All you really need for tailgating is a cooler and a grill, right? Wrong. If you want to make the pre- and post-game festivities as much fun as the game, may I make some suggestions?
1. Go beyond burgers and brats.
- We’ve all been to that tailgate that nobody remembers. If you must do burgers and/or brats, please skip the pre-made patties and mass-produced brats. Get some quality ground beef and doctor it up with minced garlic or onions, adobo sauce, Worcestershire…whatever. If going with sausages, always go to a local butcher and load up on artisan brats. The real flavorville is an apple cinnamon brat made onsite, not a frozen box of short sausages shipped to the store from 500 miles away.
- To really take the tailgate to another level, try busting out the blow torch and caramelize your ribs. Or, maybe cook some oysters topped with cheese and herbs, or maple-planked salmon (the photo above is one that I did on my tailgating grill). Or, you can go really crazy and do a prime rib. They only take about 90 minutes and I bet it will draw a crowd. If you are a hardcore tailgater, you can picture it now: People coming from all over the lot to check out the prime rib you are flame-searing on your grill.
2. Do as much prep as possible the night before.
- Chop, season, marinate, whatever, and stow in the fridge so you have more time to throw the football, toss the bags, heave the horse shoes, or wing the washers rather than standing over a prep table.
- Even better, load up the cooler the night before with ice and the ingredients packed in plastic bags or containers. Your food will stay cold all night and then some. Drain off the water in the morning and add the contents of the ice maker and head to the game if you are worried the ice has melted too much.
- Prepping the night before also includes loading up the truck/SUV/RV/van to allow for an extra hour of sleep. You want to be well rested when screaming at the refs who obviously need a vision test or have money on the other guys.
3. Check your equipment the night before.
- Spark up the grill and check the weight of the propane tank. Nothing is worse than trying to find someone with a spare propane canister at the tailgate because everyone else is using their own. This brings me to the next item.
4. Spares – bring lots of spares.
- Often, tailgating involves pulling into an overcrowded parking lot with no chance to leave and come back. So, if you need to get a pair of tongs or more propane because you forgot step #3, forget it. (Notice the two cans of propane in that picture above.)
- Always pack two pairs of tongs, a second propane tank, an extra bag of charcoal, etc. So, if you forget your “lucky tongs,” the spare is there.
5. Have a checklist.
- This should probably be tip #1, but I like leading with the meat!
- Most people think that tailgating is just a cooler of beer and a grill, but you need plates and utensils, an apron to keep grease off your lucky jersey that only gets washed after the season, tongs to flip the food and all the things needed to prep the food if tip #2 is not followed: condiments, trash bags for the aftermath, a metal bucket for still glowing charcoal after the game, chairs to sit on, etc. And that doesn’t include bean bag boards, washer sets, a football or baseball to toss around, Frisbee, maybe a deck of cards for a poker game, radio to listen to tunes or hear the pregame show, or even a TV and satellite dish to watch the pregame. And that’s before you get your gear on so everyone knows who you live and die with in the form of team flag(s), Darth Vader mask painted your team’s colors, team sweater for your dog, and the face paint for the true diehards.
Tailgating is so much more than a cooler and a grill. So much more…
Don’t believe me? How could I be wrong with plates like these: