It isn't the Fourth of July without fun, fireworks and all sorts of fine fare fired on the grill.
But lest you think you serve up the same limited menu of food and fixin's as you did last year, or gloss over your grilling shortcomings with ladles and ladles of barbecue sauce, you've got another thing coming.
Keep reading for four all-too-common cookout mistakes that should be – and very easily can be – avoided.
Don't forget to check your grill
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), July is the “peak month” for grill fires. And if Independence Day marks your first cookout for the year, the NFPA recommends you check for any leaks in your propane hoses by applying a “light soap and water solution."
“A propane leak will release bubbles,” the NFPA writes. “If your grill has a gas leak, by smell or the soapy bubble test, and there is no flame, turn off both the gas tank and the grill.”
If the bubbles or the smell tops, get the grill serviced by a professional, the NFPA recommends. If it doesn’t, call the fire department. And “if you smell gas while cooking, immediately get away from the grill and call the fire department. Do not move the grill.”
The NFPA has more tips, including those for charcoal grilling, on its website.
Don't expect to prep all sides, sauces and desserts the day-of
All those dishes you just can't grill – dips, sauces, salads, etc. – do as much of them as you can in advance.
"Make all sauces and sides well ahead of time,” recommends Leland Avellino, executive chef of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. In fact, Leland says that when space on the grill is limited, some of the meats can even be made prior to your cookout. “I like to pre-bake my wings and/or chicken quarters ahead of time and then just touch them to the grill to finish,” he says.
If you still need a few desserts, appetizers or sides to complete the spread, delegate as much as you can to family and friends. Surely someone would just love the chance to show off their own potato salad recipe.
Don't drown your meats in barbecue sauce
You may be extremely proud of your homemade barbecue sauce, but go easy when it comes time to sauce your meats post-grill.
“Meat that is served sauced, swimming with barbecue sauce… I feel like you are trying to cover something up,” explained Jonathan Fox, the pitmaster and co-owner of Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q in Atlanta, Ga., to Fox News.
If you're unsure of how much to dole out, err on the more conservative side and give guests the option of saucing their own plates afterward.
Don't forget to include a non-meat option
Vegetarian-friendly sides are great, but these days, there's no excuse for not at least having a vegetarian entree handy. Plant-based patties are becoming more widely available at supermarkets, but the old tried-and-true veggie burger – or black bean burger, or portobello burger – are still crowd-pleasing options.