Friends and families typically celebrate Independence Day weekend with fireworks, picnics and cookouts. However, the weekend’s festivities will look a little different this year because of COVID-19.

If you choose to observe the holiday with a cookout, here are some tips to ensure it is both safe and successful.

Mask up

On Thursday, Tarrant County reported 473 new COVID-19 cases, making the total 13,423, and Arlington reported 93 new cases, bringing its total to 2,620. With cases skyrocketing, it’s important to practice proper hygiene even while celebrating.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still strongly recommend virtual and online events but state that “smaller outdoors and in-person gatherings” are less risky than large events. Attendees should all live in the same local area, maintain 6 feet of space from each other, wear cloth face coverings and avoid sharing objects. They should also remember general hygiene practices, such as washing hands and regularly disinfecting surfaces.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statewide order Thursday requiring people to wear face masks in public and allowing mayors and county judges to limit gatherings larger than 10 people.

Computer science junior Kevin Suarez said he loves cookouts because they bring people together, but he will not attend one unless people adhere to the guidelines.

“I would be fine with attending a cookout so long as everybody shows up with a mask and people are using hand sanitizer,” he said.

All about meat

Besides the obvious emphasis on preventing the spread of coronavirus, the key to planning a successful cookout is often the meat. According to MarketWatch, Americans spent $800 million on beef in the two weeks leading up to Independence Day weekend in 2017.

Ashley Hays-Weaver, public relations senior and co-owner of Dayne’s Craft Barbecue, said in an email that the first step in cooking meat right is setting aside enough time to cook it.

“Yes, you can smoke a brisket in six hours, and your family will enjoy it; however, it's those extra few hours that take ‘good’ to ‘great,’” she said.

It is important to research the meat you are cooking to ensure you peg down the correct cooking temperature. Hays-Weaver suggested using a meat thermometer for this. She said the smoking process often takes trial and error to perfect and advised first-timers wanting to impress their families to stick to hamburgers and hot dogs.

Lastly, the quality of the meat matters.

“Prime is a better cut than choice, and you can usually count on spending a little bit more for that,” she said. “Brisket prices are still pretty high right now due to a beef shortage during COVID-19, but a good pork butt can feed several and takes less time to cook than a full brisket.”

Don’t forget the sides

Your guests will most likely want to eat other foods besides meat. Hays-Weaver said her restaurant believes there should be at least one savory side and one fresh side.

“The savory side serves as the crowd-pleaser, and the fresh side is a good palate cleanser for fattiness found in the meat,” she said.

Suarez said one of his favorite sides at a cookout is macaroni salad.

“I personally dive into macaroni salad every time. If anybody brings it, I’m eating that,” he said.

Hays-Weaver said homemade macaroni and cheese is always a good option and generally recommends anything that can be thrown together quickly. A customer favorite at her restaurant is their crisp apple slaw: a mix of cabbage, matchstick carrots and apples, dried cranberries and slivered almonds tossed in a homemade vinaigrette.

Marketing graduate student Sarah Ainouz loves to host events, and she said pigs in a blanket are usually very popular. Plus you can’t go wrong with a bag of chips.

Set the table

Hays-Weaver recommends disposable plates and cutleries for cookouts because they are sanitary, easy and customizable. She said it is necessary to ensure the plates are not flimsy, otherwise the grease from the meat and weight of the food will cause issues. Napkins are also essential.

“There is no such thing as too many napkins! Be ready to eat with your hands,” she said. “Ribs come served with a handle after all. There’s nothing fancy about barbecue, be ready to get messy and then clean up later.”

Besides eating, people often play games and a variety of activities at cookouts. The ones selected should allow for social distancing. The CDC recommends activities like Frisbee and sidewalk chalk. Other options include wooden yard dice, giant jenga and giant lawn bowling.

@TritimaAchigbu

features-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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