‘Food connects people’: Pitt alumna to publish tailgate cookbook


Image courtesy of Patty Irrgang

One of Patty Irrgang’s cooking classes in her home in Murrysville.

By Serena Garcia, Senior Staff Writer

Patty Irrgang is celebrating her 49th year of tailgating for Pitt football by publishing her own cookbook, “All About Tailgating!” 

Irrgang, a Pitt graduate, plans to bring the cookbook to the University Store on Fifth by the first week of December. Inspired by her time at tailgating with her loved ones at Pitt, the cookbook weaves Irrgang’s favorite tailgating recipes with her fondest memories and stories. 

The book has three main parts 一 an introduction to the book, a section titled “My Passion for Life” and 95 of her tailgate recipes. Irrgang said she broke her 95 recipes down into five recipe sections ranging from soups and salads to breakfast ideas for early tailgates. 

“The sections are divided into traditional tailgating—that’s like chili or things you put on the smoker or grill, I have sides and salads,” Irrgang said. “Then there are desserts, and then there is breakfast 一 believe it or not 一 because we’ve had so many noon kickoffs, we had to come up with a lot of different breakfast menus. And then the last section is non-traditional tailgating.”

Aside from recipes, readers will also learn about Irrgang’s positive outlook on life and the memories she made during her time at Pitt. 

“In the beginning of each section, I had mentioned the five recipe sections, I’ll put a little story of some sort,” Irrgang said. “And then each recipe has either a little story about it, tips on how to make it, just something, a memory I might have of when I found the recipe or like where I found it. So it all kinda works together.” 

One memory that sticks out to Irrgang is when former Pitt head coach Johnny Majors and Hall of Fame running back, Tony Dorsett, visited her tailgate while celebrating Pitt’s 1976 National Championship.

“It was a reunion day. Every five years, they do a national championship reunion for as many players who can come, come back. And it just so happened that we’re doing the tailgate and Coach Majors was there and Tony Dorsett was there,” Irrgang said. “It was just fun to experience that and they got to talk to all of our regular tailgate folks.” 

A spread at one of Patty Irrgang’s tailgates outside Acrisure Stadium. (Image courtesy of Patty Irrgang)

Irrgang said she began her tradition of tailgating as a Pitt student with her husband, Jay Irrgang, who is the chair of Pitt’s physical therapy department. Now, Irrgang said her tailgates span three generations.

“We have three generations. So, my husband and I graduated, then our daughter and son graduated from Pitt and our son-in-law, and now our oldest granddaughter is a sophomore at Pitt doing speech pathology,” Irrgang said. “We all tailgate and attend the football games together.” 

Irrgang said her tailgates began with her husband’s first patient and his wife and their tailgates have grown from there. She added that she and her husband also follow the Pitt football team during their away schedule as well. 

“Some of my favorites are recipes that I’ve collected when we travel. We go to all the home and away games,” Irrgang said. “So, we’ve been all through the South. We’ve been to Iowa, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Utah, Arizona.” 

Irrgang said some of her favorite recipes include her chili, baked goods, brined chicken and especially her gumbo. 

“One of my favorites is my gumbo recipe,” Irrgang said. “And I’ve gotten that from a couple different areas in the South, and that’s one of my favorite things to make because it’s just fun.” 

Irrgang’s family aren’t the only attendees of her tailgate. Irrgang said attendees can range up to a group of 150 of her husband’s students for a pig roast. 

“We just had a big thing for my husband’s students. He has 150 students, so they all came for a pig roast in the middle of the season. It was really fun, when we played Georgia Tech so we had a lot of people that day,” Irrgang said. “But we have all our regular folks, family and friends, that come on a regular basis, and we just have a different menu every week.”

Almost always in attendance at Irrgang’s tailgates are her friends and fellow Pitt alumni, Kathy Slencak and Regina Stover. Despite being students at the same time at Pitt, Slencak said she didn’t meet Irrgang until they were alumni through the Pitt Fan Experience Committee

“We met at this committee, which we served on for about five years, and we realized we had run in the same circles,” Slencak said. “So once we connected, then she started inviting me to her tailgate, and I became a part of the tailgate group.”

Stover met Irrgang through the Pitt Fan Experience Committee and is also a part of Irrgang’s tailgate crew.

“I didn’t know Kathy or Patty before the Fan Experience Committee,” Stover said. “Here we are in our 60s now and we’ve all become really good friends later in life and it’s because of our love of Pitt athletics. It’s because of getting together for the tailgates.”

Outside of tailgating, Irrgang is owner of Common Goodness Cooking School, where she runs the business in her home located in Murrysville. Irrgang hosts numerous events for her cooking school ranging from birthday baking parties to book clubs to a class set for her fellow Pitt alumni to come and connect through food.

Slencak said through Irrgang and her tailgates, she’s reconnected with fellow classmates as they spend gamedays together.

“It’s like we’re all in parallel universes, but we’re connected through Patty and Jay. There’s people that have been doing the same thing that we’ve been doing, going to football and basketball games year after year after year, but we never really knew them at Pitt,” Slencak said. “But now we know them and we’re in the same circles and expanded our friendship circles through Pitt.”

Irrgang said she hopes her cookbook highlights food’s most important feature 一 creating connections. 

“I feel food connects people. We’ve been very fortunate to be able to travel throughout the world and around the country, and no matter where you go, people have food in common,” Irrgang said. “Food is a connector and that’s why I like doing all the recipes and feeding people and cooking for them. To me, it just connects us all.”