According to the National Retail Federation, over 160 million people (more than 60 times the total amount of United States citizens on July 4th, 1776!) plan to celebrate Independence Day with a picnic or cookout this year. If you’ve decided to toss on your hosting hat for this year’s celebrations, you want to make sure you’re throwing the best patriotic party possible – and we’re here to help with some tips on throwing the perfect 4th of July cookout.
Create an Entertaining Space
Depending on your space, you may need to shift your outdoor set-up to make sure your invitees are cool and comfortable all day long. It’s going to be hard for guests to enjoy your cookout if they’re stuck balancing a plate on one hand while trying to bee-line food into their mouth as quickly as possible with the other before the scales tip and they end up with a river of baked beans down their front. Don’t leave your friends hanging on table space – make sure there’s plenty of room for everyone to eat comfortably (and cleanly).
Seating is one of the most crucial elements to a successful party, so make sure you have plenty available and arrange it so guests can eat and socialize comfortably. Line a large table with chairs for a wide-open dining set-up, or create more intimate spaces with a few seats circled around smaller surfaces. Outdoor umbrellas will be everyone’s best friend during the high afternoon heat. Spending a summer day outdoors makes for a great celebration, but it does have a couple of downsides – help party-goers stay protected by having some extra insect repellent and sunscreen on hand.
A fireworks display may be the piéce de résistance of your cookout, but you don’t want to wait until dark to get the party started, so plan for some entertainment throughout the day. Set up outdoor Bluetooth speakers to keep music flowing, and consider creating an entertainment focal point for the day. Binge on some of your favorite patriotic films by setting up an outdoor screening area, convert the dining area to a gaming table after your meal, or set up lawn games for those active pre-dusk hours.
Make Sure Your Menu Has Variety
When you’re looking to throw the perfect party, the last faux pas you want to commit is leaving guests in the lurch due to a lack of lunch options. You don’t need to travel the Tristate area looking for mystical ingredients that seem to exist only on the internet – but you should consider your guests tastes and dietary preferences. You’ve probably already got big plans for brats and burgers, so consider evening out your menu with vegetarian-friendly options like black bean burgers and sides that everyone will be thrilled to indulge in, like grilled baked potatoes and impeccably seasoned corn on the cob. Fill out your toppings station with plenty of options, too – compliment those old reliable staples like ketchup and mustard with stand-out choices like grilled pineapple slices and artisan pickled vegetables. If you’re planning to do a little bar tending, give your guests a shot of freedom by mixing up some holiday cocktails alongside those brewskies.
The good old American cookout has become almost as quintessentially 4th of July as fireworks and flags, so don’t hesitate to think outside the box and keep that grill going past the main course. For a fresh summer dessert, sprinkle your favorite fruits with sugar, wrap them in foil with a pat of butter, and toss them on the grill – after a few minutes, peel open the foil and enjoy the simply sweet mix (pro tip: drizzle the fruit over a scoop of ice cream right after you take it off the grill). For something even simpler, cook up an American favorite in a new way by making s’mores on the grill.
Practice Firework Safety
If you’re planning to set off some sparks during your barbecue, follow a few simple guidelines to keep the night safe and enjoyable for everyone. Before you go shopping for your haul, read up on local laws to find out what types of fireworks are permitted and where you can set them off – a nasty citation (or arrest) can really take the wind out of your ‘hardworking host’ sails fast. Find an open outdoor area to stage the show, wear safety glasses while lighting fireworks, and keep a connected hose nearby to handle any errant flames. Remember that, while the loud flash-bang of fireworks may fill your guests’ hearts with patriotic joy, your pets will mostly just be confused and terrified by giant demon flames exploding down from above – so do them a favor and keep them away from the sights and sounds. Don’t forget to soak used fireworks before disposing of them in a metal trash can outdoors. Oh, and we know you’re probably going to toss back a few during the festivities, so keep it safe and wait until after the fireworks show to crack open a cold one.