Opening weekend in the NFL is right around the corner and it is never too early to start “cussin’ and discussin’” who will be this season’s breakout stars, and of course, what you will serve at the first L.A. Rams tailgate party of the year.
You might be a season ticket holder who goes all out and leads a caravan of friends in their RVs, or a solitary soul who fires up a hibachi grill on the porch. If your pockets aren’t flush with cash but still enjoy the camaraderie of thousands of other fans, don’t be dismayed if the costs of tickets, parking, and gas won’t fit into your budget — a great tailgate party can happen in your driveway.
- Clean the garage to give your guests plenty of room to jump and scream when Matt Stafford hits Cooper Kupp with a no-look pass, not to mention the acrobatic high five action. Cover up, or least dust off, those woodworking tools. Nobody is going to believe the story that you built your wife a repro 1814 Queen Anne hutch if the the equipment is unused and covered with common dust.
- Make sure you have plenty of seating, and that the TV works and is hooked up to receive the signal. Screen size doesn't matter, although bigger is better, but many of us were around when a 32” RCA was a smooth move and we still loved watching the game.
- Back a pickup near the garage. Leave enough side room to set up your grill station. I know guys who have three separate rigs going every Sunday, but if you have BBQ game, one should be plenty to feed 15 to 20 guests. If you don’t have a truck, borrow one. It may be a macho thing, but a mini-van or a Prius with the trunk lid up is an invitation to be ragged on.
- Try to be organized and get all purchases and prep work done well in advance. Drinks iced, meats in cooler and side dishes in bowls. Nothing looks more impressive to those pesky early arrivers than a host who brings out all his edible and drinks in three trips, calmly throws back his perfectly coiffed hair, and proclaims, “Lets Party,” in a spot-on Arnold Schwarzenegger impression.
Booze, meat, and sweets are the three pillars of tailgating success
Down the hatch
Beer, wine, and cocktails are the traditional potables. Early in the football season, the weather is still quite warm in California, if not down right scorching. Find something cool and thirst-quenching that not only tastes good and compliments your food, but also satisfies the varied individual likes and dislikes of party attendees.
Hard seltzers are all the rage these days. At the apex of the craft beer craze, bold, independent brewers were branching out into hard soda pops. Then big corporate breweries jumped in and and offered citrus favored brewed products and hard lemonades. (remember Zima?) Flash forward a few years and with the buildup of popularity in these beverages, one major brewer combined the classic margarita cocktail into a malt-based adult beverage, the Lime-A-Rita. Other brewers, large and small, embraced the craze and today, there are a hand full of companies creating agave and citrus based hard seltzers in mind-blowing flavors.
One of the newcomers to the tequila-inspired adult beverage sector is Lone River Beverage Company. Based in Texas, their flagship seltzer is called Ranch Water and comes in four flavors, the lime/agave Original and Spicy, Rio Red Grapefruit, and Prickly Pear.
Ranch Water is easy drinking, not too sweet and has enough effervescence to keep your palate clean and primed for more. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s a dead ringer for a handmade margarita on the rocks, but the flavor profile has that distinct quality.
Legend has it that Ranch Water was concocted by a wild-haired rancher in Far West Texas. As the story goes, the spirit of the drink had him following the West Texas stars all the way from Fort Davis to Marathon by foot, where he was found asleep under a piñon tree.— Lone River Ranch Water (@ranchwater) April 7, 2020
Off the grill and on the side
The main event: MEAT
You are only limited by your imagination, but more is always better (unless you’re a vegetarian, and there are some great meat-free options on the market). Don’t limit yourself and your guests to one selection of meat, some chips and dips and a few condiments. Driveway tailgates are the perfect venue for showing off your culinary expertise.
One sure way way to impress your guests is to feature an eclectic array of meats on the menu. Most cooking surfaces have the space and heat versatility to handle a variety of methods. Try this simple formula for grill sampler.
- Put some hot dogs in a crock pot for the kids, or put corndogs (always a kid fave!) in the crock with the stick side down.
- First, preheat your grill for 30 minutes before you start. A clean and hot grill is a chef’s best friend.
