THE ART OF TAILGATING...
I was NOT a "tailgater"…. Not that I didn’t WANT to tailgate… it's just I didn’t really know what it was or how to do it! (similar to CAMPING for me) A couple of weeks ago that changed. I volunteered to throw a Tailgate party with some friends. Nervy, right? I hardly know anything about sports except which teams have cute outfits. (Ravens… I love purple!) So I hopped on the “all-knowing GOOGLE” and searched. With lots of preparation and planning (lists… lots of lists!), I dare say, the experience turned out great. Good food, good friends… just a good time (hi-5, y’all!) I became a star tailgater on my first try…. and that’s what I’m going to do for YOU. I’ll tell you all the stuff Google and Pinterest told me so that you too can become a tailgater.
SMART PARKING MAKES A DIFFERENCE.
On Tailgate Day, when you pull up into the parking lot, there are 2 things to keep in mind… Restrooms and dumpsters. You don’t want to be TOO close to either of them… just kind of close. You want to be able to get there in moments flat. Wandering through a parking lot with an outstretched arm holding a dripping bag of dirty plates, sour salad and drank beer cans is a traumatic experience. (“EW! did it drip on my new shoes??) Bathroom emergencies can be tearful and painful and brutally embarrassing. Catch my drift? Scout out the parking lot and make sure those things are in view and accessible. Also, if you have a charcoal grill, remember to look for the “hot embers disposal”…it should be around the dumpster.
WEATHER IS ALWAYS THERE.
Weather is something to consider. The majority of the Football season is COLD where I live. And Hockey season is disgustingly frigid. Scarves and beanies don’t always cut it! I brought the hottest thing I can think of… FIRE! I’m talking about the cute Donovan Fire Pillar from RST BRANDS.
It kept us nice and toasty and it's the perfect size! It’s narrower than most fire pits making it easy to pack. We put that baby under a pop-up canopy tent and stuck a bunch of folding chairs around it… perfection. (oh, bring a pop-up canopy tent too… they’ll keep the heat IN and shade your guests. Also helps your food not get sweaty on a sunny day. Note: don’t try to set up the pop-up alone… unless you want to be talked (laughed) about for years to come.)
Now that we’re comfortable under our canopy, with the warmth of the fire, let's talk FOOD! Things to consider when deciding a menu…How complex do you want to make your day? Do you want to bring a crockpot of Nally’s Chili? (which is AMAZING) Or are you bringing a double-decker smoker/grill with built-in burners and fridge? Just ask yourself if you want to be at the grill the whole time. You might!! Maybe your wife’s jerk-face uncle will be there with his “better-than-you”, “know-it-all”, “you’re welcome” attitude, and you have to be polite because he bought the tickets FOR you…. but it was only so he could rub your nose in it later and ask you to re-roof his entire house to return the favor. Yah, man…grill-master is your job for the day.
OR, maybe you like all your relatives and don’t want to miss a MOMENT with them… get the thing CATERED! (Hell yah!!) Or, there’s the in-between, “re-heat and serve” route. That just means, cook the meat the day before, and just throw that deliciousness on the grill at Tailgate Time for a few minutes to heat it up. VOILA!
"Reheat-your-meat" is the route we took. We had SOUTHWEST TURKEY BURGERS from Miss Rachael Ray.
*I left the bacon off (sin!!) and used olive oil instead of vegetable oil…party pleaser for sure!
The ingredients got chopped and measured and mixed the night before and then grilled. I packed 'em up and brought them in a cooler to the tailgate. We slapped them on the charcoal grill for 10 minutes to re-heat… RAVE reviews! So simple! And SO amazing. (Rachael Ray really knows what she’s doing.) It was an EXTRA BONUS that they’re guilt-free… if you’re into that.
Something to keep in mind when choosing food is to make sure the foods pair well together. Don’t do spicy salsa with spicy buffalo wings… for your tummy’s sake. You don’t want to listen to the game from the porta-potty. (but aren’t you glad it’s fairly close by??) Also, I’d recommend only having one or two “high-maintenance” food items… ribs, brats, burgers, and such. Then let all the other food be low-maintenance. And don’t try to be the hero… make food assignments and have other people bring food to chip in. Make it easy… tailgating is supposed to be fun!! Now, there is NO rule saying you HAVE to cook or grill or crockpot anything at a Tailgating. You can absolutely go ALL “Low Maintenance” and not be scoffed at or scorned. Here are some “low maintenance” food items that are absolutely perfect for the occasion…
Chips with Salsa, bean dip, Guacamole, 7 layer dip, queso, and/or chip dip
Carrot and celery sticks with hummus.
Triangle sliced pita bread with hummus
Cheese and crackers
Cured meats (pepperoni, prosciutto)
Pretzels with mustard to dip
Cookie and brownies and cupcakes
Many many options, with something for everyone
IMPORTANT NOTE (SERIOUSLY THOUGH)
WARNING! Make sure you have enough food! A tip caters use is to plan for 25% more than the confirmed amount of guests. So if you are planning on 25 people, have enough for 30. If you’re planning on 100… make enough for 125. (That’s as good as my math skills get. If you’re planning on 12 people, I have no idea what to tell you.) Too much is better than too little and you can always share with the next-door tailgate camp! Community is what tailgating is all about.
Tip: bring an empty cooler to throw all your dirty dishes in. Otherwise, there’s a chance a greasy potato salad bowl ends up in the untouched fruit bowl… just sloshing away in the only cooler because YOU were too lazy to get the other one out of the basement. Don’t ruin the fruit. Bring the other cooler.
Another Tip: A pretty ingenious one, I thought… use an empty laundry detergent dispenser (the big kind… for the enormous amount of laundry we constantly do as adults) as a handwashing station! Fill it with not-cold water and have a little hand soap nearby with towels… wallah! You can wash that gross tasting sunscreen right off those fingers, not to mention the uncooked meat you were handling.
Important items to pack…
Plates, napkins, forks and spoons, condiments, extra trash bags, lots of ice, paper towels (you know something’s getting spilled) and maybe cups if you have 2-liter sodas or drink mixers.
IT'S DRINK TIME, PARTY PEOPLE!
DRINKS are another huge part of a tailgate. Do NOT forget drinks. People would rather have drinks than the coleslaw at these parties. (I know its a secret family coleslaw recipe… I’m not saying we don’t want your coleslaw, Janice! Just bring drinks, okay?) Are you ready to hear how EXTRA I can get? (I’m pretty proud of this one) We stuck a little shoe shelf into a RAV4 and transformed it to the CAR BAR… complete with mixers and wine coolers and of course beer. (don’t forget OPENERS if you bring bottles. looking at unopenable beer is actually pretty heartbreaking to some people) It made everything very visible and accessible and was a fun conversation starter. And yah… it's so cute! (I did get a “for sure a MOM did that” comment. She was not wrong. but, hey! dads can be extra, too!) Make sure you have soda for the non-drinkers… and make sure you have plenty of water for everyone.
TIME TO DROWN YOUR NEIGHBOR WITH MUSIC.
Bring your speaker! Music is a must. Spotify actually has a Tailgate Playlist…called ULTIMATE TAILGATE PARTY. or you can borrow OURS…
TIME TO SHINE, LITTLE STAR.
Football season is nearly over, but tailgating happens at nearly every sporting event. I mean, you can always tailgate at hockey or indoor soccer games, or maybe Sunday church could use some light tailgating, right? So gather thoughts, meditate over, and perfect your Tailgating lists and assignments because you are a star tailgater now. Can’t wait to be invited to your killer tailgate party…hopefully for a team with cute red, or purple outfits… I’ll bring the chips!!