Grilling on the 4th of July

Chicken wings

Grilling on the 4th of July is as American as it gets. Strangely, for the first 10 years of being in America, we never grilled at home. While living in Wisconsin, every 4th of July was spent at Marathon Park enjoying all the events that were going on. There was always a fair where we would go on all the rides and eat non-stop. The Rotary or Kiwanis Clubs had a huge grill set up that had every type of grilled food that you could possibly want, including BBQ. The burgers were juicy and topped with grilled onions, the aroma permeating throughout the entire sandwich. The hot dogs and brats were bursting out of their casings, but every bite still had a crisp snap that could be heard with each bite. At night there was the demolition derby and afterward the fireworks display. Nothing in the summertime could beat the 4th of July fair at Marathon Park.

Moving to Washington, D.C. was a culture shock for this small-town girl. Our first 4th of July in D.C. was spent staking out a spot all day near the Washington Monument, then heading to the Folk Life Festival and grabbing some smoked BBQ chicken and other various meats. No more hamburgers and brats for us, as we were introduced to all sorts of different foods. It was hot, sweaty, and for this kid very boring. I spent a lot of time running around, visiting the food trucks for drinks and ice cream, and pretty much going stir crazy until the fireworks started. Getting lost for an hour was the highlight of that year, but luckily Bo found us a new place to watch the fireworks; for a few years, it was our best-held secret.

Since then we began a new 4th of July tradition. At around 5 or 6 o’clock, Bo would pack us up in the car with a cooler full of drinks. Along the way, we would stop to pick up some fried chicken, with the works, from either KFC, Roy Rogers or Red Barn. He would then stop at one of the fireworks stands and buy a ton of small fireworks, sparklers, and Roman candles at half price. Our spot was always in front of the Jefferson Memorial at the very edge of the Tidal Basin, which was so much better than at the Washington Memorial. It was shaded from the sun, we got a nice breeze off the water, and the bathrooms were not disgusting port-o-potties! I would lay on the cool granite and read a book, feed the ducks, light some sparklers, and set off ash snakes and little lava cones. I was definitely a popular kid with all the fire hazards at hand. Yes, there were small accidents (i.e. burns) but nothing that ice and a slice of watermelon couldn’t make better.

Mang upped the 4th of July menu when she started making her Pink Pork Butt. She would buy a huge piece of meat, cut some holes into it, insert a ton of garlic cloves and rub it down with salt and red food coloring. She would then boil and steam it, and once it was cool it would go into the fridge. Before heading out for the Jefferson Memorial she would buy some French bread, slice up the cold pork, and whip up her homemade mayo. Shrimp chips, homemade pickled radishes and carrots, a bottle of Maggi, a watermelon, peaches, nectarines, and plums rounded out the food that had to be packed into the car. Those were some of the best 4th of Julys in my memory. I was usually sugared out and in a food coma by the time the fireworks display started, and when we would get home I would already be passed out in the car. When I got older I realized you could watch the fireworks in the comfort of your air-conditioned, bug-free home so the 4th of July picnics slowly went away, but we started to BBQ at home instead. Not your usual BBQ fare but things like whole rockfish, clams, and oysters. I don’t think it was a very bad trade-off.

Recent 4th of Julys find me doing my own BBQ with friends. Steaks, ribs, and kielbasa are usually on the menu along with chicken of some sort. The big hit these past few years are my BBQ chicken wings, which I marinate in Viet Vinaigrette overnight with scallions and lemongrass. They can be cooked in the oven or grilled, and I finish them off with a generous slathering of the Caramel Braising Sauce for a tangy, crisp skin. They definitely go fast, and I have caught people licking their fingers because they are so good.

I believe that the 4th of July is a celebration of America and of all the people who live here, no matter what color, creed or ethnicity. It is a holiday that lets us celebrate all Americans and all their diversity.

Vi’s BBQ’d Chicken Wings



  1. Clean the wings and cut into drumettes and flats if they are not already separated.
  2. Toss the chicken wings with the lemongrass, scallions, and Viet Vinaigrette and marinate in the fridge for at least 4 hours; the longer the better.
  3. If baking in the oven, preheat it to 375F. Lay the wings out flat on a baking sheet, place in the oven, and bake for 25 minutes or until the juices run clear. Remove the wings from the oven and set it to broil, baste with the Caramel Braising Sauce and broil on high until they are caramelized.
  4. If grilling, cook the wings on indirect heat and cook until the juices run clear or the internal temperature is at 160F. Finish them off by basting with the Caramel Braising Sauce until they are caramelized.

One thought on “Grilling on the 4th of July

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *