Autumn has arrived – and that means cooler temperatures, changing leaves, and football! Yes, football season is in full swing. And no matter which team you are cheering for, you know that the tailgate tradition is probably the most important part of gameday … and certainly one that deserves a little thought and planning to make the most of the experience. With just a little advanced prep at home, you can rock the tailgate and bring home a win, no matter the final score of the game.
While burgers, dogs, and brats are tailgate staples, there is no reason to end your menu there. As long as you are firing up the grill, make it work double time for you by using it as an oven as well. Pre-made sandwiches, potatoes, and sides can all be warmed up on the spot, allowing you to enjoy the pre-game festivities without having to miss a beat. Whether you are starting your tailgate at 9:00 AM for the early game or later in the day for an evening kickoff, there are some awesome make-ahead goodies that will eliminate the need for last minute scrambling and can feed even the rowdiest of crowds.
If you are heading out to the stadium early, chances are good that there will be a slight nip in the autumn air. If so, you’ll want some warm goodness to help get you going. Along with your Bloody Mary or Thermos of coffee – a spike of Bailey’s or Kahlua is optional as well – you’ll want a hearty breakfast to take with you. Some of my favorite easy-to-make-ahead options include breakfast “sammies” (smaller-sized sandwiches) and burritos. All you have to do is wrap them individually in foil and pop them on the grill over low to medium heat for about 15 minutes for a breakfast of champions.
My preferred breakfast burritos contain either bacon or sausage, scrambled eggs, maybe some hash browns, and my favorite salsa and cheese. Make yours mild or serve them spicy and customized with your favorite ingredients. For a yummy grilled breakfast sammie, all you need to do is whip up a simple omelet, top it with your choice of cheese and/or meat, and grill up some thick bread. Assemble it in advance and bring any additions (like salsa) along to add just before warming on the grill. The end result is a hearty breakfast that will carry you through endless rounds of cornhole until the game starts, or halftime when it’s time to fire up the chili.
If it is later in the day, a good dose of carbs and protein will carry you through the big game – so look no further than the twice baked potato. You didn’t see this coming, did you? I absolutely love potatoes – they are probably one of the most versatile foods on the planet and there are so many amazing things you can do with them. Twice baked potatoes are perfect for tailgating because you bake and stuff them ahead of time (fill them with anything your heart – and stomach – desires), and simply warm them up again when you’re ready to eat. Genius!
Bake your potatoes at 425 degrees for about 45 to 75 minutes, depending on their size. Once cool enough to handle, slice the potatoes in half and scoop out their insides with a spoon, placing them into a large bowl. Add softened butter, sour cream, shredded cheese, a pinch of salt, and whip them with an electric mixer just until combined. Then stir in your additional ingredients, spoon the filling into the potato skins, wrap them individually in foil, and refrigerate until game day. Need some inspiration? Here are just a few of my favorites:
– Shredded cooked chicken, bacon, cheddar, and caramelized onions;
– Shredded cooked brisket, cheddar, and barbecue sauce;
– Spinach, feta, and shredded cooked chicken.
Moving on to sandwiches where, again, there is no shortage of options. While everyone loves a big foot-long masterpiece on game day, there is something to be said for the smaller version, which I love to refer to as the aforementioned “sammie.” Sammies are a staple in my house any time, any day, but they are most delicious when served warm … I’m talking lots of meat and cheese and a good mustard or spicy mayonnaise fresh off the grill. Any size, any shape, and on your favorite bread – mini slider buns, a French baguette, or a hoagie roll. Regardless of which sammie route you choose, odds are nothing will satisfy your tailgating buddies’ bellies more. There’s no need to stress on game day … go ahead and prepare your sammies the day before. But be sure to hold the sauce, mustard, or mayo until you are ready to heat them, wrap them in foil, and warm them on the grill. The result is melty, warm gameday goodness.
All you need to round out the perfect tailgating event are a few dips, a slow cooker of your famous chili, a cooler of your favorite beverages, and the best friends and fans anyone can ask for. #gameday #friendsandfootball #goodfood
Owner of The Lemon Tree Cafe, located at 113 S. White St. in Downtown Wake Forest, offering freshly prepared salads, pastas, soups, and take-away fare.