The pigskin is about ready to squeal and sports fans across the country are already dreaming of watching their team fight its way to the championship—and of the well-stocked tailgate parties they will prepare before kickoff. There’s nothing quite like a good tailgate to get people fired up for the game.
Before the day of the big game, though, there are several steps you can take to ensure your party scores big and is the talk of the season.
Without the people, a tailgate just isn’t a party. But, before you can buy food for your tailgate, figure out how many people are attending—and what their food preferences are. In order for everyone to enjoy the tailgate to its fullest, it’s important to take any dietary restrictions into consideration as you plan your menu.
Vegetarians, those who are lactose intolerant, as well as those with celiac disease (or other restrictions) can all be football fans. Check with your friends and family about any specific foods they can’t eat. Then decide before heading to the supermarket whether you want to prepare all the food yourself or have a potluck and encourage your guests to bring a dish.
Once you know who’ll be at the tailgate and what you want to serve, save yourself a lot of trouble and time by preparing as much as possible before game day. You can’t grill the hotdogs, hamburgers, brats, and chicken wings in advance, but there is still plenty you can do that will enable you to enjoy the party—and the game!
As you create your shopping list for the party, consider the essentials—and a couple surprises to keep your tailgaters on their toes. Must haves include:
Once you have these tailgate staples, there is room to get fancy with how you execute—and enhance—them. Hot dogs and hamburgers need to have all the condiments available and ready for football fans to self-serve. But, if you want to take your tailgate food to the next level, consider these recipes:
Hearty beef, bean, and cheese nachos fit for a crowd!
1.5 pounds lean ground beef
1/2 cup onions, diced
1 tablespoon Chili Spice Blend
1 can refried beans
1 13 ounce bag tortilla chips
3 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup jalapeños, sliced
2 avocados, pitted and sliced
16 ounces sour cream
Pico de Gallo
5 large tomatoes
3 whole Serrano peppers or fresh jalapeños (more or less to taste)
1/2 small sweet onion
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, cleaned
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon sea salt
1/3 cup lime juice
Pico de gallo is generally known as a fresher version of salsa that does not include cooking the ingredients before serving. Pickier palates may want their own batch without jalapeños. Either way, these nachos will keep the crowd cheering!
In large sauté pan over medium heat, cook ground beef, onions, and chili until fully cooked. Add refried beans and mix well. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 F.
Coat two large baking sheets with cooking spray. Spread one layer tortilla chips evenly over both sheets. Cover chips with 2 cups cheese. Top with ground beef mixture, jalapeños, and remaining cheese.
Place in oven and bake 15 minutes. Top with avocado slices and serve with pico de gallo, sour cream, and extra jalapeños.
Pico de Gallo
In large food processor combine all ingredients. Pulse to chop. Transfer to a serving bowl. Cover and chill. Set aside. If possible, make a day or two ahead of time to allow flavors to meld together. Makes approximately 4 cups.
Consider making your own chips instead of buying bags of them with this simple recipe.
12 medium corn tortillas
oil for deep frying
sea salt for sprinkling
Line two baking sheets with paper towels. Set aside.
Stack three tortillas on a cutting board. Using a pizza cutter or chef’s knife, slice the stack into 8 wedges, pizza style. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Working in batches, fry wedges in hot oil until browned, about 3 minutes. Watch chips carefully so they do not over cook.
Remove from hot oil and drain on prepared baking sheets. Immediately sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Serve with fresh guacamole or salsa. Serves 8
4 pounds chicken wings
Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce:
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 cup blue cheese, crumbled
1 green onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup hot sauce
salt to taste
celery and carrot sticks
Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce
In a small bowl add sour cream, mayonnaise, blue cheese, green onion, cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, salt and stir. Dipping sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Preheat the grill to medium heat.
Separate the chicken wings at the joint and remove the tips, then add to a bowl.
Drizzle some olive oil over the wings and season with salt.
Place wings on the grill and cook for about 30 minutes.
Add melted butter, hot sauce, cider vinegar and salt to a large bowl. Mix well.
Add cooked wings and toss to evenly coat.
Serve with blue cheese dipping sauce, celery and carrot sticks.
Don’t forget these fun appetizers! While they can’t go on the grill until your guests have arrived, all the chopping and prep work can be done the night before. Assemble the poppers and put them in the refrigerator until it’s time to fire them up so that all you have to do is take them out and throw them on the fire.
6 oz. sharp cheddar or other cheese, cut into 18 sticks that will fit inside the jalapenos
6 thin slices smoked bacon, each cut crosswise into thirds
18 smoked almonds
Cut off stem end of the jalapenos and remove the seeds, using the jalapeno corer included with your rack. Be careful not to touch your eyes or face as the pepper juice can sting. It may help to wear latex gloves to protect your hands.
Slice the cheese into uniform sticks, just big enough to fit inside each jalapeno, and roll each cheese stick with an almond in a slice of bacon. Stuff the wrapped cheese stick into each jalapeno and arrange on the jalapeno rack.
Grill the jalapenos by indirect heat at a moderate temperature (about 375 F/ 190 C) until the poppers are tender and lightly browned, about 20-30 minutes.
For spicier poppers, cook a few minutes less. Enjoy piping hot! Yield: 18 Poppers
Now that you have all the food covered, make sure you have refreshing beverages to quench those thirsts sure to come on while raucously singing your team’s fight song. Just as you had to consider the dietary restrictions of your guests, it’s also important to consider their lifestyles.
Even though people typically think of beer when someone mentions a tailgate party, you’re going to want to have a non-alcoholic alternative available other than water, like a refreshing lemonade or iced tea. Children, pregnant women, and those who abstain from alcohol all need options for quenching their thirsts.
2 lbs fresh strawberries or 2 16oz packages frozen strawberries
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup water
1 liter bottle club soda, chilled
Fresh strawberries for garnish
In a large saucepan combine strawberries, sugar, and water. Cook and stir over medium heat until sugar has dissolved.
Using a vegetable peeler, take the peel off of the lemon. Then juice the lemons. Add the lemon juice and lemon peel to the strawberry mixture.
Continue to cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
Press the mixture through a fine strainer and discard solids.
Fill each glass with ice. Put in about ¼ cup strawberry syrup and fill the rest with club soda.
Garnish with fresh strawberries.
To make alcoholic, replace the club soda with champagne.
Fresh cherry juice transforms this iced tea beyond ordinary!
1 pound Bing cherries, pitted
1 tablespoon sugar
4 bags lemon tea, such as Lemon Zinger Tea
4 bags berry tea, such as Berry Zinger Tea
4 cups boiling water
4 cups cold white grape juice
Place the cherries in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle them with the sugar. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they release their juices. Pour into a bowl to cool.
Place the cherries and juice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse until the cherries are finely chopped. Drain through a fine-mesh sieve, reserving all the juice. Discard the skins.
Steep the tea bags in the water for 3 minutes. Discard the teabags.
Combine the cherry juice, tea, and grape juice in a large pitcher. Stir gently. Fill each serving glass with ice. Pour the tea mixture over the ice. Serve. Makes 2 quarts
Unless you picnic a lot, you ought to check out your portable grill. It may have been a while—since last year’s tailgate season?—since you’ve used it and you’ll want to make sure it didn’t get damaged while in storage. Also check that there’s enough propane in the tank.
Tailgating is about more than just food. It’s about hanging out with your friends while having a good time cheering your team on to victory. Be sure to pack a football, Frisbee, or other game that will let you get up and run around in anticipation of the big game. Nothing can prepare your adrenaline quite like jumping into your own pickup game where you get to emulate your football heroes as you score a touchdown for your team.