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4th of July Cookouts Are Easy If Someone Else Does the Cooking

Americans will spend tomorrow’s Fourth of July holiday celebrating at family picnics, fireworks displays, water parks and beaches, old-fashioned festivals, and patriotic celebrations. And don’t forget the all-American cookout. Close to 80 percent of Americans plan to go to or host a gathering at which meat is grilled and eaten outdoors. You can't get more American than a Fourth of July cookout or party offering traditional Independence Day staples like burgers, dogs, ribs, wings, and chicken, along with sides like baked beans, potato salad, pasta salad, and everyone’ favorite, chips and dip. But unlike past celebrations, cooking in our time-challenged world is a bit different.

Instead of spending all morning peeling potatoes, we can stop by any number of restaurants and supermarkets for a pound or more of “almost homemade” potato salad or pick up a smoking slab of ribs over which someone else slaved. Baked beans, macaroni salad, grilled chicken and other Fourth of July favorites can also be purchased and if you’re lucky, your guests or family won’t know the difference. This creates more time for you to sit back, relax, and enjoy your guests instead of toiling in a hot kitchen or over a grill.

Following is a short list of some of my favorite supermarket and restaurant food items when cookouts are on the menu but time is short. Call ahead to check on restaurants’ policy on take-out. If you miss the window for the Fourth of July, just extend the holiday to the weekend. Happy Independence Day!

1. Get the party started – An easy and inexpensive dip to serve with chips is Sabra Classic Hummus, found at Kroger, Walmart, Sam’s, and most supermarkets in the prepared foods section. It's best served with Stacy’s Pita Chips, also available at most stores. One of my favorite vegetable dips is Marzetti’s Southwest Ranch Veggie Dip, found in the dairy section of most supermarkets. If you can’t find either of these, mix a jar of salsa with eight ounces of softened cream cheese and serve with tortilla chips or vegetables. It's delicious!

2. Spectacular sides - Mama Hamil’s (Madison) red skin potato salad, baked potato casserole at Dickey’s Barbecue (12 locations in Mississippi) Fresh Market's (Ridgeland) pasta and vegetable salads, Walmart’s red skin potato salad and Kroger's Southern potato salad are some of my favorite store-bought salads and sides.

3. When it comes to baked beans, it’s hard to beat the offerings from the Hickory Pit (Jackson) and Murky Waters (Hattiesburg, Gulfport, and Ocean Springs), to name just a couple of restaurants that know a thing or two about smoky, meaty beans. In the supermarket, pick up Kroger’s own home-style baked beans in the deli section.

4. Barbecued ribs, chicken, wings, pulled pork, and brisket – the list of great barbecue places is as long as the Mississippi River, so please, don’t hate me if I omit your favorite. However, just a few of my go-to places include the ribs, wings, pulled pork and smoked chicken inside the Fast Lane gas station (1157 E. Northside Drive at I-55 in Jackson), burnt ends and ribs at Murky Waters (Hattiesburg, Gulfport and Ocean Springs), Leatha’s (Hattiesburg) smoked chicken and ribs, and the Pepsi-glazed wings and ribs at The Pig and Pint (Fondren in Jackson).

If you don’t live near any of these places, pick up a slab or two of Corky’s or Jack Daniels' Tennessee honey baby back ribs at the supermarket. They may not top the above-mentioned ribs, but they're surprisingly good, especially when you add your favorite sauce before heating.

If you decide to do the cooking, are some of my favorite Fourth of July recipes:

Old-Fashioned Potato Salad

2 bags of fingerling potatoes (Yukon Gold, Peruvian Purple or Red Fingerling)

3 boiled eggs, chopped

1/4 cup bread and butter pickles, diced (reserve juice)

3 ounces chopped olives

2 stalks celery, diced

3 ounces Dijon Mustard

2 cups mayonnaise

salt and pepper to taste

2 teaspoons dill

1 small red onion, finely diced

Cut the potatoes into medium pieces, then boil in salted water until soft. Drain and let cool. In a bowl, mix the Dijon and the mayonnaise, then mix in the eggs, pickles, olives, onions and celery. Stir in the cooled potatoes. Add the dill, pickle juice and salt and pepper to taste. Place in a bowl and chill for 1 hour, then serve.