For Virginia Willis, who grew up in south Georgia, Fourth of July celebrations were always about the food.
The chef and James Beard Award-winning cookbook author said in an email interview that in her family, the big meal would always include potato salad, coleslaw, and, she added, “If I am being patient, I love cooking baby back ribs.” Compared to the bigger spare ribs, baby back ribs are leaner and tend to be more tender.
Fourth of July food traditions in the South reflect the rich variety in Southern cuisine. “In Texas you can count on brisket, whereas in Georgia, it will be some kind of pork and in Alabama, it might be smoked chicken. Then, on the coast in South Carolina, there might be a low country boil with shrimp, sausage, corn, and potatoes, and in Louisiana it’s likely to be a crawfish boil,” said Willis.
But no matter where you are in the South, she said, the incredibly hot weather means the celebrations will likely involve cooling off in some body of water—whether that’s a backyard pool, a lake, or the ocean.
Below, Willis shares some recipes for a feast worthy of the Fourth of July.