I had my first food epiphany when I was 11, at about the same time other boys were discovering girls. My best friend's father drove his son and me from our small town in Louisiana to Fort Worth, Texas, to spend a couple of days exploring the remnants of cowboy culture. He fed us a steak as big as we were, cooked over a roaring fire right there in the restaurant, and I swore for most of my life it was the best piece of meat I'd ever eaten.
I've spent years trying to relive that moment. As co-owner of a barbecue restaurant in Connecticut, where I now live, I've become passably knowledgeable about cooking primal hunks of meat over wood fires. So when I got the chance to go back to Fort Worth to check out a wood-fired July Fourth feast from chef Tim Love, I went. I figured I'd have to like any chef who offers up a "salad" recipe that calls for four-and-a-half pounds of steak with six ounces of greens.
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Love's July Fourth parties always feature cooking over open fires, the way cowboys cooked. There are always big steaks. There are always Southwestern touches, like yucca chips spiced with chile powder and cumin. And there is always plenty of food: smoky chicken with garlic and scallions, several fresh-vegetable dishes, beans, potatoes and desserts like peach shortcake with vanilla whipped cream. I tease Love that he is contributing to American obesity with meals of this size, and he says, "It's the Fourth of July, and in Texas, we have to do it big."