- Thirty minutes before your guests arrive and you are pre-heated, turn off a third of the burners. This is the perfect area for large chunks of meat that need longer cooking. Bone-in meats pack more flavor, but for the sake of being properly cooked in a hour or so, find a boneless piece that is three to four pounds — maybe a beef sirloin roast, a rack of pork, or a boneless leg of lamb. The rub, marinade, and sauce possibilities are endless. If you dare, try a chunk of bologna, a half-ham or picnic shoulder, or even one of those whole pastrami briskets. (you should wrap the pastrami in foil, with a few drops of water).
- On the the hot side of your grill, char up sausages, kabobs, or thin sliced, tender meat. Anything that can be cooked in 5-6 minutes. Cut into sizes that can hand-held, or skewed with tooth pick. As it comes off the grill, put on a deep platter and have plenty of hearty bread to soak up the juices.
- Most lidded grills have a second deck, a grill canopy that hangs off the lid or is raised above the main heat source. This is perfect for cooking fish. At most box-style grocery/department stores, you can buy fletches of salmon, halibut and/or tuna. These larger pieces look really cool for service, but honestly, any size of fillet will suffice. Make a foil vessel by crimping around the edges, put a couple pats of butter down, mount the fish atop, and put a few butter chunks on top. Good, fresh fish doesn’t need much adornment, so keep it simple, season and some fresh herbs. If you’re a true gourmand, baste the fish with the butter and juices.
- Grazing is the best way to keep guests moving and engaged. Set the chips, dips, salads and condiments on a separate table, the bar and canned drinks a little ways away, and the kiddie table (with all their goodies), at a safe distance. Keep the chef/grill station out of the way, but with a good view of the TV and all other food areas.
Again, there are a myriad of salads to choose from. Everyone has their own preferred brand of chips and favorite dips, whether homemade or commercial. As for veggies, serving them raw with dips add some crunch and herbaceousness to a meat-heavy menu. If you decide to grill them, kabobs always look enticing. Cut them on the bias (cross ways on a sharp angle) and grill on a hot grill, brushing with olive oil and fresh herbs. One of my favorite slaw dishes comes from The Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidells and Dennis Kelly.
- 6 cups finely shredded green cabbage, or make it four and add two cups red cabbage
- 2 geen onions, finely sliced
- 1⁄2 cup thinly sliced red onion (or any other sweet variety, the red gives groovy color)
- 2 teaspoons (or more, to taste) minced garlic
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1⁄4 cup sour cream
- 1⁄4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (I usually substitute an A-1 type steak sauce)
- 1 teaspoon Tabasco (I often substitute sriracha and add 1 tablespoon)
- Season to taste with salt and black pepper
Whisk the dressing until smooth, combine with vegetables and toss well. Refrigerate for an hour or so, to let flavors meld. This slaw goes so good with anything smoked and stands on its own.
Parting is such sweet sorrow
The game is over (the Rams won!) and the crowd is looking to exit. Desserts usually get the short shrift at tailgates. Most of the time it just something to cram into you mouth on commercial breaks or as you run for the door. But, a tangy, baked cheesecake would go well with any fruit topping and dark fruit has been a traditional accompaniment with chocolate since the French refined cooking. Why not try either with a prickly pear drink? It's dark fruit, right?
Probably the best way to eat grapefruit is with a broiled, sugar crust. Any sweet dipped in granulated or turbinado sugar might be a good fit. Maybe a crème brulee, or as we call it here in the California’s San Joaquin Valley, flan.
Sober up and realize tailgates are a glimpse into the soul of society
It’s not all about over-indulging in food and fizzy drinks. There are some serious thinkers on the subject of tailgating. Anthropologist John Sherry, in his two-year research project titled “A Cultural Analysis of Tailgating” told Wired.com.
“One day I slowed down and paid attention to things that were going on that weren’t individual celebrations. It was much more nuanced that I had thought before.”
According to Sherry and Wired (Tailgate parties) “... are bustling microcosms of society where self-regulatory neighborhoods foster inter-generational community, nurture tradition and build the team’s brand.”
If that’s not sobering enough, how about considering this on your way home. It’s from a piece called “Domesticating Public Space Through Ritual: Tailgating as Vesteval” again by John Sherry and co-authored by Tonya Williams Bradford.
“By describing how tailgaters personalize public place and publicize personal place, we demonstrate how individuals negotiate two of the fundamental consumption ideologies of public space. Through their “private appropriation of public space,” our informants engage in a collective “striving for common place.”
I just hope these intellectuals, when writing these pieces, were wearing face paint and a team-logo funny hat. OK, alright. I’ll have one more of those ribs before I go.