While it doesn’t take a MENSA candidate to throw a solid tailgate, too often people settle for the mediocrity of burgers, dogs and light beer. You’re better than that and your tailgate should reflect it. Anyone can run to the grocery store to pick up a package of franks and some buns and park a truck in a grass lot. Tailgating is more than that. It’s a celebration of the fall season, quality American cuisine and the coming together of friends—and day-drinking. Don’t migrate toward the middle with complacent menus and generic staples. Use these five easy pointers to throw a tailgate like you mean it.
- Show the Other Games. Is there anything more frustrating than being in a field or parking lot tailgating while tracking a game on your cell phone? Don’t be the guy that missed Cal/Stanford or Michigan State/Wisconsin because you didn’t splurge on a generator. Get one and tune into the games. If you’ve got an RV, use a satellite. If you’re roughing it like the rest of us, use a generator to power the TV and hook it up to a laptop to stream games. Oh, the spoils of modern technology.
- Craft Beer. Miller Lite would like you to think that drinking a beer that isn’t Miller Lite makes you less of a man. Fact is, Miller Lite is light beer. It tastes and feels like light beer. Serve your fellow tailgaters something crafty and seasonal that goes with what you’re offering. Personally, you can’t go wrong with a strong pumpkin ale. It’s warm and filling—it just tastes right when you’re outside and the leaves are Rutgers scarlet and Bama crimson.
- Fresh Guacamole and Bruschetta. Guests at your tailgate wouldn’t be the first group of people in the world to judge a party based on the dip spread. Swinging through a super market for some store-bought sour cream & onion dip just isn’t going to cut it if you want your tailgate to upstage your constituents. Serving homemade guac and bruschetta is a subtle and delicious way to eclipse expectations. For an added bonus, buy local produce. Prep the ingredients the night before and mix ‘em at the tailgate. Freshly made [dips] can make or break a tailgate meal.
- Pay Attention to the Time. Burgers and dogs are all well and good, y’know, except for when it’s 7:30 a.m. and you’ve got four hours of eating, drinking and nursing Friday night’s hangover before heading to the gate for a noon game. If you’re tailgating in the morning, offer your guests Bloody Mary’s, mimosas and Irish coffees. Eggs, bacon and breakfast burritos grill just as easily as the dogs and burgers you’d have for lunch. If you’re tailgating for a night game, offer something more substantial than finger foods. Marinated london broil, smoked turkey legs and barbeque chicken sound much better than franks and patties.
- Anything in a Crockpot. Winter is coming which means days are shorter, nights are longer, people break out the gloves and scarves and start to rethink how long they’d like to stand outside of a stadium or dome eating and drinking before a game. Anything that cooks in a Crockpot is a perfect adaptation to the changing tailgate climate. Buffalo chicken dip, chili, beef stew and anything else that slow cooks and stays at a high temperature will warm your tailgaters up and require very little maintenance on your part. Put the ingredients in the pot, turn it on, and check it very sporadically. You could even set it up to cook while you’re at the office on Friday. Warm tailgaters are happy tailgaters.
Mike Bertha is a Penn State grad from Philadelphia. You can read him daily on the Philly Post and follow him on Twitter at @MikeBertha.