Carla Hall of Top Chef Season 5 helps you plan the perfect tailgate.
It’s TAILGATE season. That time of year when school begins, the days get shorter, the weather gets cooler, and our favorite football teams battle it out in stadiums and on fields across the nation. It’s also a time when football fans and/or foodies can easily and happily enjoy the same event. Well, maybe. After questioning many of my friends, diehard football fans want quantity over quality. Foodies want quality over quantity, unless it’s an experience like none other - like having chocolate covered fire ants in small African village. I think it’s known by now that I’m not a big football enthusiast, but a good chili with bowls of various condiments can seem like a touchdown to me. I will take the quality AND the quantity, thank you very much.
So let’s review this somewhat sacred pastime called tailgating. It seems to me that it started out as a random activity, born out of the preparedness of a childhood scout. Fans got to the stadium early to beat the crowds, took their own food to keep from buying the expensive, mediocre stuff at the concessions stands in the stadium, played a few games while waiting, and met like-minded folks in the process to get riled up about the upcoming game. Solid. Sounds like a good and sensible time to me. THEN, tailgating became the “in” thing, a popular fad that spread like wildfire. The party pads within the painted white lines where bulging at the seams, and folks were getting more and more elaborate with their setups – grills (a must if you’re serious), canopies, RVs, blenders for frozen drinks, football passing games, bean bag games, beer, beer and more beer (Pabst may be acceptable if you get a case for under $10.) As the fad grew, and the amount of consumed alcohol quadrupled, tailgating was quickly getting out of control and becoming the activity that stadium owners and cities wanted to squash or at least scale back.
My ideal tailgate party would not be too high brow on the one side or too “animal house-ish” on the other. It’s a pre-football party that’s taking place in a parking lot for goodness sake. A grill would be a must, filled with 80/20 seasoned beef burgers and something in a casing (I love hotdogs, but grilled sausages would definitely do.) Both would be served on squishy buns - potato would be fine. I would want some kind of stew (like the chili I mentioned earlier) or a soup that warms my hands while I hold the cup, and a couple of sides (a sweet and Yukon gold potato salad, coleslaw and/or potato chips). I would provide a middle-of-the-road beer for my friends, but I would want great sparkling lemonade until the end of September, then I’m all in for hot chocolate or hot cider. Sorry if that’s too high brow for the lot of you. My beer portion went into the chili. As far as the games go, I HAVE to have a Corn Hole game - you know, the bean bag toss? Fun, fun, fun!
So that’s it. Not quite the decadent tailgate party you may find at a San Francisco 49ers or Miami Dolphins game, but still not the “beer, beer and more beer” quantity party you may find in other cities. You all know who you are. Regardless of how you tailgate, challenge yourself to serving one unexpected quality dish each time. Have fun!!!