This July 4th, people across the country will once again fire up their grills and get ready for a day full of sun, barbecues and fireworks. And whether you’re heading to someone else’s home to celebrate, or playing host duties yourself, there are a few things to consider to help make sure your barbecue is a star-spangled success.
To get the do’s and don’ts of barbecue etiquette 101, we enlisted the help of Carla Lalli Music, food director at Bon Appétit and the author of Where Cooking Begins: Uncomplicated Recipes To Make You A Great Cook.
Advice for guests
If you’re attending someone else’s barbecue, try not to pester the grill master by being a “hoverer,” says Music.
So who falls into that category?
“People who want to jump on the grill before they’ve been invited to. People who think they’re helping out by bringing a side of beef that they figure you have room on the grill to just add that into your menu, any kind of, you know, presumptuous guests,” she says.
While hovering is best avoided, Music says there is plenty you can do to help out your Fourth of July host. For starters, think about items they’ll likely to need lots of.
“I think bags of ice are always a thing that you forget about and you need more than you think,” she says.
She also recommends bringing extra bags of charcoal and non-alcoholic beverages.
“You’ve got to stay hydrated if you’re going to be out there sweating in the sun all day — cans of seltzer, things like that,” Music says.
When it comes to food, Music recommends that if you’re on a specific diet, you should consider bringing a dish that satisfies what you need instead of asking the host to provide it for you.
Tips for hosts
If you’re the host of the barbecue, Music has some tips for what to cook and how.
First, try marinating your meat after you cook it instead of before.
“By marinating after, all of the flavors of the marinade actually end up in the finished dish instead of getting sort of grilled into oblivion or poured down the drain when you’re done marinating beforehand,” Music says.
This is also a great hostess strategy, she says, because if you grill the food ahead of time, it will be ready and can sit in the marinade and get better.
When it comes to grilling up vegetarian options, not everyone is OK with putting vegetables on top of where meat has just been cooking. If this is the case, Music says preparing a grilled salad beforehand is a good solution.
“On Bon Appetit, we have a recipe for grilled lettuces with creme fraiche and avocado,” she says. “We have a grilled cobb [salad], where some of the elements of the salad get grilled and then tossed together with the other stuff. There is a grilled bread salad, which is kind of like a riff on a panzanella, a bread salad where you combine it with some grilled vegetables.”
And if you’re trying to decide whether charcoal or gas is better for grilling, Music says not to stress it — they’re both great options.
“I love cooking over live fire,” she says. “But if what you have is a gas grill and it gets you outside, enjoying cooking outside and making something that you love, then lean into your gas grill. It’s all good.”
NPR’s Leena Sanzgiri and Tinbete Ermyas produced and edited this story for broadcast. Wynne Davis adapted it for Web.