Tailgate cooking tips

Nov 28, 2012 at 5:30 p.m. ET

For some people, tailgating during home games is a way of life. It's easy to get a bit sick of hot dogs and chips and dips. You can amp it up with gourmet food if you know the tips and tricks to help you serve more complex dishes easily and safely.

Friends tailgaiting

Tailgating can be a foodie's worst nightmare! Cheap hot dogs on the dollar buns from the discount bin? Ew! And let me guess... they forgot the napkins (again). This year, take control of the tailgate yourself and use these tips to keep your guests satisfied the gourmet way.

Pre-game preparation essentials

First, you need the right tools. Obviously, you'll need a portable grill, but depending on how often you tailgate and what kinds of foods you plan to cook, you may also want to invest in a camping oven (they start at around $50). You can even find oven/grill combos (starting at around $200). And don't forget to buy a couple of large coolers or portable refrigerators (you need more than one so you can store raw meats away from other food).

But you'll also want to make sure you have other cooking utensils. You can purchase kits for camping that come with a selection of spatulas, knives and other must-haves — and invest in a set of pots and pans that you can place on an outdoor grill. If you're really serious, think of investing in a portable kitchen cart to hold all your gear in one place so it's always where you need it.

Check out this tailgating checklist >> 

Gourmet game-day grub

Now, just because we said gourmet doesn't mean you need to break out your grandma's famous lasagna recipe. Tailgate parties are for mingling. And while there are usually chairs, table space is limited or nonexistent. You still want foods people can easily hold with their hands and that won't be awkward to eat from a hand-held plate or bowl.

Try doing gourmet spins on traditional tailgate specialties. Instead of hot dogs, try beer brats (or think of another hot dog bun filler). Instead of plain burgers, try a bleu cheese bacon burger or a delicious hot sandwich. On a cold day, gourmet grilled cheese and tomato soup or some beer-spiked chili will really hit the spot.

Here's our list of gourmet recipes, fit for tailgating >>

While we love indulging our kiddie side with corn dogs, leave the yellow mustard and fancy ketchup at home. Go with some gourmet condiments from companies like Boar's Head or Dean & DeLuca.

Quick tip: If you just can't cook out without traditional (messy) grill or barbecue sides, try serving them in edible containers: pre-crisped tortilla bowls, biscuit or croissant cups baked in muffin tins or edible spoons are good options. For example, make potato salad and spoon it into halved boiled eggs, a la deviled eggs.

Think "better beverages"

Don't forget to properly pair your beers with your food. Why spend all that time making a delicious gourmet meal just to pair it with a cheapo pilsner? Spend some time learning how to pair beers and make your selections accordingly.

But don't feel limited to just beer. Wine is a popular option at foodie tailgates, too. And instead of bringing ingredients for several cocktails, make up a single cocktail themed with your teams' colors. For example, if you follow the Packers, try a drink using absinthe. But your theme doesn't have to be color. If you scream for the Saints, try a Mardi Gras-inspired libation.

Write out a game plan

NFL coaches don't leave anything to chance, and neither should you. You'll want to plan to have everything ready by kickoff (or around halftime if you're doing apps during the first half).

Every stadium has rules about tailgating. They may prohibit certain types of containers (meaning you'll need to get a keg or two instead of bringing glass bottles). Some have electrical outlets and some don't. You may be required to fill out special paperwork or reserve a space on your credit card.

Write out your menu, noting prep and cook times. Decide what you'll do ahead and what you'll do at the game; then determine what time you need to start cooking to get it all done. Don't forget that space is limited, so think about what you can fit on the grill together. Don't be afraid to delegate, either. Assign different dishes to your fellow foodie friends with specific tips on making them tailgate-friendly (or just send them the link to this article!).

Also, when you get there, introduce yourself to the people tailgating next to you. Try to bring extras of the supplies people tend to forget — you may need a favor from them a little later!

Try these fun tailgating recipes

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