That crisp snap in the air, crunch of leaves beneath your feet and strains of the marching band from the stadium stir appetites for autumn tailgating. Picnicking and partying pre-game are seasonal traditions--and just the ticket for casual fall entertaining, whether in the stadium parking lot or in your backyard.
No matter whether you're a tailgating all-star or hosting your first pre-game party, whether you're planning to cook up something at home or order prepared items from your favorite grocery store, you can throw a game day gathering like a pro with just a few classic foods and winning tips.
If you're looking for a way to tame hearty appetites and kick off the menu with a crowd-pleasing main dish recipe, consider cooking up Texas-Style Beef Ribs. Prepared ahead of time, the ribs simply need a quick grilling prior to being glazed with a savory barbecue sauce. Or for a classic American favorite kids of all ages can enjoy, try Sideline Sloppy Joes piled high into sandwich buns.
If you prefer the "blitz" strategy to planning your tailgating party, your nearest grocery deli and bakery can provide a variety of delicious party solutions. Party trays that include chicken wings, tenders and popcorn chicken can get the cheering started.
The bakery can provide a photo-screened cake or consider trying the newest trend, a Cupcake Cake, made-to-order from the bakery. Ask for seasonal favorites, have the icing done in your team's colors or even play with a football shape. This trendy treat will keep you cheering into the second half. Remember, though, that most stores require 24 hours notice on party trays and specialty cake orders.
Whether you choose the home-field advantage and cook these easy, winning recipes or decide to get it all to go, this game plan will help you score the perfect tailgating party. So pack up the food, team up with friends and enjoy the spirit of the game.
Texas-Style Beef Ribs
Whether you're rooting for the home or visiting team, these ribs will win you points. Cook ribs and sauce ahead of time, tote to the tailgate site, light the grill and collect the compliments.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
4 to 6 mesquite wood chunks
Soak wood chunks in water according to package directions. Place ribs in a 4- to 6-quart Dutch oven. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 1 1/4 hours or until tender. Drain ribs; pat dry with paper towels. For rub, combine paprika and garlic powder; sprinkle over ribs. Rub mixture into ribs. For sauce, in small saucepan combine tomato sauce, salsa, brown sugar, chili powder and mustard. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Preheat grill to low. Drain wood chunks; add to grill according to package directions. Prepare grill for indirect cooking. Grill ribs, covered, 20 to 30 minutes, brushing occasionally with sauce. Reheat any remaining sauce and pass with ribs.
Make a list, check it twice and try to make it one-stop shopping for your party. Swing by your local grocery store that conveniently has all the goods--quality meat and produce, party supplies and a convenient deli and bakery.
--Look for seat cushions, disposable plates, cups and napkins sporting your team's colors. Display pennants and flags to decorate your tailgating spot and show your team support.
--Line a basket with a bandana or tea towel in your team colors from which to serve buns, rolls, cookies or brownies.
--Wrap a casserole or hot dishes with aluminum foil; cover them with newspaper or towels to keep food warm longer.
--If you want one-stop tailgate shopping, plan ahead to get it and go (see sidebar Get It to Go! Tips for Hassle-Free Tailgating).
--Bring a radio so you don't miss a minute of the pre-game information.
--Bring plenty of chairs and blankets so everyone is comfortable and cozy.
--Dress in layers so you're prepared for the ever-changing weather.
--Be respectful of your tailgating area and clean up after yourself; bring paper towels and trash bags.
Sideline Sloppy Joes
There's no penalty when your team presents this classic hot combo, piled into buns. Enjoy this all-American favorite with relish.
Prep time: 10 minutes
1 pound ground beef or turkey
In large skillet cook ground beef, onion, pepper and celery over medium-high heat until meat is browned and vegetables are tender; drain. Add ketchup, sugar, mustard and vinegar. Cover and simmer 45 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve on hamburger buns.
Hosting a crowd? Or just don't have the time to cook from scratch? No apologies necessary--pick up the goods from your local all-service retailer and go.
--Call or stop by your local grocery store for menu options. With a full-service deli and bakery, the choices are delicious. Or visit www.walmart.com and click on the Idea Center for more quick and delicious tailgating recipes that will make your football party the winning ticket!
--Plan a menu your "team" will enjoy: Submarine or hero sandwiches for a crowd, barbecued beef to pile in buns, and buckets of assorted chicken. Add a variety of deli salads and sides to keep fans cheering.
--Call ahead to order your party platters and made-to-order cakes from the deli and bakery. Add paper plates, napkins, cups, ice and beverages to your list and pick up everything the day of the game in one stop.