Spike the chili and pass the football, please—it’s tailgate time.
Foodwise, there are three ways to go when you’re hosting a pre-game party. The first--and most beloved--is grilling. Burgers, brats, steaks, chops—the meat’s the thing here, but even when you’re catering to crowd of vegetable lovers, there’s nothing like char and smoke to warm up the team spirit. A second approach is the make-ahead main dish, something cooked up the previous day that you simply reheat before the game begins. We’re talking slow-simmered chili or a rich, cheesy enchilada casserole here, the kind of preparations that gain flavor when the ingredients have had a chance to get to know each other.
Spicy grilled foods and cook-ahead hot dishes are especially welcome on chilly autumn Sundays, but if you live in a temperate clime (or you don’t want to haul a heat source to the stadium), consider the cold sandwich. This could be anything from a yard-long, mile-high submarine to a build-your-own buffet.
Each approach has its upsides: grilled meats are perennial favorites and there’s little or no preparation. Plus you get to wield an impressive pair of tongs and show off your barbecue skills. Stews and casseroles are done ahead, leaving you to enjoy the party, while sandwich-making is as fool-proof as tailgate entertaining gets.
Whatever food you choose, make it hearty and plentiful, and don’t be shy with the side dishes and desserts. There’s a kid in every sport fan and he (or she) is ravenous, so bring on the cheese trays, dips and chips, cookies and bars.
Of course, you don’t actually have to be at the stadium to host a game day meal; tailgating on your own driveway is always an option (and the bathroom is closer). This month’s recipes are fitting wherever fans gather and whenever they’re hungry for victory.
Once your tailgate is set up, keep in mind that there’s etiquette at these events (even though the painted torsos, oversized headgear, and general lack of decorum belie it). For example, if you’re grilling, avoid using self-starting charcoal or lighter fluid, whose fumes can bother your neighbors. Instead, use a chimney starter--a metal cylinder with strategically placed holes that sits on the grill; a sheet or two of newspaper is all it takes to bring a pile of charcoal to the glowing embers stage. (Chimney starters are available wherever grill supplies are sold).
It’s also good manners to share a little of your bounty with other tailgaters, the ones set up closest to you. A deviled egg, a brownie, a barbecued chicken wing—they go a long way in close quarters, and after all, you’re all in this (parking lot) together. The beauty of such generosity is, you’re likely to get something delicious in return.
As for displays of loyalty, practically anything goes, including decorating everything (and everybody) in team colors. Indeed, the food itself could be in team colors. (One of the cleverest tailgate foods I’ve ever eaten was a potato gratin layered with green spinach and gold squash; it was invented by a Green Bay Packer fan, naturally). Taunting passersby who are rooting for the opposite team is perfectly acceptable, even de rigueur; just keep it good-natured, and never, ever throw food at them.
Game Day Chili - Meaty, slow-simmered, and spicy enough to warm you through four quarters.
Blue Cheese Red Wine Burgers - Tired of the same ol’ burgers and beer? Step up to some more sophisticated tailgate fare.
Hot Italian Subs - Pass the napkins! These bold-flavored "Sloppy Guiseppes" are as messy and fun as more familiar Sloppy Joes.
Sour Cream and Cheese Enchiladas with Chipotle Chili Gravy - Need a big meal for the big game? Go for this meatless but surprisingly hearty Tex-Mex casserole.
Autumn Pasta with Bacon, Brussels Sprouts, and Collard Greens - Football season hits its stride right when the first frost-sweetened greens and Brussels sprouts are harvested. Here they’re sautéed and tossed with bacon and pasta for an easy, post-game supper or a welcome addition to a tailgate potluck.
Sat-Upon Sandwich– Think submarine sandwich, but with a twist. When you wrap and compress the assembled loaf--yes, you can sit on it on the way to the game!--the flavors blend and the sandwich is easier to eat.
Wisconsin-Style Hot Dogs with the Works - Have you ever treated a hot dog like a brat? A bratwurst, that is, the peppery German-style sausage that’s served at nearly every sport event in Wisconsin.
Tuscan-Style Bean and Smoked Ham Soup - A spiral-cut ham can provide not one, but two, tailgate meals—serve it one week as the centerpiece of a sandwich buffet, then use the carcass the following week to make a hearty bean soup.
Beer-Marinated Grilled Pork Chops – Beer’s not just for toasting the team; it also tenderizes and adds a pleasant tang to grilled chops.