This is one time of the year when it is entirely — and literally — about getting the most bang for your buck.

Buying fireworks these days can be as complicated as choosing health care (which, incidentally, you probably should have if you intend on drinking beer while lighting dangerous explosives).

It's not like the old days, when you bought a few packs of bottle rockets, strands of fire crackers, maybe an M-80 or two dozen. A simple flaming contrail, a single pop and a few stars seems about as quaint as a TV without a remote or a phone with an actual dial.

Nowadays, you've got to wade through elaborate and sophisticated packs of mortars, gatlin guns, mysterious packages that boast of "maximum thrust" and being "barely legal" (which makes you wonder about the market they are, ahem, shooting for). Some of them are as good as a single starburst from a professional show.

"Years ago, we didn't have anything as powerful as what you get today," H.B. Limehouse said.

He has been selling fireworks on

Johns Island for 44 years, long enough to know what's what. Limehouse tests everything he sells, and can tell you with remarkable accuracy what's good and what's about as much fun as watching a $10 bill burn. If he tells you the Texas Rattlesnake is worth $16 — buy one, get one free — believe him.

Most people this year are going for the mortars, the most powerful — and best — show in the sky. John Willis at Lowcountry Fireworks in West Ashley says they're just about all he buys.

"Usually we run out and have to get more," he says.

Despite the economy, fireworks sellers are hoping that the Fourth of July falling on a long weekend will help sales.

"Maybe the stimulus checks will help," Willis jokes.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com or 937-5561.