Hamburgers, fire, whiskey and the pursuit of happiness

BBQ and smoker

On July 25th 1898, American Military forces landed in the municipality of Guanica on the southern coast of Puerto Rico. The occupation of the Island was part of the Spanish-American War. Since then, Puerto Rico has been a US Territory.

As a result of this occupation, in 1917 the American Citizenship was extended to all Puerto Ricans by the Jones Act, and since then Puerto Ricans have fought in all US wars, have moved around the nation and have contributed and influenced the American way of life, from food to politics. At the same time, Americans have moved to the Island and US culture and food and politics have influenced the Puerto Rican way of life.

The 4th of July is one of those American Holidays observed and celebrated on the Island, although a little bit different from the Main Land. Most Puerto Ricans visit the beaches or go out to eat. I grill!

It has been so long since I have been wanting a BBQ grill but in the middle of work and new projects, I didn’t get a chance of getting one. This past week, it all changed. On Independence Day’s Eve, we got a charcoal BBQ grill and smoker, just in time for the 4th of July!

Sofia and the grill
Sofia proudly standing in front of the grill that she put together. Yeah, I just helped, she did it all!

Sofia helped me put it together, “like legos”, she said. We spent around two hours putting it together after Mariela went and picked it up at The Home Depot!

For the summer celebration, I had chicken, burgers, sausages and pork loin ready.

I seasoned the chicken legs with New Orleans Tony Chachere’s and Chef Paul’s Creole seasoning when on the grill I brushed them with Jack Daniel’s BBQ Sauce.

BBQ Chicken
Chicken on the grill!

The origin of the hamburger is uncertain, some say it comes from Germany and others say it originated in the US, some believe it was in Connecticut or even in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That claim that it comes from Tulsa, also states that the first-ever hamburger was served on July 4th, 1891. You imagine that, that the hamburger was born on the very same day of America’s independence!? No wonder we eat hamburgers in the summer and it is the main attraction on the 4th! All these claims of inventions date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s.

And as much as barbecue has been Americanized, the origins are Caribbean. As early as the 1400s when the Spaniards arrived in what is now known as Puerto Rico and the rest of the Antilles, the natives, known as Tainos were roasting meat over fires made with sticks. That was known as barbacoa, the word itself made it to other languages and till to this day remain pretty much the same way. The method of cooking is also the same, with variations of seasonings and meats. Memphis, Carolina, Kansas City, and Texas are very well known of styles of barbecue in the United States, but Puerto Rican barbecue is very popular with great Caribbean influences as well.

Burgers, sausages, buns and the Jom ‘N Nick’s cheddar cheese muffins!

To start my new toy I used good old charcoal and splashed some American whiskey over it to use it as fuel. In the smoker, the same practice was employed but I also added applewood to stand up to the pork and hickory chips for an earthy zest flavor.

The sausage just went straight on the grill while the beer was getting cold!

I seasoned the pork loin heavily with paprika, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and McCormick’s Grill Mate Roasted Garlic & Herb, and set it on the smoker for about two hours.

Mariela made her famous coleslaw with red cabbage, sweet and tangy, very fresh and refreshing!

And from my trip to see Josue, my son in Alabama, I brought a muffin mix, courtesy of his mother, that tits served in Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q. Sofia mixed it all up, and I put them in the BBQ at 400 degrees.

My son the Rock Star, Josue, AKA Goldi

Pink and red kidney beans went in a pot with ketchup, Jack Daniels, honey, paprika, garlic, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg, in an extensive constant simmer until all of it was reduced and turned into homemade BBQ beans!

Jack is one of my favorite whiskeys, so there are always a few bottles around the house. Relatively recent, the story of a slave being Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller was news. Nathan Nearest Green was a slave, emancipated after the Civil War and was hired by Jasper Newton Daniel (Jack Daniel) for the job. It is written that Nathan taught Jack about the distillation process. 

Jack Daniels was the youngest of ten children. After his mother died, his father remarried. Jack ran away from home after his dad also died because he did not get along with his stepmother.

America celebrates its independence with hot dogs, burgers, steaks, fire, grill, barbecue on the fourth of July, but Congress had voted to secede two days earlier. The declaration was made officially on the 4th. Some historians believe the Declaration of Independence was actually signed on August 2. 

Probably the date, when it was signed or not, is not as important as the content of the Declaration itself:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Merica celebration!
Two kids missing here, Jay is in New York, Goldi is in Alabama! Photo stolen from Mariela’s Instagram (I told her after the fact)

Puerto Rico is known for its very hot summers and tropical weather, perfect for grilling over a fire, as it is the origins of Barbacoa, and with celebrations like these and many others, we plan to use our new grill a lot more often so we can cook outside and keep the house cool. So expect more stories from the grill accompanied by great delicious recipes to celebrate July, National Grilling Month!

More pictures on Instagram

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