A guide to the perfect Fourth of July cookout


Ruta Smith

Make the most of the holiday in your own backyard

July 1. You wake up in a panic, realizing that you haven't even thought about what you'll serve at the Fourth of July cookout you're hosting in three days. Sure, your gathering will be more intimate this year due to COVID-19, but with drinks and apps and the grill, there's still a lot to manage.

To help you host a memorable party and have time to enjoy the festivities, we've enlisted the help of local chefs and restaurateurs. These tips will ensure your Fourth of July cookout is a home run.

THE DRINKS

Megan Deschaine
Bar Manager at Doar Bros.

Drinks for a crowd can be intimidating, but they don't have to be! Just batch that baby up so you can spend your time cracking jokes instead of shaking drinks. In this case, bigger is usually better, and I usually serve a large-format cocktail from one big drink dispenser. However, in an effort to reduce shared surfaces in the age of COVID, another alternative would be to portion the cocktails individually in mason jars and just allow your guests to serve themselves from the cooler. Mason Jars: They're cheap, useful and oh-so Instagrammable!

But what do you serve? This Independence Day, my guests will likely be drinking spiked lemonades loaded with fresh herbs from the garden. When batching your cocktail, find the proportion that you enjoy most and multiply that by twice the number of guests, but don't forget to factor dilution. Making a large cocktail is a lot like making a soup: A little of this, a pinch of that. Just keep tasting and adjusting the balance as needed.

If experimentation is not your game, a delicious formula to follow is 1 part spirit (in this case, I recommend gin, like locally made Hat Trick), plus 1 part sour (lemon juice), 1 part sweet (simple syrup, agave, honey) and 2 parts water. Load each mason jar with 8-10 herb sprigs (rosemary, thyme, lavender, basil, mint, oregano), and top with the balanced cocktail. They should be made several hours in advance to allow the herbs to macerate and infuse. Cheers!

THE FOOD

Nigel Drayton
Owner of Nigel's Good Food

We like to make a theme for the food that we serve. For the grill, I would do pork, beef and chicken. Pork would be ribs and with beef, I would choose a prime rib or a ribeye. With chicken I usually do the leg quarters because of the fat content. We try to cook based on what takes the longest to cook to the shortest. Ribs first, then chicken and then the prime rib or the ribeyes would be last with the higher heat.

When we do a barbecue, we think of sides that go with the meats. Coleslaw, potato salad and mac and cheese. We like to do a variety of sauces, maybe a red and a mustard sauce. And making some meats that don't have any sauce at all. The day before, I would make any cold salads, and then the hot foods I would get up early the day of to start.

John Lewis
Owner of Lewis Barbecue

My best advice for grilling is to start with a high quality product. Invest in premium meat and you won't have to do much besides cook it properly to make it taste good. Buddy up to your local butcher or go to Costco or Sam's Club and splurge on the premium cuts. It makes a huge difference. I also recommend grilling over indirect heat. I know it takes longer, but it allows the meat to really soak up the smoke and tenderizes the product. Give yourself ample time and get the good stuff and your guests will be blown away by the flavor.

Brooke Warden
Owner of Pink Cactus

Mexican street corn salad is a fantastic summer dish especially for the Fourth of July.

It's easy to make and to share as a family style dish for large groups. It can be done on a grill or a grill pan.

Ingredients: Combine corn on the cob with lime juice, crumbled cotija cheese, sliced serrano peppers, radishes and other garnishes.

Tajin seasoning to taste is an added bonus. It's found in most Hispanic sections of the grocery store. It's basically a dried chili powder with citric acid so judicially use until desired flavor is achieved based on spice tolerance.

Shamil Velazquez
Executive Chef of Delaney Oyster House

Summer is here and so is the abundance of great seafood and produce in the Lowcountry and a raw bar is a delicious, elegant and interactive way to showcase it. A raw bar at home can include oysters or clams on the half shell, chilled crab legs, ceviche and peel-and-eat shrimp.

In its most simple form, a raw bar should be fresh and bright. To begin you will need some large platters or bowls made out of glass, ceramic or stainless steel because they can hold a chilled temperature longer. Keep in mind that they will be holding ice, so higher sides is a plus.

Crushed ice is the way to go. If your fridge has a crushed ice setting, try that or it can be as simple as buying ice at the store and crushing with a metal spoon in a bag. Another option is to blitz ice in a food processor. If you have to crush your ice, I would wait until close to serving time so that the ice does not refreeze back together.

For an at-home raw bar, I always have two or three different shellfish and usually one ceviche or crudo. Personally, I enjoy using produce that is in season as condiments for the raw bar.

The key for a great-tasting raw bar is to make sure you are sourcing the best ingredients possible and letting them speak for themselves. Seafood is simple and does not need much help to make it shine. Added acidity from citrus juice is a good option for seafood as it brings out the natural sweetness and allows for a great balance of flavor.

The great thing about making a raw bar at home is that you can prepare everything in advance, with the exception of oysters and clams. Once your guests begin to arrive, teach them how to shuck their own oysters. It is not hard, it just takes some practice. This is a great interactive and delicious way to put a spin on your next summer event. Enjoy the hot weather with some great drinks, great local chilled seafood and great company.

THE LOOK

Courtney Zentner
Owner of Carroll + Ashe

Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. We're normally at my family's lake house in New York, but this year we'll be hunkering down in our backyard for the weekend. We've always loved small gatherings that we can layer in some fun food concepts and design moments, so we'll be having friends over for an outdoor dinner, lawn games and lots of cold drinks.

This year we're putting a twist on the classic Fourth of July barbecue menu and setting up a grilled pizza station. We like to lay out 12-inch square wooden boards for each guest and a number of toppings. With the grill or fire pit going, it's a really interactive meal. We will pair with some individually jarred side dishes and berry whoopie pies for a really festive day.

For any outdoor gathering, our goal is to keep the table comfortable, the guests cool and the place settings creative. Incorporate a folded fan, an individual bug spray bottle and red, white or blue bandana into each place setting. (Tip: Bandanas double as a napkin or a mask!)

We're planning on building a fun bar with an inflatable raft filled with frozen water balloons to keep our drinks cold and surely provide some afternoon fun when the ice has melted. If you have kids, you most likely will already have everything you need. FYI – A red Radio Flyer wagon is another perfect option, and completely on theme!

Katie Elmore
Owner of The French Eclectic

We love repurposing household items for festive DIY decor and incorporating fresh natural elements found growing in our backyards. Here are a few budget-friendly and sustainable decorating ideas that even the kiddos can help with:

• Tie-dye an old white bed sheet in festive red, white and blue hues and use it as a tablecloth to dress up your patio or food station tables! For supplies, swing by a thrift store to snag a white sheet for $2 and stop by your local craft store to pick up some red and blue Rit Fabric Dye.

• Make a hanging fabric garland from an old pair of blue jeans and red bandana! Grab a rope, cut approximately 2-by-20 strips of fabric from your jeans and bandana, tie them down with the rope in alternating colors and voila!

• Collect fresh-cut blooms or greenery for your yard and assemble them in a vase as a centerpiece. There's an abundance of lush greenery and flowers in bloom all around us right now. Don't have any blooms to snip in your backyard? Just go for a walk around the neighborhood — you're bound to find some beautiful wildflowers growing along the street.

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