The 4th of July is one of America’s most important holidays, and a favorite among Americans of all walks of life. And why not? Families gather, friends hang out, meat goes on the grill, fourth of July traditional food makes an appearance, and fireworks light up the sky. Even Americans who don’t consider themselves especially patriotic tend to hang a flag, decorate in red, white, and blue, and enjoy a really great summer day filled with fourth of July recipes.
This year, the 4th of July takes on even more significance. For many Americans, it is one of the first chances to gather with friends and family after a long year or more of pandemic life.
So enjoy our round-up of our favorite Fourth of July food ideas. Some of these are traditional American fourth of July food, but some of our fourth of July recipes might surprise you!
Recipes and Traditions on the 4th of July
The first rule of thumb about Fourth of July recipes and American Independence Day traditional food is that it is, at heart, summer food. That’s why every Fourth of July food menu will include something on the grill, along with plenty of dishes full of fresh fruits or vegetables. Our favorite Independence Day food recipes include a little bit of all of this!
If you’re planning your Fourth of July party as a potluck, don’t forget to check out our Top 10 Quick and Easy Recipes for a Summer Potluck.
This year, the celebration may be a bit smaller than usual, but it will be especially sweet.
What are our best Fourth of July BBQ ideas? Hamburgers and hotdogs are an obvious choice (more on this below), but here are some other great Fourth of July food ideas:
- Ribs – One trick I learned from my mom is you can bake the ribs, covered, in the oven at a low temperature to get them nice and tender, then finish them on the grill for that charred flavor.
- Italian and polish sausages – These are Chicago staples, and if you get a mix of spicy and sweet, along with sauerkraut, grilled onions, peppers, relish, and more, you’ll have something to satisfy every carnivore.
- Smoked pulled pork – Put a big pork butt on the grill, and spend the day tending the fire. Then shred it for tasty, smoky sandwiches!
- Lamb kofta kebabs – Serve with pita, pickled onion, and a garlic-yogurt sauce – perfection! Check out our lamb kofta kebab recipe.
- Vegetable skewers – Sure, you can serve your vegetarian friends side dishes, but why not give them something off the grill? I like to pair meaty mushrooms with onion, tomatoes, and multi-colored peppers.
- BBQ chicken – A family favorite, I do a dry rub, then grill them over hot coals before moving them to the cool side of the grill. Finish them over medium heat with your favorite BBQ sauce!
Peg’s Dry Rub
- 1 Tbsp ground cumin
- 1 Tbsp smoked paprika
- 1 Tbsp garlic powder
- 1 Tbsp onion powder
- 1 Tbsp chili powder
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 1 tsp ground mustard
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp cayene pepper
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.
2. Rub onto your chicken, pork, or other meat before grilling. Store the leftovers in an airtight container for your next BBQ.
Do you know how many hot dogs are eaten on the Fourth of July? One estimate I read said over 150 million on that day alone. One thing I do know is that Fourth of July hot dogs are an American tradition. I always have a package or two on hand for Fourth of July BBQs for the kids if for no other reason.
While now we associate hot dogs with Fourth of July party food and baseball, it is thought that the hot dog was originally brought from Germany by immigrants and first sold as street food. The traditional hot dog is a wiener sausage (Vienna Sausage) or a frankfurter (Frankfurter Würstchen).
In Chicago hot dogs are eaten always with mustard, never with ketchup. But we’ll let you choose how to dress your own dog!
There are many traditional salads that you can enjoy as part of your fourth of July menu. Some traditional salads are:
- Potato salad – cold, mayonnaise based
- German potato salad – room temperature, with a slightly sweet dressing and bacon
- Macaroni salad – also mayonnaise based
- Pasta salad – often served with an Italian dressing
- Cole slaw – usually with shredded cabbage and carrots and a slightly sweet dressing
But there are other salads you might try, including:
- Pasta salad with pesto and sun dried tomatoes
- Chickpea salad with microgreens
- Watermelon and herb salad
Or, forget about American Fourth of July food traditions and head straight to Greece! Create a bright and festive salad instead using this recipe from the kitchen of Chef Katerina, of our Greek cooking vacations. It can be a fun addition to any Fourth of July food menu. From the bright red of the tomatoes, to the bright greens of the peppers and cucumber, this dish not only looks great, but, with all these veggies, it’s a healthy accompaniment to burgers and brats, too.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 0 minutes
Cook method: Assemble
- 1 green pepper, deseeded and sliced into rings
- 1 small red onion, finely sliced
- 1 medium cucumber, sliced
- 3 medium (or 2 large) ripe tomatoes, cut into thin wedges
- 5-8 kalamata olives
- 1 slice of feta cheese
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Oregano or thyme (fresh leaves or dried)
