By: Kyle Grace Mills
I like to cook the way Les Miles likes to coach: crazy with a dash of questionable judgment. He decides to throw Hail Mary passes with three seconds on the clock; I make Lemon Merengue Pie with homemade sweetened condensed milk. The only difference between us is our audience: he has rabid LSU fans to contend with and I have surly hungry friends. Both can be hooligans, but the LSU fans definitely have the numbers. Still, Les and I suffer the constantly shifting tides of favor. We are called heroes when we succeed, fools when we fail. There is no middle ground.
For this reason, tailgating causes me some issues. I can hardly flambé bananas when I’m screaming at the ref on TV. And I can’t spend every last drop of energy making a Beef Wellington that Julia Child created as a test for assessing emotional stability (spoiler alert: I failed) when I have to spend the next day in the sunbaked parking lot of Jordan-Hare Stadium rah-rahing till my voice is hoarse. So what am I supposed to do, choose between being a chef and a fanatic?
No way. Turns out, the internet and our own test kitchen chefs are great resources for tips on how to pull off a no-sweat, make-ahead feast for game day. Some call it cooking hacks—I call it cheating, à la Tom Brady—either way, there is an easier way to cook for the game, and it all comes down to thinking ahead. Here’s how:
- Punt to the slow cooker. In a roundabout way, the slow cooker originated from a Jewish Lithuania mother’s dilemma: how do you cook for the Sabbath without working on the Sabbath? We sports fans share this quandary, and luckily, the solution. For a main, consider making Slow Cooker Pulled Pork, ready to shred for tacos or stacked sandwiches. For an appetizer, think of making a meaty treat prime for toothpicks like our Lamb Meatballs.
Extra Point Conversion: Make mulled wine, brandy spiked wassail, or these Ginger Lemon Hot Toddies (or Hottie Toddie, as you Ole Miss fans prefer) in the crockpot for those bitingly cold November games.
- Prep a DIY buffet line. Put the control—and work—back into the hands of your guest with a toppings and fillings bar. Pull together a Bloody Mary Bar with pre-prepped items like celery, pickled okra, bacon bits, olives, and pepperoncino peppers for the fans to cherry pick. Hell, with enough toppings, the drink can become a meal in itself. For a more substantial and, ahem, less boozy option, present an unassuming bowl of Super Sports Sunday All-Day Chili with a variety of toppings: Cheddar cheese, Fritos, cilantro, sliced jalapeños, diced avocado, and lime wedges.
Extra Point Conversion: Sweeten the spread with a dress-it-up Cheesecake Bar.
- Muffins: Make, bake, and freeze. Muffins are unicorns in the baking world. Or, to keep the ridiculous sports metaphors going, muffins are like the versatile Bo Jackson. Able to be enjoyed for both dessert and breakfast, it’s the dense cousin to cupcakes that freezes like a dream. These Pumpkin Mini Muffins can last in the freezer for up to three months—that’s almost an entire season of college football.
Extra Point Conversion: Streusel is the easier, fall-appropriate alternative to icing. It bakes right into the muffin, like with our tangy Yogurt Streusel Muffins, and it’s more convenient than icing anything two beers in.
- Overnight your beverages. While you sleep snuggled down in bed, lucky socks and t-shirt already on to bring good juju to tomorrow’s game, magic can take place in your fridge. Most drinks taste even better the next day by getting maximum infusion overnight. Sangria and Pimm’s Cups benefit from a night soak, allowing the fruit to sop up the alcohol. With our Cosmopolitan Slushy, an overnight freeze transforms cranberry juice, vodka, and lime juice into cocktail-icee hybrid. For a particularly crafty, long-term project, think about infusing your vodka with anything from figs to chiles. One infused vodka to try this fall? Pumpkin-Spice Infused Vodka, the far superior upgrade to the Pumpkin-Spice Latte.
Extra Point Conversion: Miss our post about Gelly Shots? Don’t make the same mistake twice. With flavors like Cucumber-Sake, Carrot Cake, and Black Pepper Strawberries-and-Cream, you’ll be the hit of the tailgate.
- Kabob It: Skewer and marinate the night before. If you’re tailgating, chances are you’ll have access to the grill. And even more likely, you’ll have access to a master of the universe claiming to be master of the grill. So consider going the kabob route and provide your resident master with well-seasoned, skewered meat to cook. With our Perfect Chicken Kabobs, you marinate overnight and have the option to try three different marinades: Buttermilk Tandoori, Chardonnay Herb, and Sticky Sesame-Sorghum.
Extra Point Conversion: We all have that someone in our friend group. That Kristen Bell vegetarian, who is irritating in her food preferences but precious in personality so we put up with it. Don’t forget that kabobs can easily become a vegetarian and vegan option. Sub in tofu, tempeh, or halloumi (like with our Cherry Tomato Halloumi Skewers) when catering for the alt eaters.
Want even more tailgating tips and recipes? Be sure to pick up Daina Falk’s The Hungry Fan’s Game Day Cookbook which includes recipes from the blogger and sports champs like Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, and Lebron James.