The humble hot dog, as illustrated by Joel Penkman, from The Taste of America

Colman Andrews' Fourth of July barbecue choices

Our Taste of America author picks his best Independence Day treats and tells the stories behind them

We're really proud of our book, The Taste of America. It's written and compiled by the James Beard Foundation award-winning journalist, editor and author, Colman Andrews, and brings together 250 exceptional products in its gastronomic portrait of a nation. There's everything form Humboldt Fog Cheese to Junior Mints, from Beef Jerky to Blue Point Oysters, from Black Walnuts to Peaches, and from Maple Syrup to Whoopie Pies.

By way of introducing its readers to the book, Andrews wrote a great piece for The Wall Street Journal, describing the foods he'd serve at the quintessential Independence Day barbecue. His choices - hot dogs, beans, barbecue sauce, and pork cracklings - aren't exotic, yet Andrews draws out both the essence of each dish, and often finds a beguiling story behind each of his recommended brands.

He writes that the ideal hotdog "pops a little when you bite into it, has recognizable pork flavor, is properly seasoned with salt and pepper (with a hint of garlic), contains no fillers and is juicy enough that a little of its flavor soaks into the bun." His chosen brand is Liehs & Steigerwald from Syracuse, N.Y.; "an old-style meat shop specializing in sausages of many kinds, it was opened in 1936 by German immigrants Curt Liehs and Ludwig Steigerwald."



More surprisingly for overseas readers, he picks out pinquito beans, "like a more refined version of pinto beans;" these are, gourmands take note, a Californian barbecue staple. Andrews describes them as "small pink beans with a tender skin but a rich, slightly firm texture even when completely cooked," which "have a faintly herbaceous flavor with an earthy overlay." Although available from a number of sources, he chooses the Californian company, Susie Q's Brand Artisanal Foods.



As for barbecue sauce, Andrews plumps for Pine Ridge Barbecue and Dipping Sauce, made by Haberdashery: "a 'retirement project' started in 1991 by Barb and Eli Dicklich in Casper, Wyo. The story is that a woman named Melissa Armstrong, living on the 28,500-acre Pine Ridge Ranch in Kaycee, about 60 miles north of Casper, ran out of the brand-name barbecue sauce her family liked when she was preparing dinner one evening, so she improvised her own - which they liked even better."

The pickles Andrews chooses are Bread and Butter Chips, which are sweeter than dill pickles, and are "also usually sliced before pickling, which can lend them a more intense flavor." Get them from Hunn's Private Stock Bread & Butter Chips, produced in Garland, Texas, says Andrews.



Lastly, he chooses Kim's Pork Cracklings from Clarksdale, Mississippi. "Though Bill Clinton is from Arkansas," writes Andrews of the ex-president, "it has been rumored that his favorite pork cracklings come from Clarksdale, Miss., where the Wong family produces some of the best. Kim Wong came to America from China's Guangdong Province in 1949, and in the 1960s moved to Clarksdale, where he and his family opened a restaurant and grocery store."



It's a mouth-watering selection, and we're only four dishes in. Buy the beautifully illustrated 288-page Taste of America here.