What’s in Your Cooler?
Just like playing a great game of football takes preparation, impressive tailgating celebrations and foods require strategy. Some people even consider tailgating a daytrip, which provides a little extra creativity pressure for organizers.
For those actually planning to cook on-site at a tailgate, whatever foods taken should be portable, easy to prepare in various weather conditions, make enough to feed a crowd and, most importantly, taste satisfyingly yummy. Make sure to arrive early and leave at least two hours for cooking, eating and cleaning up before game time.
A local, go-to grilling item for tailgating seems to be brats. Burger patties can be shaped and packed up between sheets of wax paper the night before. Be sure to pack two tongs if you’re going to be handling raw meat. Consider wind direction when setting up to the grill to avoid guests being in a total smoke zone. Take a metal bucket for still-glowing coals.
A different grilling menu theme would be to serve breakfast that can be eaten with hands, such as sausage and bacon wrapped in pancakes.
Another easy theme is to set up a corn chip pie station, offering self-serve salsa, sour cream, tomatoes, shredded cheese and other creative toppings. A second no-fuss theme is to serve chili or soups in thermoses.
Many people set up a buffet station on a portable table that is decked out in their favorite team’s colors, including balloons and disposable goods such as napkins, plates, cups and plastic utensils. Surprise guests by making layered, portable gelatin shots in those same team colors.
Another good idea is to pack and mark two coolers if traveling, one for drinks and one for food. Coolers can be painted and decorated; turn the top into a football field and finish it off with the team’s name on the sides. Want something temporary? Use stick-on stencils to spell out the team’s mascot on a cooler and add colored yarn or ribbons to the handles.
Make-ahead menus can include easy-to-hold items, such as mini Cajun burgers, turkey cheddar kabobs, southwestern shrimp, chicken enchiladas and cheese spreads. West St. Louis County resident Lisa Canepa Size says a new must-have tailgating food for their family is a pretzel party platter from St. Louis Pretzel Boys with their white jalapeño cheese dip. This shop is located at 11750 Manchester Road, and its team serves up famous Philly soft pretzels.
Desserts can be as easy as football or team-themed cookies. Sources for customized, special order cookies include Sweetology, CT Cookie Treats, Colleen’s Cookies, Cookies By Design or The Cup. Cookies and cupcakes for tailgating also usually can be found at Dierbergs or Schnucks’ bakery departments.
Overall tailgating tips include:
- Always take extra paper towels, which can double as napkins, clean up spills, or be used for snack plates in a pinch. Paper towel rolls can be hung from tent struts using bungee cords from both ends.
- Hand sanitizer is a must.
- Freeze water bottles to use in place of ice in coolers so there’s also cold water to drink after they melt.
- Save six-pack holders to fill with condiments and favorite hot sauces.
- Use “anti-insect” cupcake liners in chosen team colors with straws over top of specialty drinks.
- Wet wipes, bottle openers, can openers, plastic zip-close bags and trash bags come in handy!
- Pack a mini first-aid kit.
- Take fun accessories for friends, such as football temporary tattoos, beaded necklaces or bandanas.
- Customize a mobile chalkboard to welcome guests, with different messages for every tailgate party.
- Relax and have fun, even if something doesn’t go perfectly. Tailgate celebrations often turn into improvisation opportunities!