulling with a fork.

Once done, remove from pot and set aside to rest for at least 1 hour. Pull meat apart with 2 forks. Enjoy on a bun with coleslaw on the side. You really don’t need a sauce.

Crunchy Coleslaw

1 large head cabbage, chopped (or use pkg. cabbage mix)

1 carrot, grated

4 Tbsp. green onion, chopped

4 Tbsp. yellow onion, grated

4 Tbsp. green bell pepper, grated

2 Tbsp. sugar

1 Tbsp. pepper

1 Tbsp. garlic salt

1 Tbsp. Lowrey’s seasoning salt

1 Tbsp. salad vinegar

12 oz. mayonnaise

Combine all ingredients and let set 12 to 24 hours in refrigerator before serving. Serves 4 to 6.

Amanda’s Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Spice Rub:

4 Tbsp. smoked paprika

3 Tbsp. dark brown sugar

2 Tbsp. chili powder

1 Tbsp. cumin

1 Tbsp. black pepper

2 tsp. salt

Boston butt roast

2 cups chicken broth

Combine spices in a bowl and rub liberally over Boston Butt (bone in or boneless) in a slow cooker insert. Refrigerate overnight, if desired.

In the morning, pour 2 cups of chicken broth over the pork and cook for 8 to 10 hours on low. Shred meat and remove fat.

German Style Potato Salad

Debbie Sanders

3 lb. petite potatoes

4 slices bacon

½ cup apple cider vinegar

1½ Tbsp. whole grain mustard (I use deli mustard)

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

½ bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped

½ bunch fresh dill, chopped

(I may use a little sugar if the dressing is too tart.)

Boil whole skin on potatoes in salted water until fork tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

While potatoes are cooking fry bacon until crisp. Drain bacon on paper towels. Reserve a small amount of grease in the pan for the dressing.

Chop bacon into small pieces.

When potatoes are tender, drain and allow to cool until you can handle them. Slice potatoes into ¼ inch slices and place in a large bowl.

Mix vinegar, mustard, bacon, and olive oil in the reserved bacon grease in the pan. Whisking to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Can add a little sugar if you think it’s too tart.)

Pour dressing over warm potatoes and add fresh chopped herbs. Toss gently to coat. Season with additional salt and pepper, if desired.

Serve warm or cold.

Old Fashioned Buttermilk Pie

Serve with blueberries and sliced strawberries with whipped cream. Easy to double recipe.

1½ cups sugar

3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

3 large eggs

1 cup buttermilk

½ cup butter, melted

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Unbaked 9-inch pie crust, homemade or purchased

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together sugar and flour in a large bowl. Whisk eggs, buttermilk butter and vanilla. Pour into sugar-flour mixture.

Pour into pie crust.

Bake at 350 for 35 to 45 minutes or until almost set, shielding edges with aluminum foil after 15 minutes, if needed. Cool on wire rack for one hour.

Southern Butter Glazed Pound Cake

For the Fourth, serve with blueberries or strawberries with whipped cream.

3 cups sifted cake flour

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. baking soda

1 cup butter, room temperature

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

Sift flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each.

Add buttermilk alternately with flour, blending well.

Pour batter into a greased tube or Bundt pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 60 to 75 minutes until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Pole top of cake with a toothpick. Pour the sauce over the cake. Cool before removing from pan. Makes about 16 servings.


1 cup sugar

¼ cup water

½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature

Combine ingredients and beat until smooth.

Baked Beans

Becky Brown

1 tsp. olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1-16 oz. can kidney beans

2-16 oz. can Bush’s baked beans

1-15 oz. can lima beans

1-8 oz. can tomato sauce

1 Tbsp. cider vinegar

1 Tbsp. yellow mustard

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup Karo syrup

Garlic pepper to taste

4 slices of bacon, partially cooked

Sauté onion in olive oil and set aside. Drain kidney beans and lima beans. Partially drain baked beans. Mix all beans together in large bowl. Add onions and other remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour into casserole dish and top with bacon.

Bake at 325 degrees for one hour.

Grilled or Stove Top Classic Beef Cheeseburgers

Alabama Cattlemen’s Association

1 lb. ground beef (93% lean or leaner)

1½ tsp. steak seasoning blend

4 hamburger buns, split

4 slices cheese (such as Cheddar, American, Swiss, etc.)

4 lettuce leaves

4 tomato slices

Toppings: ketchup, mustard, onion slices, pickle slices (optional)

Combine ground beef and steak seasoning in large bowl, mixing lightly but thoroughly. Lightly shape into four 1/2-inch thick patties.

Place patties on grid over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill, covered, 8 to 10 minutes (over medium heat on preheated gas grill, 7 to 9 minutes) until instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into center registers 160 degrees F, turning occasionally.

About 2 minutes before burgers are done, place buns, cut sides down, on grid. Grill until lightly toasted. During last minute of grilling, top each burger with cheese slice.

Stove Top:

To prepare on stovetop, heat large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Place patties in skillet; cook 12 to 15 minutes until instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into center registers 160 degrees F, turning occasionally.

Cooking times are for fresh or thoroughly thawed ground beef. Ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Color is not a reliable indicator of ground beef doneness.

Line bottom of each bun with lettuce; top with tomato, burger and toppings.

Smashed Sirloin Burger

Chef Hugh Acheson

Alabama Cattlemen’s Association

4, 5 to 6-oz. 90/10 beef ground sirloin burger patties, pre-formed or form by hand

4 tsp. vegetable oil, divided

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black peppercorn to taste

4 slices halloumi cheese

8 Tbsp. mayonnaise

4 tsp. prepared harissa

8 leaves Little Gem lettuce, washed

16 dill pickle rounds

4 sesame seed buns

Int a cast-iron skillet over high heat for 2 minutes, add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil to the skillet. Place each patty in the cast iron skillet and flatten with a spatula or a flat steak weight. Cook until the outer edges are browned, about 2 minutes.

Flip the patty and season with salt and pepper. Cook for approximately 2 minutes on the second side and then remove from heat when patty reaches 160 degrees F as measured by a meat thermometer. Place on a cooling rack placed over a plate or sheet pan. Repeat process for all burger patties.

Add the halloumi cheese directly to the pan with the burger drippings and cook for two minutes on just one side. Remove from the heat and place on the burger patties. Let rest for two minutes.

While resting, combine the mayonnaise and the harissa and blend with a fork.

To build, place one leaf of lettuce on the bottom half of the bun and then place the burger patty with halloumi on top of that. Add pickles and a big dollop of the harissa mayonnaise and then a second lettuce leaf. Top with the bun top. Repeat for each burger. Close sandwiches.

Smith Lake Small Batch Lump Charcoal

Rodney Sanders and Todd Scott

Hickory, oak, pecan or cherry wood

Metal trash can with lid

Cut wood of choice into 6 inch pieces that are about 4 inches in diameter. Place the pieces of wood in the can and cover it with the lid.

Arrange wood for a fire and place rocks around the edges. Place the trash can on rocks and start the fire. Build a fire around the metal can. Keep the fires going for 15 hours, adding wood to the fires.

Let the fire die down during the night. Do not open lid until time is finished and is cool.