One aspect defines the cuisine of Independence Day in Israel, and that is the art of al ha’esh, literally “on the fire” – i.e., grilling. With an insatiable appetite for meat and barbecuing, Israelis know their way around a food soiree.

On April 26 when Israel celebrates its birthday, most Israelis will get together and knock back beer, wine, arak and host major cookouts … a carnivorous celebration of protein in the form of burgers, steaks and chicken, as Independence Day tradition has become synonymous with grilling and consuming our weight in meat.

The secret to a remarkable cookout is not in the art of the grill but rather in the art planning it. Knowing how to cook for the masses takes careful consideration because you are not simply preparing a meal but orchestrating a celebration.

The art of preparation begins with the layering of flavors – infusing the meats with an array of spices. Marinating meat overnight helps it absorb the essence of the flavors, penetrating the meat and breaking down the molecular structure of the protein, thus converting your meat into a succulent, mouthwatering dish. Dry rubs may be prepared ahead of time and applied prior to cooking.

Remove the meat from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before grilling, bringing it to room temperature. Cold meat will not cook evenly. As with an oven, give your grill plenty of time to preheat. You will know it is hot enough when you are no longer able to hold your hand over it for more than a couple of seconds.

All utensils (tongs, spatula and grill brush) should be near the grill and ready to use prior to lighting it so that you are not scrambling for them later.

Once you begin the grilling process, do not impatiently move the meat around. Allow the meat to develop a seared crust before moving or flipping it. If you attempt to flip the meat before it is ready, it will stick to the grates. Try not to overcook the meat either and err on the side of undercooking.

You can always put the meat back on the grill if it is too rare for your liking.

Once the meat is done cooking, allow it a few minutes to rest. This allows the juices to redistribute back into the meat rather than bleeding out upon slicing.

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BALSAMIC GLAZED STEAK WITH THYME RUB

In Israel, beef is bought by numbers. The best number for grilling is No. 1, which is known as entrecote. This is best suited for grilling and roasting.

My personal preference is No. 2 cut on the bone, which adds yet another layer of flavor to the meat.

Dry rub:
✔ Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
✔ 3⁄4 cup garlic powder
✔ 1⁄2 cup fresh thyme removed from stems
✔ 1 cup smoked paprika
✔ 1⁄2 cup cumin, ground
✔ 3⁄4 cup dried hot pepper To make the rub: Combine 1⁄4 cup salt, 2 Tbsp. pepper, garlic powder, thyme, paprika and hot pepper in a bowl. Set aside about one-third of the mixture for sprinkling on the steak when finished.

Marinate overnight. However, if you are strapped for time, a few hours in the marinade will do. The marinade will help keep the meat moist and tender, as well as help the rub stick.

Balsamic marinade and glaze:
✔ 11⁄2 cup balsamic vinegar
✔ 1 cup tomato paste
✔ 1⁄3 cup brown sugar
✔ 5 cloves garlic, minced
✔ 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
✔ 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
✔ 1⁄2 tsp. salt (salt allows the meat to absorb the marinade)
✔ 1⁄2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
✔ 4 pieces entrecote steak Combine all the ingredients in a deep dish and submerge steaks, making sure they are coated in the marinade. Marinate overnight or for 2-3 hours if strapped for time.

Coat the meat in the dry rub and place the meat on the grill.

Put the remaining marinade into a saucepan and onto the grill over low heat or on the edge of a gas or charcoal grill and allow to gently simmer while the meat cooks. Once it has reduced by a third, you can use this as a sauce for the steak.

Cook the steak about 6-7 minutes per side for medium rare, depending on the thickness of the steak.

BARBECUED BURGERS
Makes 4 large burgers

The hamburger is one of the most popular foods in the world, originating from Hamburg, Germany. Today, you can find it on almost any menu anywhere in the world, and it is a traditional staple of any cookout.

✔ 1 kg. entrecote steak off the bone, trimmed, cut into 3-cm. cubes, or ground beef
✔ 1 bunch fresh thyme, leaves only
✔ 1⁄2 onion, finely chopped
✔ 2 garlic cloves, minced
✔ 1 cup tomato paste
✔ 1⁄4 cup brown sugar
✔ 2 Tbsp. red vinegar
✔ 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
✔ 1 tsp. ground cumin
✔ 1 tsp. hot paprika
✔ Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
✔ 4 hamburger buns, split; toasted if desired If using cubed meat: In a food processor, pulse meat approximately 12 times until you get a coarse grind. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and massage into the meat. Try not to overwork the meat, as this will make for a tough burger. Divide the meat into 4 equal portions. Form each portion into 2.5-cm.- thick burger, making a deep depression in the center with your thumb. This will create an evenly cooked burger. Season both sides of each burger with salt and pepper.

Place patties on the grill over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes on each side for medium-rare burgers.

PINEAPPLE CHICKEN
Makes 4

✔ 1 cup tomato paste
✔ 1⁄2 cup apple cider vinegar
✔ 1 Tbsp. molasses ✔ 3 Tbsp. brown sugar
✔ 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
✔ 1⁄3 cup soy sauce,
✔ 3 cloves of garlic, minced
✔ 4 pieces drumsticks and thighs (if using chicken breast, use breast with bone in and skin on)
✔ 1 can of pineapple slices in juice
✔ Salt and pepper to taste Drain pineapple slices and put aside. In a small saucepan, combine pineapple juice with rest of ingredients except the chicken, and simmer over low heat until thick, about 30 minutes.

Season chicken with salt and pepper, and grill until golden and crisp on both sides, about 5 minutes.

Turn chicken skin side up, and brush with sauce. Place on the cooler side of the grill; cover and allow to cook until the meat is done and glazed a nice golden brown. Chicken is done when the juices run clear, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Place pineapple slices on grate and cook for 1 to 2 minutes per side until you see grill marks. Serve the chicken with the grilled pineapple slices and warm sauce.

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