Today Show Hosts Share Their Favorite Fourth of July Cookout Recipes

07/01/2014 at 01:24 PM ET
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Frederic Lagrange. Inset: Matt Baron/Beimages
7 PARTY-PERFECT DISHES

Looking for a great recipe to round out your Fourth of July menu? Well, how about seven?

This year, we turned to hosts of the Today show to add some serious flavor to our holiday cookout. Nine of the weekday anchors — Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, Natalie Morales, Al Roker, Kathie Lee Gifford, Hoda Kotb, Willie Geist, Tamron Hall and Carson Daly — were happy to share their personal recipes. And because we all love a little healthy competition, PEOPLE’s very own Jess Cagle and special guest Padma Lakshimi tasted and chose a winning recipe live on the Today show.

Even though there could only be one winner (Congrats, Matt and Savannah!), each of these recipes is a fantastic addition to your July 4th feast.

To read the full story with the Today show anchors, pick up the July 7th issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.

Frederic Lagrange. Inset: Taylor Hill/Filmmagic
NATALIE MORALES'S SWEET-POTATO SALAD & AL ROKER'S BEER-CAN CHICKEN

Natalie and Al are the two chefs of the Today Show crew, and both of these are their original recipes. “I experiment a lot and love to cook,” Natalie says. “I love sweet potatoes at barbecues, but they aren’t the healthiest. So I added edamame and a vinaigrette dressing with fresh herbs to make it healthier.” As for Al’s Beer-Can Chicken, in addition to the beer, the flavor comes from the rub. Al uses a homemade version from his book Al Roker’s Big Bad Book of Barbecue that has a lot of paprika and cumin. But the best part is how easy it is. “If you can put a chicken in the oven, you can do it on your barbecue grill. It’s very simple,” he says.

SWEET-POTATO SALAD
Makes 6 servings
4 large sweet potatoes (about 2½ to 3 lbs.)
6 tbsp. olive oil, divided
½ small red onion, sliced thinly
½ cup frozen edamame, shelled and thawed
1 cup thinly sliced celery (about 3 ribs)
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp. fresh chives, minced
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into 1-in. cubes. Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat; add 1 tbsp. olive oil. Arrange half of potatoes in skillet in a single layer. Reduce heat to medium. Cook potatoes, covered, for 4 to 5 minutes or until tender and golden, stirring after 2 minutes. Transfer potatoes to a plate. Repeat process with 1 tbsp. olive oil and remaining potatoes.

2. Combine onion and next 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Add potatoes to onion mixture; set aside.

3. Whisk together lemon juice, mustard and remaining olive oil in a small bowl; drizzle over potatoes, and toss gently. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately or cover and chill up to 3 hours. Toss before serving.

BEER-CAN CHICKEN
Makes 4 servings

Prepare a charcoal fire, or preheat gas grill for indirect grilling over medium heat. Sprinkle 1 (5 to 6 lb.) rinsed and dried chicken inside and out with 2 tbsp. of your favorite dry barbecue rub. Open 1 (12-oz.) can beer and pour out half of it. Set the open can in a foil roasting pan. Slide the chicken over the top of the can, and set it on the grill. Grill, covered, until juices run clear, and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thigh reads 165°. This will take 1 ½ to 1 ¾ hours, depending on the size of the chicken. Lift chicken off beer can. Cover chicken with foil, and let rest 5 minutes before carving.

Frederic Lagrange. Inset:Robin Marchant/Getty
WILLIE GEIST'S NACHOS WITH BACON, CHEESE & AVOCADO

While Willie describes nachos as the perfect party food because they are quick and uncomplicated, he notes that they are often made incorrectly. “If the chips are piled up and then everything is dumped on top, you get some that are good and hearty, but the ones on the bottom are wet and greasy. Using scooped chips eliminates this.” he says.

NACHOS WITH BACON, CHEESE & AVOCADO
Makes 24 nachos

8 oz. sliced bacon, cooked crisp
1 avocado
6 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, or cheddar/pepper jack combination, shredded
24 tortilla chips
1 (8-oz.) container sour cream
1 small can sliced jalapeños or 1 jar pickled spicy okra

1. Crumble bacon and place in a medium bowl. Dice avocado into ¼-in. pieces and add to bacon. Add cheese and toss gently to blend. Place chips on a foil-lined baking sheet and top each with the cheese mixture, mounding slightly.

2. Right before serving, preheat oven to 375°. Place chips in oven until cheese is melted, 10 to 15 minutes. Top each with a small dollop of sour cream and a slice of jalapeño or pickled okra.


