For some Americans, July 4 doesn't start until a grill is fired up, followed by hot dogs, hamburgers -- or maybe kabobs -- served with sides of french fries and watermelon. So how did we land on these particular foods?

We can trace many of these patriotic eats to native crops in the Americas and European colonization, according to Bruce Smith and Melinda Zeder, archaeologists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Beef Arrives via Europe

Spanish explorers brought domesticated livestock to the New World, followed by colonists from Europe. How that led to meat on the grill is a bit harder to place.

According to Time's history of grilling, the Spanish explorers noticed the cooking method of native Carribean people, roasting meat slowly over a wood platform. The Spanish used the word barbacoa to describe the tasty process.

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Barbecued chicken is an Independence Day standby. But the history of chicken is actually a little bit spotty, according to the Smithsonian’s archaeologists.

Modern chickens can be traced back to jungle fowl. That's where the trail gets cold, but they arrived in what is now Israel about 3,000 years later. Along with cattle and pigs, Spanish explorers brought the first domesticated chickens to the Americas.


Wedged neatly between patty and bun, a tomato tops off a burger nicely and finds its way into other Fourth fare. And what's a burger without ketchup?

Since tomatoes are native to South America, they made the reverse commute to Europe in the 1500s, where they were actually thought to be poisonous for some time. The colonists then brought them back to America.

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Pigs were first domesticated in Western Asia, finding their way to Europe about 5,000 years later. In the 19th century, pork became the primary meat on the grill in the American South, primarily because pigs were so common there, according to Time.


Potatoes were first domesticated in South American 8,000 years ago, and traveled to Europe in the 1600s. French fries have a presidential pedigree. By 1781, Thomas Jefferson was serving french-fried potatoes for supper.

Fun Facts: Americans eat about 55 pounds of frozen potatoes a year, 42 pounds of fresh, 17 pounds of potato chips and 14 pounds of dehydrated potato products.


The Spanish introduced watermelon to the New World. "It was quickly adopted by the Cherokee, Choctaw and other American Indian tribes," according to the Smithsonian's archaeologists.

Americans eat nearly 16 pounds of watermelon a year, and women reportedly eat more watermelon than men.