Football season is great. Just being in the presence of 80,000 screaming fans cheering on their team is an experience you just don’t get from sitting in front of the TV watching the game from your recliner. Nor is eating a delivered pizza from the box while you watch the game anything like the real experience of smelling and enjoying savory grilled meats and drinks before the game. A real sports enthusiast knows the game begins hours before the kickoff and it involves the time-honored tradition of lugging ice chests and chairs to stake a claim to your spot, preparing your football tailgating food ideas in advance, and then executing the plan under your own tent or at the rear of your parked vehicle. Tailgating, my friend, is the holy grail of football. It’s a party that lasts all day and may actually be the most important part of the whole experience.
Since it so heavily involves the preparation and consumption of food, the event known as tailgating must have originated in the South. What probably began as a simple sandwich and cold drink from a cooler in the trunk of a car has evolved into a range of venues spanning the simple, time-honored grill and cooler at the back of the pickup to spectacular tented canopies replete with chandeliers and fine china.
Today much preparation and planning go into preparing and serving tailgate recipes. But in spite of all the new recipes touted as the best each year, these time-honored staples of the tailgate will never fade.
If you didn’t bring any, don’t talk about how good yours are. If you do bring them, you’ve got lots of choices. There are my favorite- tasty pork baby back ribs with less meat, pork spareribs – a little larger from the belly or side of the pig, country style ribs with no bone, larger beef ribs, and short ribs which should be first cooked in a crock pot before smoking. Make your own special sauce or mix it up with several different choices.
Don’t leave home without them. Everyone is happy with a burger – and you can even bring veggie ones for your vegetarian friends. Just remember to bring various cheeses, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, relish, pickles, veggies, peppers (and anything else you find interesting), and let your fellow tailgaters design their own delight.
- Sausage/Hot Dogs
Nothing says “welcome” quite like the offer of a bite of grilled pork sausage. I’ve seen grown men stand around a pit for hours talking and eating sausage straight off the grill. Throw on a few pre-boiled potatoes, onions and mushrooms and folks will be line at your tent. For others, a freshly grilled hot dog thrown on a bun with spicy mustard makes their day. Add some mayo, relish, ketchup, chili, and various other ingredients and you’re headed toward tailgating success.
- Grilled Chicken
Don’t be put down for grilling chicken – its an art form of its own and one of the easiest meats to prepare. Marinate your chicken the night before – or even up your game by making chicken skewers. A great tailgating food idea is to incorporate pineapples into your chicken skewer or just stick to the basic pepper, onion, potato or zucchini skewer. Mix up your own barbeque sauce or add an extra touch to a bottled sauce and you’re on your way to a successful grill.
A favorite of home based football game parties, chicken wings can also be enjoyed at a tailgate. Marinate the wings the night before in your favorite bottled or homemade marinade, and grill them just as you would a chicken breast. They won’t be fried, but they’ll be smoky and delicious.
The moment you’ve set everything up and start getting the meats ready, someone is going to want something to munch on. You can go healthy with vegetable and fruit trays, but inevitably what your guests are trying to find are the chips. Surprise them by making extra special dips such as an artichoke dip, a spicy chicken or catfish dip, or a taco dip. Round the chippers out with crackers, blue corn chips, and other specialty varieties to create a pre-meal taste adventure.
- Chili or Gumbo
In the South, gumbo is served all year long and it’s certainly a game day staple if the temperature drops. Similarly, either beef or white bean and chicken chili can be made the night before and then brought in a crock pot. No muss, no fuss and the food is ready to serve. Some fans like to go the route of Fireman’s Chili, but it’s probably best to avoid making it your only choice. Just have a couple of bottles of hot sauce handy for the stout of stomach.
- Pulled Pork/Pulled Chicken
Putting those crock pots and slow cookers to work before the game is a sure plan for success. Just like chili and gumbo, a pulled pork loin or a whole chicken can be cooked beforehand and brought to the game ready to shred and eat. Add some rolls, perhaps a selection of cheeses to include in the roll, a spicy coleslaw and barbecue sauce and you have the makings of a great meal.
- Cold Fixings
The humble potato or pasta salad is the unsung hero of the tailgate. If you’re wanting to wow the next tent, add extras to the salad such as feta, blue cheese, bacon, crisp sausage and minced veggies to the mix. No meal is complete without it and with all that meat, you really need a few carbs.
No meal of this magnitude could possibly be complete without a selection of easily prepared and ready to eat desserts. Try some football themed desserts such as Oreo Cookie Ball footballs, football Whoopie Pies (with or without added spirits), mini brownie football pies, or peanut butter football blondies made from a cake mix.
It’s commonly said the main reason for tailgating is to enjoy having a cold one while grilling. Another rule of tailgating, don’t bring a six pack of cheap beer and walk off with someone else’s whiskey. Now that the food’s decided, the beverages must be selected. Make certain to include plenty of water if the weather is warm, sodas for those not drinking alcoholic beverages, and drinks of your choice. Consume wisely and with respect to those around you.
Whether you’re a tailgate veteran or a newbie, following this concise list of football tailgating food ideas will get you pointed in the right direction and may even give you some additional “food” for thought in planning your next game day outing.