Football season is here and that means we have an excuse to put out a big spread of food, spend the afternoon with friends and embrace garish colors and painted faces.
There is no shortage of hard-core tailgaters in the bay area, thanks to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the University of South Florida Bulls, who both play at Raymond James Stadium. A group of former First Union bankers shows up at every Bucs game as soon as the gates open, and Dunedin banker Bill Vandeven sets up a misting station and an A/C unit blowing cold air into a floor fan. They feast on steak sandwiches, shrimp boils, rack of lamb. At the Thanksgiving game, the group deep-fries eight turkeys and installs an alcohol ice luge while a DJ gets the party started for some 150 people.
"There's quite a few people who come to tailgate with us and won't even go to the game," said Mark Spence of Clearwater, who runs a mortgage company.
Others, like Tyler Ellis of Brandon, a biotech scientist, will cook some sausages while listening to tunes. Ellis has a specially modified 80-quart cooler that he has rigged with speakers and an iPod dock.
American ingenuity at its finest. You'll find plenty of it at home Buccaneers and Bulls games. We were at last week's games surveying the scene in the sweltering heat. When you're a fan, you figure out ways around that.
The essentials of tailgating include meat, a cornhole game, music, beer and more meat. In Florida, you can add shade or maybe even a fan to beat the heat because the first few months of football season can be brutally humid.
But that won't stop die-hards, because the ritual of tailgating is as big a part of being a fan as the fight song.
"The ideal tailgating dish is one that is portable, accessible and fun," said Taylor Mathis, the North Carolina author of the new cookbook The Southern Tailgating Cookbook: A Game-Day Guide for Lovers of Food, Football, and the South (University of North Carolina Press, 2013).
Those tuna steaks might be delicious, but they are hard to eat standing up. Better to go with a skewer or a burger. If the forecast calls for rain, consider a cold menu and wait out the drizzle under a canopy.
One of my family's favorite tailgating tools is a portable propane stove, which you can find for less than $50. It uses a standard propane tank and you then have one or two burners, good for heating up chili or jambalaya or scrambling eggs for an early game. We also have a table-top grill that is powered by propane that can also be had for less than $50.
With a little planning, the choices are endless. You could go with New Orleans gumbo when the Bucs play the New Orleans Saints for their first home game Sept. 15. Mathis suggests you "eat the competition" and serve pork if your team is playing the Arkansas Razorbacks or use chicken in the Spiedies recipe that accompanies this story as a stand-in for the eagle, owl or ibis your team will be tackling. I pried the recipe for this delicious sandwich made from marinated cubes of meat from some friends in upstate New York years ago. It's a proud specialty of Binghamton, N.Y.
While setting up the grill and lounging around all afternoon can be half the fun, if the drive to the stadium is less than 30 minutes, we have found it easier to cook or grill at home and pack the food in aluminum foil or use a propane burner to reheat on site. That way you have the food ready to eat when you arrive and no messy cleanup of charcoal. If we do grill, we tend to only grill things that can be cooked fairly quickly on a propane grill, such as sausages or wings.
Our favorites have been jambalaya or chili (reheated on the burner and served in a bowl over cooked white rice), Spiedies, quick-cooking sausages and drumsticks or dry-rubbed wings that are just as good cold as they are right off the grill.
For drinks, a pitcher of Bloody Marys was a big favorite last year for an early game, and don't forget about dessert. Mathis' cookbook contains a recipe for Training Table Brownies, based on the brownies his grandfather, a former athletic recruiter at Duke University, used to have on the players' training table. They are a good tailgating option because by serving them on a large sheet cake pan, you don't even have to cut them ahead of time. Guests can decide how big or small a serving they want.
Sharon Kennedy Wynne can be reached at [email protected]