Fourth of July in Canberra: Smoque chef's hot tips

Natasha Rudra
Southern fried chicken and watermelon.
Southern fried chicken and watermelon. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

There's something a little different about celebrating the Fourth of July in Australia and it takes an Englishman to point it out. Grant Kells says it's the weather. "When I first came over here, having Christmas in summer was so weird and so obviously for Americans having Fourth of July in winter is, well, weird."

So the bad news is the Fourth of July barbecue isn't all cold beers, hanging by the pool and fireworks. The good news is that barbecue is still very much on the menu - it's quite good weather for hearty, warming ribs and pulled pork.

For Kells, the British-born owner of American barbecue joint Smoque, the Fourth of July is the chance to put on a lot of special dishes. "We do a southern fried chicken with biscuits and gravy, we’re doing a classic turkey and cranberry, we’ve got an appetiser selection, jalapeno poppers, chicken skins," he tells us. It's an extensive list. Plus they do all the American pies, without which celebrations would not be the same. "We do the big pies, apple, blueberry, cherry, key lime."

But what if you want to do an American-themed party at home? Kell suggests home cooks do a tray of barbecue ribs for their Fourth of July celebrations and mixing up a spice rub is mandatory. "That always has some heat, so mix some paprika, some cayenne, some herb of choice, maybe some curry powder or oregano," he says. And then add some sweetness, perhaps a spoon of brown sugar or honey.

Then prepare the ribs. "Trim most of the excess fat off and put them on a baking tray, cover them in foil, little bit of water in the baking tray - in the oven at 180C for 2-3 hours until they almost fall off the bone," he says. "You can do that the day before, you can do that two days before. When your friends come over, crank up the barbecue, get some barbeque sauce, Smoque does a home made one, get the ribs out of the oven." And then finish them off by grilling on a low barbecue until they're heated all the way through and are just a little charred.

Grant Kells shares fourth of July tips.
Grant Kells shares fourth of July tips. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

The drinks are a big part of it, too. Kells recommends a pitcher of lemonade for kids ("and the parents can then whack a bit of vodka in it"), and home-made iced tea, root beer floats, and cans of Dr Pepper. At Smoque, Kells makes a grown up, smoky iced tea with Russian caravan tea flavoured with anise and other spices and shot through with alcohol. 

Kells will spend all day at the restaurant but when it comes to a private Fourth of July celebration he's pretty low key. "I just have friends over on Sunday, now I love to get seafood and I love to grill up a beautiful piece of barramundi and a piece of lemon."

Southern-style fried chicken, biscuits and gravy



1kg chicken thighs (no skin 2cm dice)

3 eggs

1/3 cup water

Southern fried chicken and watermelon at Smoque.
Southern fried chicken and watermelon at Smoque. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

1 cup hot sauce

2 cup plain flour

2 tbsp baking powder

1 tsp ground black pepper


Beat the eggs with water and hot sauce. Add chicken thighs and marinate for 2 hours. Mix the flour, baking powder and pepper in a bowl. Drain the chicken pieces and toss them in the flour mixture, shake off excess flour and fry at 180C for 3-4 minutes until crisp. Season generously with salt. To serve, place the biscuits on the plate, fried chicken on top and pour gravy generously over everything. Add a slice of fresh watermelon for a traditional finish.


5 cups flour 

1 tbsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

¼ cup sugar

2 tsp salt

1 cup butter

2 cups buttermilk

7g dry yeast dissolved in ¼ cup very warm water

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt into a large bowl. Cut in the butter until it is the texture of coarse meal. Add the buttermilk and yeast mixture and whisk until the mixture forms a soft dough. Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead lightly with floured hands for about a minute. With a floured rolling pin, roll the dough out until 1cm thick. Then, using a well-floured 6-7cm scone cutter, cut into rounds place on baking paper. Gather scraps, reroll, and cut as before. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until the biscuits are puffed and golden brown on top


4 tbsp butter

1/3 cup plain flour

2 cups milk

½ teaspoon salt

pinch black pepper

Melt butter in pan and add flour, cook over low heat for 4-5 minutes. Whisk in milk, salt and pepper and cook out for 5 minutes or until thick and smooth.