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The best part of the Fourth of July is indisputably the cookout, whether that’s lakeside with your family and a huge grill or TV-side in your unfurnished apartment with your roommate and a stovetop. (It still counts as a cookout because we opened the windows.) 

Regrettably, though, our stomachs do not have an infinite capacity for food. If you’re looking to maximize your available storage this Independence Day, you’ll need to prioritize your treats — not by how good each food is on its own, necessarily, but by how vital it is to the cookout experience.

We’d suggesting prioritizing according to this ranking. And, for the record, you don’t actually need to wait an hour before getting back in the pool.

15. Macaroni salad

American Style Macaroni Salad; Shutterstock ID 528002851

Image: Shutterstock/Brian Yarvin

Here’s the problem with macaroni salad: it’s usually not good. Sure, it can be good (with capers and lots of salt, specifically), but why take the risk when there’s potato salad to be had?

14. Cherry pie

Image: Shutterstock/ehrlif

Let me be clear: cherry pie’s low ranking here is not an indictment of cherry pie. Cherry pie is delicious, second only to strawberry rhubarb in the “summer pies” department. But it’s not the quintessential Fourth of July dessert. Save your sweet tooth for something a little more on-the-nose.

13. Coleslaw

Image: Shutterstock/Anna Hoychuk

Much like macaroni salad, coleslaw is too likely to fail for you to take the risk. One exception: a pulled pork sandwich could use a little.

12. Potato chips

Image: Shutterstock/Tanya Polovik

Potato chips are more fun to eat when you’re eating them outside, but that doesn’t mean you should eat them at the expense of, say, corn on the cob with lots of butter. This is a cookout, dude! There’s plenty of MSG to be had elsewhere.

11. Burgers

Image: Shutterstock/Brent Hofacker

You might be shocked that burgers are so low on this list. Honestly, I totally understand. But burgers are so versatile — delicious in each season, compatible with so many toppings, cheeses, and sauces — that it seems too vague to focus on them at your cookout. Please. Trust me on this.

10. Brats

The Brat sausage is served on the charcoal grill with the grill tongs; Shutterstock ID 623401586

Image: Shutterstock/beckart

Bratwurst is a delightful summer meal on the grill, but it’s not the Fourth of July summer meal on the grill. Not as long as there’s a hot dog around, anyway. Please save your brats for July 5 and be sure to add lots of sauerkraut.

9. Strawberry shortcake

Image: Shutterstock/farbled

Sweet, biscuit-y cake, sugared strawberries, enough Cool Whip to fill a small boat — what’s not to love? Well, the only caveat here is that strawberry shortcake is a little messy, and it’ll probably need its own plate or bowl. If the extra mess is cool with you, shortcake away. It’s a verb now!

8. Deviled eggs

Deviled eggs garnished with fresh dill.; Shutterstock ID 515806939

Image: Shutterstock/Arina P Habich

Deviled eggs are great for two things: a big church lunch reviewed favorably by your grandparents and the Fourth of July. If you are truly bananas for this country, you can even make a barbecue version.

7. Kebabs

Grilled shish kebab or shashlik on skewers closeup on white background; Shutterstock ID 587620817

Image: Shutterstock/Sea Wave

Kebabs of all kinds are wonderful for a cookout because they’re customizable — and vegetarian-friendly, if you want. Plus, the savory char of chicken on the grill is one of summertime’s most essential flavors.

6. Potato salad

potato salad with fresh radishes in a white bowl on a rustic wooden table; Shutterstock ID 275792861

Image: Shutterstock/Ekaterina Kondratova

The hard truth about potato salad: it’s only good during Fourth of July weekend. But on that weekend, you gotta save room for a huge helping — preferably with mayo and mustard seeds, IMO.

5. Baked beans

Closeup of a bowl of boston baked beans on a picnic table; Shutterstock ID 105195938

Image: Shutterstock/MSPhotographic

Any food (for humans) repped by a golden retriever is bound to be good, right? And baked beans — with bacon, obviously — is one of the finest Fourth of July sides of them all. In fact, if baked beans are around, it is practically a sin to eat a hot dog without eating them on the side. You don’t want to disappoint Duke the dog, do you?

4. BBQ ribs

Slabs of barbecue ribs.; Shutterstock ID 102536075

Image: Shutterstock/FeyginFoto

BBQ anything is an automatic Fourth of July win, but ribs rule them all. And if you don’t want to talk to your relatives, just offer to be the grillmaster!

3. Corn on the cob

Image: Shutterstock/Charlene Bayerle

Grilled corn slathered in butter is a delight all summer long (and especially during corn harvest time), but it’s also an indispensable part of July 4. Here’s why: those little corn holders that also look like corn. They are not optional.

2. Firecracker Popsicles

Firecracker Popsicles, also known as Bomb Pops depending on which brand you prefer, require virtually no preparation. Why? They are just popsicles in a box. Some other good things about them: they are red, white, and blue; they are so cold, and you can eat them while you’re floating in an inner tube. Friends, they are the perfect Fourth of July dessert.

1. Hot dogs

Plate of freshly grilled hotdogs with mustard. Extreme shallow depth of field.; Shutterstock ID 290273714

Image: Shutterstock/Stephanie Frey

It’s an obvious choice, but it’s also the best choice: no summer cookout is complete without hot dogs. Make them all-beef, make them turkey, make them veggie — do what you gotta do — but bless your hot dogs with grill marks and potato buns and they will bless you right back. 

We don’t care what toppings you use.

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