The football season is over. I’ll wait a moment to let that truly sink in.

That means there will be no football games this weekend, not one. We know it’s a long slog until August and the imminent return of our favorite game. But nothing says we can’t keep the tailgate fires burning until then.

The 2014 season of Tailgate Fan served up some of the best dishes we’ve seen — and eaten — yet. We’re recapping the best of each course, from last year and before, and writing the menu for your next tailgate in the process. Dig in, and drink up.

Camille Ford Clam Chowder Recipe Tailgate Fan

Soup: New England Clam Chowder

Soup at a tailgate? You try keeping the team spirit in a cold parking lot for three hours before kickoff without it. It is the perfect start to a tailgate because it’s easy to grab and eat while you’re trying to prep the rest of your food. You can just toss it in a coffee mug and drink it if you really wanted to.

At the soup position, we’re going with something tried and true that even a New York Jets fan can’t resist. New England won the Super Bowl, and they win the soup bowl as well. Blame Bill Belichick and Tom Brady if you want. But any attempts to disagree will just fall flat.

Check out Tailgate Fan’s New England Clam Chowder.

strawberry and almond salad

Photo Credit: Alma Schneider

Salad: Strawberry Almond Salad

You’re probably wondering on what planet would someone bring a salad to a tailgate. Answer: Earth. Stay with me here.

This isn’t just a matter of doing mom proud by eating your veggies. Nor is it about balancing out the piles and piles of grilled meat in your near future. You need to prime the stomach and tastebuds to truly enjoy all the delicious courses to come. And that’s where salad comes in.

The strawberry almond salad claims the top spot in the salad category. It goes well beyond the iceberg lettuce and tomato wedges. There’s fruit in there, and nuts too! Unlike lettuce, most people aren’t going to pile strawberries and almonds on their hamburger

Oh, and it’s delicious.

Check out Tailgate Fan’s Strawberry Almond Salad.

Fried Alligator Bites Tailgate Fan Camille Ford

Appetizer: Fried Alligator Bites

Certain positions, like free safety, come with a lot of intangibles. Talent isn’t just about executing the play that your coach calls in, it’s about being aware of the field changing, and adapting.

The same can be said for the appetizer at a tailgate. No one actually calls it an “appetizer.” It’s the food that you snack on while waiting for the burgers to cook. So why can’t that course be a little more than pigs in a blanket?

The desire to push the envelope is why fried alligator bites takes the appetizer position. It’s random. It’s mysterious. It’s not a food that someone normally digs up at the supermarket. It’s exciting, and will lead to loads of talk about “the weirdest food you ever ate.”

Check out Tailgate Fan’s Fried Alligator Bites.

Tailgate Fan Cooking Pulled Pork Sandwich

Entree: Pulled Pork Sandwich

For the tailgate entree, we’re going with something easy and tasty, which comes with its own edible plate to cut down on the messiness. It was a hard decision, but the pulled pork sandwich wins the entree position.

Let me be clear, prepping pulled pork is no simple matter. But when you’re prepping meat in your kitchen that will be devoured the next day, it is a labor of love that will reheat easy for your tailgate.

Check out Tailgate Fan’s Pulled Pork Sandwich.

Salted Caramel-Covered Brownies

Photo Credit: Alma Schneider

Dessert: Salted Caramel-Covered Brownies

Dessert at a tailgate? Why not! Not everything needs to be covered with meat and barbeque sauce. Some of us have a sweet tooth, and dessert is the best time to knock that sweet tooth out.

Salted Caramel-Covered Brownies might just about the best way to wrap up a tailgate… besides a win for your team, that is. Chocolate, caramel and salt are rolled into what might just be dessert’s bacon equivalent. Something this intoxicating is near impossible to stop eating until it’s gone.

Check out Tailgate Fan’s Salted Caramel-Covered Brownies.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Drinks: Beer

Much like NFL officials — specifically Ed Hochuli — the top tier of tailgate drinks seems to never change. And that’s why beer is the official beverage of tailgating. No need to act surprised. We know it couldn’t really be anything else.

It’s not even a specific type of beer. Just beer. At its most basic level, beer is easily transportable, easily drinkable and easily facilitates a party. And it makes a superb palate cleanser to transition between courses.

Ales? Lagers? Pilsners? Porter? Microbrew? I’ll leave that decision to your taste. But beer is definitely the tailgater’s go-to beverage.

Check out the Top 10 Tailgating Beers.

There you have it, tailgaters, the best of the best. Football may be on hiatus, but that’s no reason to stop the party. In fact, that’s exactly why you should keep it going. More tailgating will pass the offseason that much more quickly.

Patrick Emmel is a sports humorist who once punted a soccer ball fifty yards to his teammate, who then scored the only goal for his college intramural soccer team’s season. Seriously, that kick was placed PERFECTLY. He is also still a believer that Colt McCoy is going to break out as an NFL quarterback. You can read more of his obnoxious commentary at This Jeer In Sports and heckle him on Twitter @Patrick_AE.

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