How to Throw a Fourth of July Barbecue

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Tables laden with food and drink. Crowds of people dressed in red, white and blue. Kids tossing baseballs. Few sights are more quintessentially American than a Fourth of July barbecue. A sunny, sultry day is fitting for a barbecue, but hot weather demands attention to food safety. At your next summertime event, serving food that's both tasty and safe should be your primary concerns.

Nail Down Logistics

  • Keep your guest list small enough that the party can easily fit inside your home in case of inclement weather. A few weeks before the holiday, send out invites via mail or email and stock up on balloons and streamers, disposable tablecloths, dishes, and utensils in shades of red, white and blue. If you don't have adequate folding and picnic tables to accommodate everyone, make arrangements to borrow or rent folding tables.

Delegate Carefully

  • To ensure that food is stored and served safely, take responsibility for foods that need to be chilled or kept hot and let guests contribute in other ways. Assign guests to bring drinks, ice, chips, fruit, cookies, chairs and even activities for kids, such as craft supplies to make patriotic hats or a bucket of prefilled water balloons. Another option is to mention on the invitation that you'll have a hot grill and that guests can bring their own food to grill.

The Day Before

  • Complete much of the hosting work the day before the event. For instance, use this day to clean bathrooms and other public areas, and to scrub the grill. Now's also the time to buy hot dogs and veggie burgers, and marinate other meats in a mixture of oil, acid and minced garlic or herbs. If you've asked guests to bring their own entrees, prepare the meats your family will eat, as well as some extra. Make up a veggie tray, or roast veggies and mix them with cooked pasta and vinaigrette. Finish your prep by gathering up rolls, drinks and condiments and pulling out serving platters, bowls and tongs.

The Day Of

  • A few hours before the barbecue starts, set up tables and cover them with cloths. Decorate your yard and trees with balloons and streamers, and fill coolers with ice and drinks. Choose one table to be the food table and arrange rolls, condiments, dishes and utensils there. Festive music sets a party tone, so bring out a CD player and a stack of CDs, or set up a playlist of party music on a free music streaming service and set your computer or speakers in an open window. Keep meat and cold salads refrigerated until you're ready to eat.

At Meal Time

  • Every barbecue needs a designated grillmaster. Set up your griller with a clean meat thermometer, so the expert can guarantee that steaks and chops are cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit; ground meat to 160 degrees; and poultry to 165 degrees. Provide a clean platter for cooked meats. When it's time to eat, set bowls of cold dishes into large containers filled with ice and check the clock. Keep perishable food out for no longer than two hours, or one hour if the temperature is 90 degrees or higher.

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  • Photo Credit Micha? Bednarek/Hemera/Getty Images
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