Homecoming Edition: Game day grilling done right with the Copy Chef

By Pat Mallee / Copy Chief

No football game-day experience is complete without a great pregame tailgate. And to have a truly great tailgate, you’ll need some truly great food to munch on.

Over time, a particular blend of cuisines has become the hallmark of tailgate dining — part barbecue, part picnic. And while many tailgaters turn to go-to barbecue staples such as hot dogs and hamburgers to fill their plates and stomachs, these tired selections can sometimes leave tastebuds unfulfilled.        

A satisfying tailgate requires just a bit of creativity to produce a varied spread of both snacks and more substantial main-course items for you and your tailgating companions to enjoy. To start filling those main-course slots in your menu, consider adding more sophisticated barbecue treats, such as grilled kebabs. 

Though most wouldn’t consider kebabs quite as blue-blooded American as a football tailgate, the Middle-Eastern dish can be just as delightfully messy as a juicy rack of ribs. The benefit of kebabs is that they are often significantly cheaper to prepare than the aforementioned ribs — though I’ll admit the kebab veggies might be a bit less satisfying.

You can put whatever meats, fruits and veggies you’d like on these, but my favorite variety includes chunks of chicken, pineapple and green pepper. Slather your skewers with some sweet, tangy barbecue sauce while they sit on the grill to help tie the varied flavor components together.

If you’re using wooden skewers, be sure to soak them in water overnight before skewering and grilling — otherwise, they’ll burn away. Metal skewers, though they don’t require this extra step, are more expensive and can’t just be thrown away like the wooden ones.

Though substantial main dishes are a necessity, you’ll need snacks and sides as complements. No barbecue spread would be complete without sweet and smoky baked beans. You could buy the pre-flavored kind at the supermarket, but why not put in a tiny bit of effort to impress your friends on game day with a customized beans recipe?

A quick and simple baked beans recipe starts with two cans of pork and beans emptied into a large aluminum baking pan. Stir in 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 3 tbsp. each of ketchup and mustard and a medium-sized diced onion. 

If you can get your hands on some liquid smoke, add a few dashes until the beans suit your taste buds. You could also add a bit of honey or maple syrup if you like your beans more on the sweet side. Once you’ve created the perfect blend of flavors, lay 1/2 lb. of bacon cut into 1-inch squares on top of the beans.

Bake the beans in the oven for 30 minutes. Once done, give them a stir to mix the cooked bacon into the beans and then cover with foil to transport to the game. To re-heat, set the foil pan on top of a grill for about 15 minutes — just until the beans get hot.

Delving further into the realm of snack foods now, it’s almost expected that you’ll have some sort of potato or corn chips at your tailgate. Adding some dip to your spread will help spice up the snack situation. Instead of grabbing a cheap jar of salsa, try your hand at whipping up delicious guacamole. 

Guacamole is very simple to make. Begin by scooping the pulp from a few avocados. Squeeze some fresh lime juice onto the avocado pulp and mash it a bit to combine. Fold in a few diced tomatoes, some chopped onion and some finely chopped cilantro. Lastly, stir in some cumin, salt, garlic powder and a few dashes of hot sauce to bring out the spicy Mexican flavors of the dip.

The list of items you can add to a tailgate spread goes just as far as your imagination, but it’s important to remember to have a full, balanced spread for your guests to enjoy. Use these ideas I’ve listed to get you started, and think about what dishes you and your friends would most like to chow down on come game day.

To invite Pat to your tailgate, email him at [email protected]. He’ll bring the guacamole.