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Food at the forefront of Utah's Fourth of July festivities

With the Fourth of July less than a week away, Americans “from sea to shining sea” are preparing to fire up their grills, head to their local park for a picnic or join in on community festivities.

According to Fox News, 74 million Americans are planning to barbecue on the Fourth of July. Among the things grilled will be 150 million hot dogs — which the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council says is enough to stretch from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles more than five times when laid end to end — 750 million pounds of chicken and 190 million pounds of red meat.

All that meat will be topped with more than $1 billion worth of condiments and accompanied by $1.1 billion in soft drinks, $318 million in chips, $83 million in watermelon and $36 million in corn on the cob, according to data collection company Nielsen.

To say food is an important part of Fourth of July celebrations might be an understatement, and Utahns across the state will gather Tuesday to celebrate Independence Day, with food at the forefront of the festivities.

Cities across the state have schedules full of activities planned, many of which include community breakfasts, carnival-like food vendors and eating contests.

“Food brings people together,” said Aaron Metler, St. George’s recreation coordinator for races and special events, in an interview with the Deseret News. “It brings happiness, and it’s definitely part of every celebration, including the Fourth of July.”

St. George’s festivities mirror those of many other cities throughout Utah, starting with breakfast in the morning and including dozens of food vendors throughout the day offering everything from Navajo tacos to cotton candy. The city also sponsors a watermelon seed spitting contest and hot dog eating contest, which is modeled after Coney Island, New York’s Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest, which takes place annually on July 4.

“The Fourth of July is kind of defined by American-type things, and hot dogs are pretty American and that hot dog eating contest is kind of a staple of the event,” Metler said.

Among the events on the Wasatch Front will be two opportunities for food truck fans to make a single stop to access some of their favorite cuisine.

Taylor Harris, general manager of the Food Truck League, said members of the league will be serving their fares at Murray’s Fun Days celebration at Murray Park and at Salt Lake City’s fireworks show at Jordan Park.

“I think that food trucks encapsulate the American dream,” Harris said. “I’m truly inspired frequently by the trucks we work with as I watch how hard they work and how they are able to build these businesses. If any day is a good celebration of that, I think July Fourth is that day.”

And for anyone planning on staying home to barbecue, resources abound for creating a Fourth of July feast, including LongHorn Steakhouse’s Grill Us Hotline, which gives grillers across the country access to nine grilling experts, including Josh Norris, managing partner of LongHorn Steakhouse in Ogden.

“I feel like food is one of those things that brings people together, especially around the holiday time, and you’re trying to do holiday celebrations with your family,” said Norris, a Georgia native who has worked for LongHorn for 14 years. “What better way to celebrate than with a good meal?”

Norris will be answering questions on the hotline from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time on July 2. Home cooks can call, text or Facebook message the experts any questions they have as they prepare to grill on July 4.

“The biggest part of (grilling) is making sure you’ve got the right equipment to work with and making sure you’ve got good steaks to grill or chicken that you’re going to grill,” Norris suggested.

More information about the Grill Us Hotline, as well as basic grilling safety tips and tricks, is available at expertgriller.com.