Tailgating – A Great American Tradition

Turkey breast on charcoal smoker

Turkey breast on charcoal smoker

It’s 8am on a fall Saturday.  You’re fumbling around with the coffee maker trying to get the black gold percolating.  In a few hours, you’re supposed to be down at the stadium to cheer your team on.   While you’re gathering your game day gear, many dedicated fans are already set up in the parking lot with charcoal burning, food marinating and beers cooling. They are the “true” tailgaters.  It’s what they live for!

How to Tailgate Like a Pro

For many sports-loving Americans, tailgating is as important as the actual game.  The pre-game tradition of socializing, playing low-impact sports like frisbee and cornhole, showing off your team spirit, and predicting how much your team will win by are half the reason folks show up in droves to attend sporting events.  All this excitement builds up an appetite. Remember those folks that were up getting ready for the game around the time you were going to bed?  They have food, and not just any food.  They have a tailgaters dream – brats, ribs, burgers, chili, steaks  – you name it – it’s probably cooking in the parking lot somewhere.

Deviled crabs

Deviled crabs

Tailgating cuisine rules the pre-game festivities.  If you have great smelling food then you can expect to make some new friends.  When I speak of tailgating, I don’t mean a Bojangles “8 Piece Tailgate Special.” I mean real food – the kind that you plan and prep ahead of time.  I realize that many folks may believe they don’t have the culinary know-how to prepare a tailgate, opting instead to pick up fast food on the way to the game. Additionally, tailgating requires equipment like grills, charcoal, tables and chairs, not to mention dealing with putting everything away in a safe place before heading into the game.  I’ve been to too many games where a “novice” has prepared a really tasty meal right before the game starts, but has no idea what to do with the smoking hot grill and coals.  Any chef or experienced cook will tell you that careful planning of your time is one of the keys to a successful event, no matter how big or small.  So make sure to plan your meal, pack all of your supplies, get to the stadium early, and most importantly, have fun!  Master these skills and you’ll be a pro in no time.

Tips for Successful Tailgating

Beer butt chicken

"Beer butt" chicken

Here are a few tailgating tips to make your next game day safe and fun:

  1. Keep a tailgate cooler packed with items like plates, utensils, cups, paper towels, garbage bags, wet-naps and extra condiment packets (ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, soy sauce, etc.).  Just don’t forget your cooler!
  2. Start your charcoal at least 3 hours before you plan to enter the stadium.  This will allow you time to get the grill hot, cook, eat, clean up and let the grill cool before putting it back in your vehicle.
  3. Cook items like ribs or chicken wings the night before.  On game day, reheat them on a grill to save time and ensure that your food is cooked all the way through.
  4. Experiment with seafood. Oysters and clams are two examples that are easy to share with your group. All you need is crackers and hot sauce.
  5. Pack a few wood chunks in your cooler and throw them on the grill with your food.  A little smoke will add extra flavor to your tailgate!
  6. Plan on feeding extra people.  Bring more than enough food and make some new friends!
Ribs fresh off the smoker

Ribs fresh off the smoker

If you follow these tips, you are sure to have some happy tailgaters in your group! Remember, it’s important if you’re grilling to start early so that the grill cools down before you pack up and head into the game. Clean up as you go and be sure to recycle. It’s also a good idea to coordinate with your friends so that they can pick up drinks, sides and snacks. As with any event, preparation and timing are the “keys to the game.”



Happy Tailgating!

Chef Ryan

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Ryan Kalooky

About Ryan Kalooky

Ryan was born in New Jersey and moved to North Carolina at an early age, where he took an interest in gardening and cooking. His experiences growing up in the family garden taught him many things, but the concept of seasonal cooking with ingredients sourced locally may be the best lesson he learned. After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in Biology, he attended culinary school at New England Culinary Institute (NECI) in Montpelier, Vermont. He has since gained experience in a variety of places, including a private executive dining room for a Fortune 500 company, an upscale Italian restaurant, a historic university hotel and a personal chef service. Today he runs his own private chef service and is available for catering, group cooking parties, dinners and private cooking lessons. His specialties come from his Mediterranean background and Italian influences growing up, a love of barbeque and smoked meats, as well as his culinary experiences in the South. When he’s not cooking or in the garden, Ryan can usually be found fishing, enjoying soccer or playing with his two dogs, Dempsey and Maya. He can be reached by email at rakalooky@gmail.com.

5 thoughts on “Tailgating – A Great American Tradition

  1. Ryan – have you REALLY made deviled crabs while tailgating? They look delicious, and I guess it would be pretty easy to serve up if they were prepared before….it just seems so exotic for tailgating. I guess I need to hang out near your setup at future football games.

    • I’m shocked that you doubt me! We should definitely go to a football game soon! I’ll bring food if you buy the tickets. I promise to make the food as “exotic” as I can. The possibilities are endless if you use the tailgate grill to reheat your pre-game meal. You can always grill up veggies while the main course is getting warm. Don’t forget to pack graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate to make s’mores when the fire is dying out – just make sure to clean the grill grates before you make dessert!

  2. Those crabs look awesome. Where is the recipe? By the way Ryan- your bacon wrapped scallops are excellent!

    • Thank you Ben! For the deviled crabs, you have to start with live crabs (cook, cool, remove meat, set aside crab shell). Next step is to saute onion, shallots, and bell pepper in butter or olive oil (make sure you season the veggies with salt and pepper). Add a bay leaf to the veggies. Deglaze the pan with white wine and a little sherry. Cook until almost dry (“au sec”). Add a little chicken stock, with one teaspoon of Dijon mustard mixed in, to moisten the veggies. Remove from the heat and add a pinch of cayenne and paprika, then fold in the crab meat. Taste and season as needed. Restuff the shells, top them with a some breadcrumbs, drizzle with a little olive oil, and pop in the oven (set to broil). Watch them very closely so you don’t burn the bread crumbs! Squeeze some lemon juice over them when the come out of the oven and serve hot. You can add whatever herbs you want (oregano or chives are nice). Good luck!

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