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Tailgating 101: Food, Friends and Fun

Tailgating Fare Tailgating Fare
by Cheryl Hill-Burrier

In Texas and across the nation, Tailgating at or nearby stadiums is a far cry from packing up the lawn chairs and ice chests full of hot dogs and chips. We're talking' about some serious Show & Eat that nearly rivals the games being played. And although sports is the main arena for this national pastime, NASCAR, music concerts and fundraising events have jumped in on the fun, too. So, let's go through the rule book, work up a game plan, and then cook up some great food that'll keep you off the sidelines. It's all about good food, friends and team spirit!

Today's team rivalries might be considered a little sappy compared to the arguments still centered on the actual commencement of this tradition. The long-term squabbles have to do with whether the first tailgating event occurred at a football game between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869, the Kentucky Derby in 1875, or (just possibly) the Battle of Bull Run in 1861 involving the first major skirmish between the north and south. Now don't laugh off that last line about the Civil War.

Some historians state that folks over in Washington had loaded up their wagons and carriages with wine, whiskey and lots of food for their usual Sunday outings when word came that there was a battle brewing at Manassas, Virginia. So off they headed to Bull Run Stream where the Union troops had already advanced singing "The Battle Cry of Freedom" while the Confederates countered with "Dixie" and eventually gained the upper hand. With the Union fellas retreating into the same location as the wagonloads of onlookers, it's said to have caused what might have been the very first post-game traffic jam.

Regardless of the actual year or place of occurrence, by the 1950s tailgating expanded to include families packing up station wagons and heading out for the lakes and parks where they picnicked off the vehicle tailgates.

Alles klar, Herr Kommissar?

Fast forward to today, and it seems this event has morphed once again into a version of block party meets backyard barbecue with a touch of civil war that still includes folks taking sides and wearing their colors, singing rally songs and showing territorial spirit by serving up plenty of their home state food. What's more, there's even a self-proclaimed sports Tailgating Commissioner by the name of Joe Cahn, the world's only professional tailgater who travels the country attending both regional and national tailgating competitions. The Commish says that the whole tailgating experience revolves around the food and plenty of decorations to show your team spirit. So let's look at what folks across the nation are cooking up at their tailgating parties.
East Coast
Italian Sausage, Lasagne
Cuban Food
Jambalaya, Crawfish Etouffeé
Grilled Brats
New England
Chowder, Lobster
Grilled Salmon
Beef Brisket, Chili
West Coast
Seafood, Pasta
Now, just to prove how popular these events have become, even the USDA has jumped on the bandwagon with an article titled "Referee A Safe Football Tailgate Party", as well as an online website for helpful food tips offered through their virtual representative, Ask Karen.

It's like planning a picnic on steroids! So let's get started planning your tailgating party by first finding your team and the rules for the specific tailgating location. Do this about two or three weeks in advance. For example, if you're planning to attend a Texas State University home game, you should type "Texas State University" into your Internet browser and include "tailgate" or "tailgate rules". In the case of Texas State, their website notes game schedules, offers a reserved spot application, the designated tailgating location and rules that detail things like times to enter and leave, cooking and grilling guidelines, pets policy, cleanup and conduct.

Now that you have your location and rules, use the game plan checklist below and then gather your supplies almost the same as you would for a picnic on steroids!

Tailgating Game Plan

  1. At least one week ahead of time, plan your menu and decide what will be cooked or prepared at home, and what will be cooked or prepared on site.
  2. Make sure you have team clothing and decorations for your site.
  3. If you're having guests or sharing your site, decide who brings what.
  4. Two to three days before, gather all your ingredients and supplies listed below.
  5. The day before, cook what foods you planned to and have all other food items ready to be packed in ice chests or containers the next morning.

Tailgating Supplies

  • Coolers
  • Portable burner or grilling equipment
  • Small fire extinguisher
  • Paper plates and cups
  • Plastic utensils
  • Disposable table cloth
  • Trash Bags
  • Cutting board
  • Toothpicks
  • Flashlight
  • Moist towelettes
  • First-aid kit
  • Bug Spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Can or bottle opener, corkscrew
  • Umbrella or rain gear
  • Blankets
  • Radio or small TV for the game
  • And even an extra set of clothes
Now we're ready to plan our menu, and for that I have a complete day's worth of Texas Tailgating food!

Starting off the lineup will be Breakfast Tacos that include a variety of filling options to satisfy everyone on your team. Next is a real half-time favorite of sausage-and-cheese- or chili-and-cheese-stuffed jalapeños, and in the fourth quarter, we'll bring out a thick pot of my husband Larry's incredible Texas Chili, which is chili con carne, meaning with meat, not beans! That spicy bowl of red is not only great all by itself, but also doubles as an incredible topping for whatever your taste buds desire, like hot dogs, cheeseburgers, eggs, and one of my all-time favorites, Frito pie! Throw in your favorite drinks, fruit and veggie platters for snacking, and top it all off with a Dr Pepper Cake listed in the "Grandmas Recipes" section of Texascooking.com and you've got your game day planned out. So, GO TEAM, which for some of us is the Texas State Bobcats! (Here is some additional inspiration for ideas on tailgate food.)

Breakfast Tacos

This recipe can be made ahead of time, placing the eggs, tortillas, potatoes, beans, bacon, and chili into individual foil containers and re-heating on the grill.
  • 8 eggs
  • 8 flour tortillas, warmed
Suggested Fillings and Toppings
  • 2 red-skin potatoes, boiled and diced
  • 1 cup refried beans, creamed
  • 8 slices cooked bacon
  • 8 tablespoons red or green hot sauce
  • 1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup diced white or green onion
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cups chili (recipe follows)
Scramble the eggs, divide equally and fill the warm tortillas. Fill and/or top with any of the multiple options. Makes 4 to 8 servings.

Texas Chili

This can be made ahead of time and reheated over a grill, or made on site.
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 3 pounds coarsely ground beef
  • 1/2 large onion, finely diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, shredded
  • 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 4 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch, mixed in 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon medium-coarse ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 medium white onion, finely chopped, OR 1-1/2 cups green onion, chopped
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat, Add the ground beef and brown.

Place the beef in a stew pot over low heat, adding salt, pepper, garlic, and onion. Cook until vegetables are soft, then raise heat to medium, adding tomatoes, cumin, chili powder, cayenne powder and 3 cups of water. Continue cooking for 15 minutes. Add cornstarch mixture to thicken chili mixture, and cook over low heat for 45 minutes.

Top with cheese and onions and serve with crackers, cornbread or tortillas. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Stuffed Jalapeños

  • 20 jalapeños, topped, seeded and halved lengthwise
  • 1 pound ground pork sausage OR 1-1/2 cups chili (recipe above)
  • 1 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
While wearing plastic gloves, top, seed and halve jalapeños and set aside.

Cook sausage in a skillet over medium heat until evenly brown. Drain grease and cool. Crumble the cooled sausage into a bowl and set aside. (If you're using chili as the filling, you can skip this step.)

Spoon sausage or chili into each jalapeño half and top with shredded cheese. Stuffed jalapenos can be placed on top of foil over a grill and warmed until the cheese is melted. Makes 40 stuffed jalapeños.

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