Now at the twilight of my 26th year, it wasn't cute boys in sporty clothes, it wasn't the prospect of drinking Miller Lites through a funnel, and it certainly wasn't how I used to wake up feeling on post-GameDay Sundays that had me excited for this weekend's family festivities in South Bend. It was one thing and one thing only: tailgate beef.
For those of us who have more fond memories than actual desire for a) drinking, b) day drinking, and c) drinking outside, it's the food at tailgates that has us rooting for the home team.
If you're planning a tailgate for your favorite team, whether in your living room or live at the stadium, there are two food groups to be mindful of: meats and sweets.
Wait, is beer a food group? Because then there are three. But back to the key ones:
Most tailgaters will start with savory food (especially if they're downing bigger beers that have more sugar, like IPAs). And though cheese and crackers are great for your book group, the parking lot pavement calls for something that packs a little more punch.
These main events are important, both for taste and preventing the beers your guests drink from chasing away their pleasing personalities. Go big on the main course so you don't have to go home before kick-off.
Some of my family's fall favorites are:
- Hot dogs,
- Burgers (you MUST remember cheese, mustard, ketchup, and pickles if you are bringing burgers),
- Deli sandwiches (so easy and quick to pick up),
- Chili, or
- Tailgate beef sammies (one chuck roast, one 16oz jar of giardinara, one packet Italian seasoning and throw in the crock pot for six hours on low, or 3 on high). Don't skimp, get the good bread.
The meats may be the QBs of the parking lot events, but it's the sweets that can kick that game-changing field goal. People like to munch, and the passers-by will want something with less sustenance and more sugar. Also, if you have babies on board (children under 15), double your recipe.
If you are doing desserts, hand-held morsels will be easier to serve and eat than things that need to be sliced, like a cake.
Most of the best are classics, but these are always crowd-pleasers:
- Chocolate chip cookies,
- Chocolate covered pretzels,
- Seven layer (or any other kind of) bars,
- Cupcakes, or
- Puppy chow (suggest serving in portioned cups so that people don't stick their grimy hands in a communal chow bowl).
The beauty of a tailgate is that the hostessing is largely done before GameDay, so you can enjoy your guests, your food and a home team win without even worrying about a table setting. But to alleviate the jitters as game time nears, make sure you:
- Have enough food, with a buffer of at least five people (you never know who will show up hungry... with friends);
- Have all the heating and cooling devices you'll need... and ways to plug them in; and
- Utensils, plates and napkins as needed.
Whether you're off to the races or bringing the away-game masses into your home, keep it casual. The point of a tailgate isn't elegance, it's delicious food, cold beer, and judging each team's cheerleaders against each other.
Hut... hut... HIKE!