The beery, cheery assemblage of friends and family that typifies the traditional Fourth of July grillside hang is usually loose and easygoing. There may be burgers and potato salad. There may be a game of catch. There will certainly be fireworks. However, that giddy, sparkler-lit spirit of freedom can evaporate like a puddle in the Mojave if either host or guests make a key error of judgment. Read on, as we chronicle seven ways to mar, taint, demolish and otherwise ruin a Fourth of July barbecue.
7. The grill is too cool:
You are not actually barbecuing at the Fourth of July barbecue. You are grilling. If the grill feels like a space heater when you press your face against it, the grill is not going to cook anything save perhaps a leaf of lettuce. (Editor's note: Grilling your Caesar salad, at least the romaine and the bread, will vastly improve it.) A preparation that should turn out charred, juicy, and bouncy to the touch, your shrimp skewers will merely dehydrate into a pallid, shrimp-shaped leather.
6. The grill is too hot:
Your first goal at the Fourth of July barbecue is not to make any of your guests (or even worse, your host) spend the Fifth of July vomiting. If you get too macho with the fire and drop a few drumsticks before the coals have settled to the desired white-hot temperature (in other words, no billowing flames), you will end up with blackened skin surrounding chicken flesh the color of Uncle Sam's tie.
5. The overly patriotic guest:
In theory, a patriot belongs at the Fourth of July barbecue, but be careful you don't invite the proselytizing type. We're all for keeping a small part of our brain unclouded by Budweiser and halfway cognizant of the whole we're-not-part-of-England-or-any-other-place-anymore-thing, but you really don't want to hear constant reminders about how great it is that you are very blessed to have the freedom to cook whatever the hell you want to and eat whatever the hell you want to and shoot off whatever the hell you want to and that you should never, ever forget it.
4. The fireworks enthusiast:
He didn't come for the food, let's just put it that way. Or the beer. He drove five hours across state lines to get some so-called "real" fireworks. He showed up with a brimming trunk. Red-faced and hooting disconcertingly, he strapped a pack of brats to a M-80, pointed it at the neighbor's house and lit the damn thing. We know this happens because it once happened to us. Don't invite this person if you know him.
3. The vitriolic vegan:
Don't invite the vegan (or vegetarian) who arrives at a packed shindig with a tiny package of tempeh and immediately rushes over to the grill to harangue the chef for not leaving a small portion of grate estate free for only vegetables and soy products. It's a barbecue. Things get messy. Bring your own grill if you care that much.
2. The churlish carnivore:
Don't invite the meat eater who rudely commandeers the entirety of the grill and taunts the vegetarians present. "Enjoy your rabbit food." "Tofu is un-American." "Does that taste like anything?" Much of the time, it doesn't, but be nice regardless.
1. There is no grill:
You'd think actually having a grill would be a no-brainer, but sadly we've found ourselves stuck in this very situation: organizing an impromptu picnic gathering and trying to find an unclaimed one -- whether a friend's Weber or one of those grungy concrete park contraptions. Don't let this happen to you. It's demoralizing to host a barbecue and eat only coleslaw and chips or spend the whole afternoon cooking burgers indoors on a skillet.
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