What Families of Immigrants Are Grilling This 4th of July

Independence Day can have a special significance for people who immigrated to the U.S., and for their children. But the holiday still involves food.

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Person grilling carne asada Photo: Getty Images

I spent sweltering summers and Fourth of July celebrations in the cooler Pacific Northwest as a kid, lighting sparklers and sitting on my mom’s roof till the sun went down and the fireworks came out. We had hamburgers, hot dogs, sodas, and watermelon. But that’s about it. 

It may have been my level of assimilation and somewhat of a detachment from my heritage that I barely noticed that we didn’t make an effort to prepare a Chinese dish. 

More on Summer Grilling

But today, that makes it all the more exciting to learn about all the different foods others use to celebrate Independence Day, the day I thank my lucky stars I was born here.

While hot dogs and hamburgers may be standard Fourth of July fare, I asked some immigrants and children of immigrants what their favorite cookout dishes are, specifically those with a connection to their heritage. Here are some highlights.

Classic Meat for the Grill

Claudia Valladares, whose parents came from Mexico to East Texas, where she currently lives, says she and her family have always celebrated Independence Day with charcoal-grilled carne asada, a marinated skirt steak with garlic, herbs, and spices.

Claudia Valladares Family
Claudia Valladares, a child of immigrants who lives in East Texas (third from left), says carne asada is a highlight of her family's Fourth of July celebrations.

Photo: Courtesy Claudia Valladares Photo: Courtesy Claudia Valladares

Michelle Melo and her family as kids
Michelle Melo (right), with her brother Cesar Alexander, and cousins Vicky and Kimberlyn Perez, as kids.

Courtesy Michelle Melo Courtesy Michelle Melo

Not Just Your Typical American Barbecue

Renata Castro, an immigration lawyer originally from Brazil, will be celebrating the Fourth of July with churrasco, or Brazilian barbecue, at her vacation property in Clayton, Ga.

Renata Castro at a table with food
Renata Castro, an immigration attorney who came to the U.S. from Brazil, celebrates the Fourth of July with churrasco.

Photo: Courtesy Renata Castro Photo: Courtesy Renata Castro

Shrimp on the Barbecue

Cindy Li, a daughter of immigrants from northeast China, grew up eating a mix of Chinese and American grilled foods including spiced grilled prawns served alongside a cool cucumber salad for the Fourth of July.

Cindy Li and her family
Cindy Li (right) and her family at the dinner table. One of her favorite dishes for the Fourth is grilled shrimp with a dipping sauce made with ginger, scallions, sesame, and more.

Photo: Courtesy Cindy Li Photo: Courtesy Cindy Li

Thai Mu Kratha

“Thai culture is still very present within me,” says Paul Vongjalorn, who moved with his parents from Thailand to Guam, then to Tampa, Fla., and eventually to Spokane, Wash. “But we have embraced the American holidays and do celebrate the Fourth of July as well, but with a twist.”

Courtesy Paul Vongjalorn
Paul Vongjalorn (left) moved to the U.S. from Thailand with his parents, and estimates that he still eats 75 percent Thai food and 25 percent “everything else.”

Photo: Courtesy Paul Vongjalorn Photo: Courtesy Paul Vongjalorn

One Way to Enhance Flavor

Cooking on a charcoal grill is key when it comes to preparing carne asada and churrasco, my sources say, plus many other dishes prepared on the Fourth of July. Here are a few of the top charcoal grills in Consumer Reports’ tests.

Headshot of CRO Editor Althea Chang-Cook (version 2)

Althea Chang-Cook

As a journalist, I've covered food, health, transportation, technology, personal finance, and more. My work has taken me to specialty food events, medical conferences, CES, and numerous auto shows, ultimately bringing me to Consumer Reports. At CR, I use my experience to shape stories that help consumers make informed decisions and build safer, healthier lives. I live in Brooklyn with my husband, son, and three-legged cat.