Frederic Lagrange. Inset:Allen Berezovsky/WireImage
CARSON DALY'S MAC-AND-CHEESE CASSEROLE

Who doesn’t love mac-and-cheese? This recipe actually comes from Carson’s fiancée, Siri Pinter who has her own food blog, Siriously Delicious. “Siri came up with this recipe using pantry staples,” he says. “It’s pretty foolproof which is just the way I like to cook. Add any sort of vegetable or protein you have on hand, and you can’t mess it up.”

MAC-AND-CHEESE CASSEROLE
Makes 4 servings
Preheat oven to 425°. Prepare 1 (9.3-oz.) box rotini with white cheddar cheese sauce according to package directions, stirring ¾ cup chopped broccoli florets into cooking water during final 3 minutes of cooking. Drain pasta mixture; return to saucepan. Stir ¾ cup thawed frozen green peas into pasta mixture. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 8-in. square baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with ¾ cup shredded cheddar cheese and 3 tbsp. dry bread crumbs. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until crisp and golden.

Frédéric Lagrange. Inset:Ilya S. Savenok/Getty
KATHIE LEE GIFFORD & HODA KOTB'S CHARDONNAY SANGRIA

It should come as no surprise that Kathie Lee and Hoda’s contribution comes in liquid form. Thankfully, sangria can be a kind of anything goes addition to your cookout. “I like white sangria with my chardonnay from Gifft Wines and lots of apples, berries and oranges,” Kathie Lee says. “It just reminds you, once you have your first sip of sangria, it’s officially summer,” Hoda adds.

CHARDONNAY SANGRIA
Makes 8 to 10 servings

Cut 2 firm, ripe peaches, seeded, or 8 oz. frozen peach wedges, 2 pitted plums and 2 cored Granny Smith apples into ½-in. cubes. Slice 1 orange into ¼-in.-thick wedges. Combine fruit in a 1-gal. pitcher. Stir in 4 cups white grape juice, 1 (750-ml) bottle chardonnay and 1 cup orange liqueur. Cover and chill at least 4 hours or overnight. Add sangria and fruit to each glass. Top with a splash of club soda and serve over ice, if desired.


Frederic Lagrange. Inset: Matt Baron/Beimages
MATT LAUER & SAVANNAH GUTHRIE'S SHORTCAKE SUNDAE IN A JAR

For Savannah, “Fourth of July is all about getting to the dessert,” she says. The pair chose this recipe because it’s not only patriotic, but also portable in case you’re celebrating with friends or having a picnic. “Instead of bringing everything in separate containers, we make the parfaits right in the jars, then you can just chill them and bring them to the picnic,” Matt says.

RED, WHITE & BLUE SHORTCAKE SUNDAE IN A JAR
Makes 6 servings

6 (12-oz.) mason jars
1 (16-oz.) carton fresh strawberries, stemmed and hulled
½ cup sugar
1 (16-oz.) fresh or frozen pound cake loaf, thawed*
1 (8-oz.) carton fresh blueberries
3 (16-oz.) containers vanilla ice cream or vanilla frozen yogurt
1 (8-oz.) container frozen whipped topping, thawed

1. Place mason jars in freezer until ready to assemble sundaes. Slice strawberries into 1/8-in.-thick slices. Toss strawberries with sugar in a medium bowl; cover and chill 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

2. Cut pound cake into ¾-in. cubes.

3. Toss blueberries with strawberries; set aside. Place 1 scoop ice cream into each chilled jar. Layer half of cake cubes evenly over ice cream. Top evenly with half of berries. Repeat layers; top each sundae with dollop of whipped topping. Serve immediately or chill up to 30 minutes. *May substitute 2 (6.5-oz.) packages shortcake cups.

Frédéric Lagrange.Inset: Robin Marchant/Getty
TAMRON HALL'S BANANA PUDDING

Tamron actually borrowed this recipe from her mother who is a former school teacher. “The trick is to make sure you refrigerate it for at least 8 hours. It will be tempting to eat it sooner, but don’t give in. The wait is worth it.” she says.

BANANA PUDDING
Makes 8 servings

1 box instant vanilla pudding mix
½ cup milk (whole or low-fat)
1 (14-oz.) can condensed milk
1 (12-oz.) container frozen whipped topping (regular or light)
1 (11-oz.) box vanilla wafer cookies
4 bananas, sliced into ¼-in.-thick rounds

1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together pudding mix and milk. Whisk in condensed milk, followed by whipped topping. The mixture should be creamy, not runny.

2. Place a layer of cookies in the bottom of a serving bowl. Spread ¼ of the pudding over the cookies. Lay ½ the banana slices over the pudding in a single layer. Spread another ¼ of the pudding over the bananas. Repeat. Place any remaining cookies on top. Refrigerate at least 3 hours or preferably overnight.


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Showing 2 comments

Karen on

Box if pudding…what size??

juli on

Which size box of pudding are you referring to?????
That would be most helpful to know prior to preparing this.
Thank you.

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