There is a sigh or two of relief as the Nappie Awards come to a close. For the paper, it’s an end to a busy time. For the nominees, it’s a chance to relax a bit before committing to excellence, which should bring them a Nappie next year, fingers crossed. For me, the ceremony stands as a marker dividing my summer. The next event will be the start of school for the kiddos and with that, football season.
Do you realize preseason pro games are here already? College will hit us at the end of the month. We have to get our tailgate procedures plotted and rehearsed. There are routes to run, holes to hit, game plans to execute and I’m sure a few audibles will be called along the way, so huddle up!
There is tailgating where you simply bring a bunch of stuff you made at home and unpack it. I call that a picnic. To me, it isn’t really tailgating until you actually cook something on site, usually close to the tailgate of your truck, with beer in hand. Now we have to decide how elaborate we want to get.
A grill is the most common thing to bring, but do you want the charcoal or the propane? Propane grills are heavy, but charcoal grills are messy. A gas grill with a side burner can give you plenty of options, but you have to be seriously cooking to warrant dragging that much luggage to the stadium.
Your favorite charcoal grill may be easy to handle, but your hot coals will have to find a new home at the end of the day. Some stadium parking lots are equipped with places to dump them, but you should have an alternate cleanup method just in case. A smaller galvanized trash can from any hardware or superstore works great for storing live coals. Otherwise, you’ll be letting them burn down during the game or dousing them with water for a bigger mess. No thanks.
Traveling light is the best way to go. Small travel grills are easy to find in camping stores. The Coleman grill with the bottled propane rocks for tailgating. Don’t be afraid of the single-use, disposable charcoal grills. They work great, and cleanup is a snap.
As the temps fall, more of you will be inclined to cook a little on-site gumbo or chili. A burner and a propane tank are all you need. Anything more and you’re just showing off. Of course, chili, gumbo or Brunswick stew is more likely to bring on a mess for which you must prepare. Forget Tupperware. Pre-chopped ingredients in Ziplocs or your collection of Chinese takeout containers can make your cleanup less than a partial trash bag.
That same burner would be useful for frying seafood or chicken wings. Make sure you have a heavy enough pot. But now you have a different problem to deal with: cleaning up hot oil. Peanut oil is expensive, so be sure to bring a funnel and some cheese cloth. Just pour it back into the container it came in. You can get a few uses out of it.
Get back in this huddle and pay attention.
Most tailgate food is prepared off site and brought in for a little reheating. The King’s Hawaiian Rolls have been present at tailgate parties for as long as I can remember. My mom does them with nuts and marmalade. Katie has a much more savory recipe. Basically make ham and Swiss sammies. Coat them with a mixture of melted butter, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard and onion powder. You can cook them wrapped in foil until the cheese melts on the grill, or do them in the oven only to reheat them at the game.
Handheld foods are the best while walking the stadium parking lot. Frito pie is my favorite. All you do is dump a scoop of chili in a 1-ounce bag of Fritos and top with cheese. Fork it straight out of the bag. But don’t stop by just any grocer the night before the game and expect to find them. It’s rarer than you think. Order them online if you don’t have a hookup. You should be able to find them for about 40 cents or less per bag.
Anything with a stick is good at a tailgate. Load your grill with meatballs. Once done, slide a nugget of mozzarella an inch or so down a skewer and stab your target. Cook another couple of minutes for the cheese to melt. Waffle cones filled with meat and pickled veggies are a smart dish for the mobile crowd. Try spicy barbecue chicken topped with coleslaw.
Don’t forget the kids. Those finicky little critters need customizable fare so they don’t end up with the “adult” ingredients. Taco bars, dips that aren’t too spicy, and lots of pickles should make the youngsters happy. Kids love giant pickles. Also, if you’re mixing drinks for the adults, be considerate of little Johnny and his virgin daiquiri habit. Little Susie may need a non-alcoholic Scotch after a devastating loss to an underdog team. At the very least, keep the adult cooler and kid cooler separate. Who knows, you may need a delicious Capri Sun to rehydrate after halftime.
The better ideas
Wear an apron. Pop-up tents are cheap and easy. It’s better to have a fire extinguisher and not need it than to need it and not have it. Folding chairs. If you have enough room for a table, your back will appreciate it. Frozen bottles of water won’t get your food soggy when they melt. Bring a football, even if tailgating at a baseball game. Corkscrews can break, so have plenty. Leave your spot cleaner than you found it.
Most importantly, follow the golden rule: Never get into a fight with an opposing team fan unless he started it and you know you can finish it. Love thy tailgate neighbors.
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