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

Smoking Hot Summer

This summer has been a scorcher!  If you’re like me, you have probably hunted down your lucky friends who have access to a pool.  This inevitably leads to the tradition of firing up the grill to take part in our country’s favorite summer past time – barbecuing!  For a change of pace (and flavor), I suggest incorporating smoke into your routine.  Just a hint of smoke can enhance meats and other foods greatly.  So take a stab at impressing you friends and family with this classic cooking technique.  If you practice now you’ll be a pro in time for the holidays!

Smoking Then and Now

Smoked scallops, smoked salmon and Bloody Mary!

Smoked scallops, smoked salmon and a Bloody Mary!

Prior to modern refrigeration, smoke was used to preserve meat and seafood.   Today smokers are used by novice cooks and professional chefs, not so much to preserve food, but rather to impart that wonderful smokey flavor.  It should be noted that most “smoked” foods are not smoked in the true sense of the word, but rather they are “cooked with smoke.”  Wood chunks, chips or pellets are added to charcoal and the protein cooks fully in the heat while absorbing the desired smoke flavor.  True (cold) smoking can take hours, days, or even weeks, depending on the size and thickness of the protein.

Smokers have become more mainstream and have worked their way into many backyards, typically taking a backseat to the reliable gas grill.  eHow states that in 2009 57% of grills sold were gas, while 43% were charcoal.  That being said, it’s hard to beat the flavor from a charcoal grill, but the convenience of a gas grill is definitely a benefit.  Regardless of the type of grill you own, you are only a few minutes away from incorporating smoke into your meal without the expense of a separate smoking unit.

Simple Smoking with a Grill

Smoking pork butts on Weber charcoal smoker

Before: Pork butts smoking on Weber charcoal smoker

There are a variety of methods to enhance your meal with smoke.  The cheapest way to do this is to simply wrap some small wood chips (see our wood smoking chart below) in aluminum foil, poke a few holes in the top and add to the gas or charcoal grill.  The chips will begin to smolder after a few minutes and the smoke will adhere to the food.  Please note that using a smoking device in a gas grill will cause a slight buildup of soot, but don’t let this dissuade you!  If you prefer to step up to the next level, you can purchase an inexpensive smoke box from any of your large hardware or outdoor living stores – many are less than $15.  Over the course of the last 15 years, I graduated from smoker box to electric smokers to stand alone charcoal smokers (I currently own two well-used Weber smokers).

How to Smoke with a Gas Grill

Below are simple steps to apply smoke to your meal using a gas grill.

Chopped BBQ with jalapeno cornbread and homemade pickles

After: Chopped BBQ with jalapeño cornbread and homemade pickles

  1. First, wash your meat/poultry/seafood in cold water.
  2. Pat dry and apply salt, pepper and anything else for your desired flavor.  Water acts as a barrier to the smoke, so drying the meat is important!
  3. Allow the meat to come to room temperature (10 to 15 minutes, possibly longer for red meat).
  4. While you are waiting, crank up all of the burners and place the foil smoking pack (with the wood chips inside) on the hot grill, close it and wait for it to start smoking.
  5. Once smoldering, turn one side burner off and use your tongs to move the smoking foil to the now unlit side.
  6. Lightly oil your grill and pat your protein dry again.  Salt will cause moisture to leach out of the protein, so drying the food limits the chance that it will stick to the grill.
  7. Place your food on the grill and close the top.
  8. Cook the food as you normally would on the grill.  The smoke will not speed up the cooking process.

Wood Smoking Chart

Wood Comments
Apple Produces a mild smoke that is great for chicken, duck, dove, cornish game hens and quail.  This wood is commonly used to smoke bacon.
Alder Traditionally used in the Pacific Northwest to smoke salmon.  Imparts a mild smokiness that works well with most seafood.  Try this wood when smoking scallops.
Cherry Another mildly sweet smoke that enhances fish and poultry.  If you are using a cold smoker, this wood is a good choice when smoking fruit (apples/pears) and cheeses.
Hickory One of the most widely available and used woods.  Perfect for ribs, pork butt and turkey breast.  This wood may be used for any cuts of meat that require a long smoking time.
Maple Excellent choice for hams, fish and poultry.
Mesquite Produces a very strong smokiness.  Prolonged use of this wood may ruin food, so it is best used for items that cook quickly, such chicken breasts, ribeye/strip steaks and flank steak.  Try using this wood in a smoker box while grilling.
Pecan A great choice for fish and poultry, especially trout.
Oak Another excellent choice for items that require a long smoking time.  Perfect for large cuts of beef, such as brisket or prime rib.

Important Smoking Rules!

Never use:

  1. Wood that has been chemically treated, painted, stained, etc.
  2. Wood purposed for industrial or commercial use (pallets, siding, flooring, construction site scraps, etc.)
  3. Pine or other conifers (the sap may ruin the food and/or make you sick).

There are many types of fantastic woods available for smoking including peach, pear, apricot, nectarine, hazelnut, grape and even coffee.  Experiment with them all and most importantly, have fun doing it!

Happy smoking,

Chef Ryan