Labor Day Best Burgers & Ribs

I call Labor Day the “hand to mouth holiday”— the best foods go directly from hand to mouth, no utensils required. The all-American sandwich has a rightful place, but juicy burgers and messy ribs top my list of Labor Day faves. And while Miss Manners would not approve, I just can’t help but lick my fingers when the food’s so good.

Traditional Labor Day foods though are subtly changing. Some folks will forever remain beef burger purists, but alternatives such as turkey burgers, salmon burgers, veggie burgers, and lamb burgers are rapidly on the rise. Likewise, the sesame seed bun competes with whole wheat, sourdough, herb dough, focaccia, and English muffins.

Today, the old-fashioned hamburger now has a passport to Asia, Latin America, India and the Caribbean, thanks to the expanding world of specialty condiments and foreign spices.

Try the recipes below for Jamaican and Middle Eastern flavored burgers, and follow my tips for making exotic, ethnic burgers. For instance, for an Indian twist, spread a bit of Major Grey chutney on a curry burger, and add cucumbers and minced mint instead of lettuce.

Ribs also take on international airs, with dry rubs, marinades and sauces hailing from all corners of the globe. Pork ribs absolutely glow with honey-mustard and complex, fruity sauces of pomegranate, tamarind, and pineapple.

Beef ribs command bold, hearty sauces rich in dried chiles, tomato and vinegar, but they also shine with zesty Asian spices like ginger, coriander, and Chinese five-spice. You can make sauces from scratch, as in the recipes for Moroccan Glaze and Thai Baby Back Ribs.

Or, for a time-saving step, jazz up your favorite barbecue sauce or burger mixture with exotic flavorings like the ones below.

Exotic Barbecue Sauce or Burger Additions

Whether we’re speaking of the weather or of pepper and spice, just remember: some like it hot—and some don’t. Use peppers and chiles judiciously— you want a zesty taste but not one that overpowers other flavors. For a wide world of flavors, select a few of each ingredient in these global combinations:

  • Chinese: garlic, ginger, Szechuan peppercorns, soy sauce, sesame oil, bean paste, hoisin sauce.
  • Southeast Asian: lime juice, tamarind, coconut milk, green chiles, fish sauce.
  • Jamaican: allspice, mango, Scotch Bonnet or habanero chiles.
  • Middle Eastern/North African: lemon juice, cinnamon, cumin, dried fruit.
  • Mexican: garlic, dried or fresh red or green chiles, lime juice.
  • Italian: sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, oregano, basil, Parmesan cheese.

For more hand-to-mouth grilling recipes and the salads, drinks and desserts to accompany them on your Labor Day outing, visit the special feature Summer Grilling Recipes.

Don’t forget the wet-naps…

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