1. In a large flat salad dish — or a plate — combine the sliced vegetables with olives and tomato wedges.
2. Lay the slice of feta on top. (Alternatively, you can cut the feta into cubes, or crumble it over the salad.)
3. Drizzle a good amount of olive oil over the salad.
4. Sprinkle with dried oregano or thyme, or fresh oregano or thyme leaves. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Corn On The Cob
Corn on the cob is another staple of Fourth of July party menus. I love to grill it, and there are 3 basic ways to do it:
- simply throw it on the grill completely husked to get the char-grilled taste on the corn
- wrap the ears in aluminum foil with a bit of butter and cook on the grill for 15-20 miniutes to steam
- or a combination of the two, in which most of the husk and all the silk is removed, but you leave a layer or two of fresh husk leaves to place back over the corn. This allows some steam to form, but also the heat of the coals to char some of the kernels
Let’s face it, though, I rarely have extra room on the grill for corn during our Fourth of July cookouts. So a backup is to boil the corn the good old Midwestern way:
Midwestern Corn on the Cob
- Corn on the cob ears, husked and de-silked
1. In a large, covered pot, bring water to a rolling boil.
2. Add the ears of corn and cover. As soon as it’s back at a boil, uncover.
3. Boil for 3 minutes, then remove the ears, roll in butter, and sprinkle with salt.
Another of our favorite Fourth of July corn recipes is Mexican Elotes, which is a Mexican street food. The corn is grilled, then coated with a mixture of mayonnaise, cotija cheese, lime juice, chili powder, and hot sauce. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it is delicious!
American don’t always get enough credit for innovative desserts, but surely if there is one fourth of July recipe worthy of acclaim it is the classic s’more.
Who first thought to roast a marshmallow, pair it with chocolate and squish it between two graham crackers? We thank them!
There are a few reasons I suspect s’mores are a traditional American Fourth of July food. One is the grill is usually already lit, so roasting marshmallows takes no extra work. And another is, quite frankly, that s’mores are so easy, and require self-assembly by whomever is eating them. For me, that means I am officially off duty once we hit dessert time!
You might think beer on the Fourth of July is as traditional as, well, the Fourth of July. But Fourth of July lemonade is another classic Independence Day recipe.
There are many ways to switch up your Fourth of July lemonade, including:
- spice it up: add some pieces of cut ginger and let steep
- herbify it: fresh mint and basil, and even thyme if used sparingly, are great additions
- citrus splash: instead of all lemon juice, put in three parts lemon juice and one part orange
- very berry: add some slightly macerated berries such as raspberries or strawberries
- cut the sugar: instead of using sugar, use a few drops of liquid stevia. I have a child with Type1 diabetes, and he loves being able to drink a huge glass of lemonade without requiring extra insulin for it.
- spike it: for the adults, add a healthy splash of vodka, rum, or whiskey!
Classic Homemade Honey Lemonade
- 1 quart water
- 1/2 cup pure honey (your choice of variety)
- 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 5 lemons)
1. Heat 1 cup of the water with the honey in a small pot until the honey is dissolved into the water.
2. Add another cup of water to cool it slightly, then add to the lemon juice and the rest of the water in a pitcher.
3. Refrigerate until chilled and serve over ice with a lemon slice.
Red, White and Blue
Red, white, and blue are the classic decor colors for any Fourth of July Independence Day celebration, but try playing with these colors for your food as well!
It’s a lot easier to think of red, white, and blue desserts. Cupcakes with colored icing are always a fun bet, and in a pinch you can pick some up from the local grocery store.
Fruit is another way to go. Let’s face it, the hard color is blue, so blueberries are an easy solution. Pack them on skewers or toothpicks with strawberries and mini-marshmallows for a festive twist. Or, try them in this delicious “red, white, and blue” ricotta dessert.
Another way to work fruit into your red, white, and blue Fourth of July party is with a berry shortcake. Use a mix of blue and red berries, either strawberries or raspberries, with a delicious shortcake biscuit, and some vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.
Blue corn tortillas is a great savory option, served with a bright red salsa and some white Mexican crema!
And speaking of ice cream… many of my friends like to make Fourth of July homemade ice cream for their Independence Day celebration. Whether you serve it in a bowl, on a cone, or as a side to your red, white, and blue cake, ice cream is a great summer treat and one of our favorite Fourth of July desserts.
If you’d like to make your own Fourth of July homemade ice cream, we have recipes in our blog including:
Or, make this festive Fourth of July homemade ice cream recipe!
Fourth of July Ice Cream Recipe
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2 vanilla pod, beans scraped out of pod
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup blueberries
- 3/4 cup strawberries, sliced
1. Combine the milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla bean in a bowl and mix well, until the sugar is at least mostly dissolved.
2. Put the mixture in the freezer for 20 minutes to get it extra cold, then process it in your ice cream maker according to the instructions. Be sure to scrape out any sugar on the bottom of the bowl.
3. After processing, it will be still quite soft. Quickly stir in the berries, being careful not to over stir, then put in the freezer to fully set.
4. Or, for a fun twist, use popsicle molds to make your own red, white, and blue ice cream bars by spooning in the soft ice cream mixture before putting it in the freezer to set.
If you’re looking for more recipes, check out our best Labor Day recipes of 2021!
I’ve traveled a lot, and one thing the people I meet love to ask about is America and its celebrations. Everyone has seen Fourth of July parties depicted in the movies, and it’s fun to explain to foreigners what the holiday means and how we celebrate it.
If you find yourself celebrating with your family and friends this Fourth of July, you might find it the perfect time to talk about your next family vacation or getaway with friends. We have a lot of culinary travelers who are looking forward to traveling with their loved ones later in 2021 or in 2022.
Check out all our amazing cooking vacations and culinary tours on our website to get inspired. Or contact us if you’d like us to start planning a custom, private foodie tour for you and your loved ones.
And remember, this year, the celebration may be a bit smaller than usual, but it will be especially sweet.
By Peg Kern
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Originally published July 4, 2014.