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By Christopher Pilny

Burgers. Hot Dogs. Potato Salad. Corn-on-the-Cob. Apple Pie. Lemonade. These are the staples of any Fourth of July or backyard American summer cook-out. We might add any number of toppings and sauces, but the tradition remains the same. It’s as American as Oprah eating a Big Mac at Disney World.

But Americans have a tradition of scoffing at tradition; that’s why when we were given the chance to sit down with world famous chef Robert Irvine, and ask him a few questions regarding new twists on the old-fashioned summer cook-out, we took it.

Chef Irvine is the guy you want to turn to for ideas on how to spice-up your cookout classics.  He has had over 25 years of culinary experience, including service on the Royal Yacht Britannia and in the White House, and has competed on Iron Chef America. He hosts three deliciously entertaining shows on Food Network: Dinner: Impossible, Restaurant: Impossible, and Worst Cooks in America.

We asked him to give us ingredient variations on six cookout staples: the burger, the hot dog, potato salad, corn-on-the-cob, apple pie and lemonade. While it may seem like an impossible task to improve on any of these, you’ll be surprised to find what you’ve been missing out on all these years. Bon appetit!  

The BurgerGrilled beef burger with cheese on top
Who says you can’t teach an old cow new tricks? The burgah, as Chef Irvine pronounced in his delightfully lilting British accent, is ripe for innovation. “What I do with a burgah,” he said, “I take ground beef and corned beef and I grind them together. People say, ‘Corned beef?’ And I say, ‘Yes, corned beef.’ It adds amazing flavor to a burgah.”

For the ultimate summer cookout hamburger, though, try his other recommendation, the Hot Dog Burger. Take 8oz of ground beef, 4 hot dogs, remove the casings then grind them together. Add minced onion, salt and pepper, and throw ‘em on the grill. For a little palate punch, top it with jalapeno ketchup.

As for toppings, Irvine believes it begins with the bun. “I’m a big believer in brioche bread. It’s a great bread for a burgah.” From there, he likes to add roasted tomatoes with fresh thyme, tarragon, balsamic vinegar, some red onion, and some wet chutney. Top it all off with a big piece of lettuce and some pickles.
Chilli hotdog on a blue plate at the picnic table

Dish with delicious potato saladThe Hot Dog

Leave it to the English to point out what is lacking in our American wieners. Forget the ketchup, the mustard and sauerkraut, says Irvine, and add some hot chili. Certainly this is not an earth-shattering suggestion, but the difference is in the cheese you use. You want something with a spine (metaphorically). He recommends “A nice, English cheddar that’s got a bite to it.” Add a little diced onion and, “That’s the way to eat a hot dog.”

Potato Salad
Plate with corn with sprinkled cheese on top
Mother knows best in most things, and it’s no different with potato salad. Chef Irvine is partial to his mother’s recipe for this cookout classic. Boil the potatoes in their “jackets”, then remove them after they are almost completely cooled. Add red onion, diced egg, rice wine vinegar, stone-ground or English mustard, celery salt, a little cumin and a little garlic. Instead of fat-based mayonnaise, however, he recommends using oil. Oil-based potato salads, unlike mayonnaise-based salads, will not spoil in the summer heat. The oil also allows for various flavors in the salad to absorb into the potatoes.
It seems like it would be hard to improve on this butter-dripping classic, but there’s a way. “I love spicy corn,” said Irvine. “I don’t love this bland, buttery taste.” Take garlic, Sriracha (a Thai hot sauce), red onion, diced pickle and make a batter using these. Roast the corn in the husk, remove it, add the batter and enjoy.

Apple Pie
Delicous slice of apple pie with whipped cream on top, and sprinkled sugar
“Bye, bye, Miss American Pie,” Don McClean sang in his ode to 50s and 60s music and culture. Chef Irvine says you shouldn’t bid goodbye just yet. He recommends trying the classic apple pie as a streusel, with a filo dough or puff pastry crust. Cut the apples up, and saute them, adding cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar to the pan. Then add the streusel mix, made with granola, flower and butter. Add in a little more sugar to bind. Serve with caramel sauce and French vanilla ice cream.

Cranberry Sweet Iced Tea 
or Lemonade
Red lemonade with ice inside a pitchet on a picnic table

Nothing is better on a hot day than an ice cold glass of lemonade, right? However, Chef Irvine offers a worthy rival in a Cranberry Sweet Iced Tea. Make a simple syrup of 1 part sugar to 1 part water, adding a little vanilla and fresh ginger. Bring it to a boil, allowing the vanilla and ginger to steep, then pour it into a traditional iced tea or classic lemonade if you so wish, along with a little bit of cranberry juice. Refrigerate until cool, then strain it and enjoy. “If you want to add mint at the end, great,” Irvine added. “If not, the ginger gives it a real pop.”

For something that completely breaks tradition, but would still go great at a cookout, here’s a great recipe we call:

Chef Irvine’s Flank Steak with Watermelon Salad

Shopping List
1 - 2 lb - Flank Steak
1/4 cup- Dark balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup- Grapeseed oil
1 tsp-     Rosemary (minced)
1 tsp-     Garlic puree
1 tsp-     Salt and pepper blend (60/40% mixture)
Juice-    1 lemon

Shopping List For Fruit Salad
1 tsp-      Sambal chili paste
1 tbsp-    Honey
1/4 cup-  Champagne vinegar
1/2 tsp-   Kosher salt
1 tsp-      Granulated sugar
1 cup-     Fresh seedless watermelon,  small dice or cube
1/4 cup-  Grapes (halved) or strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 tbsp-    Grapeseed oil
4 fresh    Mint leaves- thin sliced or chiffonade


Flank Steak
In a bowl, start marinade for flank steak by blending vinegar, oil, rosemary,
garlic, lemon juice and seasoning, whisk together well. Place steak in 8 in x 12 in
casserole pan and generously coat with marinade, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour. For cooking, pre-heat grill or char-grill to high, and remove steak from marinade, straining excess. Removal of excess marinade will prevent flaming, or
charring of steak during cooking. Place steak on grill, cooking over high heat,
8-9 minutes per side. Remove from grill, and allow steak to rest before slicing.
Slice steak on bias, top to bottom, against the grain, 1/4 inch thick. Place
sliced steak with salad  and serve.

Watermelon Salad
For blender vinaigrette, add chili paste, champagne vinegar, salt, honey,
and sugar until well mixed, 1 minute. Next , slowly emulsify with grapeseed oil (be
sure not add oil too quickly, as this will cause dressing to break-down). Season to taste. Remove dressing from blender and pour through a strainer to extract chili flakes from sambol. To assemble the salad, add fruit to vinaigrette, tossing well.  (Serves 6)

For more recipes from Chef Robert Irvine, visit his page on at

Also check out Subway’s breakfast sandwiches. Just prior to speaking with Chef Irvine, he had completed the Subway Better Breakfast Battles, an Iron Chef-type competition using Subway’s famous ingredients to enhance the flavor of a flatbread egg sandwich. “It was an absolute blast,” Irvine commented on it. “And the sandwiches were absolutely delicious.” / Issue 146 - September 2018
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