Tailgating is an American cultural phenomenon and a favorite pastime in South Carolina with the most dedicated tailgaters showing up for college football games. University of South Carolina fans gather at the stadium hours ahead on game day to start the pre-game festivities that include cheering on the team and a cookout.
The party settings range from the high style of 22 cabooses that make up the Cockaboose Railroad to RVs and campsites situated around the asphalt parking lots. A new state-of-the-art parking area opened this past year on the site of the old Farmers’ Market. The scene portrays the “last great American neighborhood,” a phrase coined by New Orleans professional tailgater Joe Cahn who has attended tailgate parties around the country, including at USC, Clemson and Camden during the Carolina Cup.
On game day, tailgate sites are filled with the smells of charcoal and succulent grilled foods. Makeshift portable kitchens pop up in allotted parking spaces, where moveable feasts are efficiently prepared and traditionally served on lowered vehicle tailgates. Music and laughter permeate the carnival-like setting; enthusiastic fans play games and wander through the “neighborhood” socializing with old friends and making new ones.
The tailgating experience can be as complicated or easy as each individual wants to make it. Serious tailgaters – some with painted faces, kegs of beer and unlimited time – set up multiple grills to slow-cook ribs and pulled pork to smoky perfection or to cook steaks, burgers and brats. Casserole-style dishes packed in disposable cookware are heated on the side. Friendly rivalry among the grill cooks mirrors the competition soon to take place on the football field.
If prep time is limited, try short-cut recipes like Hoisin Barbecue Ribs, which are partially cooked before they go onto the grill. If grilling is too much to tackle, bring make-ahead foods like the Game Day Muffuletta or a favorite take-out item, or a combination of the two. Convenience foods like fried and rotisserie chicken from the grocery deli and snacks like chips and salsa, popcorn, hummus, veggies, nuts, cheese, fruit and fancy cupcakes from local specialty bakeries also make nice additions.
The main work in these recipes is done at home, so pulling the menu together on game day is easy. One of the most important considerations when tailgating is food safety. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Coolers with ice, freezer ice packs or frozen water in plastic bottles are the answer to keeping foods chilled. Layers of newspapers can help separate and insulate containers.
Don’t forget these essentials: plenty of ice, comfortable folding camp chairs, large sturdy trash bags, hand wipes, water for cleaning, first aid kit, recreational gear for playing games and a flag so friends can locate you. Recommended items include sunscreen, a tailgate canopy, rain gear, toilet paper, jumper cables, extra batteries and Tums. And don’t forget the tickets to the game! Preparing extra food is advisable as outdoor eating sharpens appetites and unexpected friends might just drop by.
Game Day Muffuletta
This signature New Orleans sandwich resembles a hoagie or a hero and is ideal for tailgating. The muffuletta has a strong Sicilian influence, introduced to New Orleans by Italian immigrants in the late 19th century. Its hallmarks are thick crusty bread, a stack of cold cuts and a top layer of piquant chopped olive salad. The sandwich can be made a day in advance. The muffuletta also works as individual sandwiches using ciabatta rolls. This particular recipe is adapted from Columbia’s favorite Junior League cookbook, Down by the Water, sadly now out of print, and makes one large sandwich for cutting into wedges.
1 large, seeded Italian bread round or other large crusty round or oval bread
shredded romaine lettuce
1 cup sliced fresh tomato
6 to 8 ounces Genoa salami, thinly sliced
1/3 pound Provolone or mozzarella, thinly sliced
1/2 pound baked deli ham, thinly sliced (or deli turkey, beef or pastrami, if desired)
1 rounded cup Olive Salad (recipe below)
At least one day ahead of serving, prepare the Olive Salad. To construct the sandwich, slice the loaf horizontally in half. Gently cut or tear out some of the soft bread from the bottom half, leaving at least an inch of the shell. (Leftover bread can be used for croutons or breadcrumbs.) With a slotted spoon, scoop up about 1/2 cup Olive Salad (tapping off excess oil) and spread it in the bread shell. Add layers of lettuce, tomato, salami, cheese and ham. Spread more relish on the cut side of the top bread; place on the stuffed half. Wrap well in plastic wrap and lay on a large plate. Put another plate on top and press with two pounds of weight using a brick or food cans. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Remove from refrigerator 1/2 hour before serving; cut into wedges. Serve at once. Serves 6 to 8.
Spread this relish-like olive mixture on a favorite sandwich. Leftover salad can be spooned over wedges of iceberg lettuce with dressing or used to season potato salad, grilled fish or poultry dishes. Or spoon it onto pieces of bruschetta spread with creamy goat cheese or topped with sliced tomatoes.
10 to 12 ounces finely chopped stuffed green olives (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup finely chopped black olives
1/2 cup finely chopped pimento (or roasted red bell pepper)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 to 2 teaspoons minced dried oregano, to taste
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice or wine vinegar, or more to taste
1 large garlic clove, finely minced
ground black pepper, to taste
Prepare ingredients; combine thoroughly in a large bowl. Cover and marinate 2 hours at room temperature before use. Relish can be made up to two weeks in advance; keep refrigerated in an airtight container.
Carolina Black-Eyed Pea and Corn Medley
This tasty dish won’t remain on the sideline for long. It compliments grilled meats and poultry and even doubles as a refreshing appetizer eaten with sturdy corn chips or spooned in Tostitos multigrain tortilla chip Scoops. The flavors are even better if the dish is made a day in advance.
2 15-ounce cans black-eyed peas, rinsed, drained well
2 cups barely cooked fresh or frozen corn kernels or canned corn, drained
1 large red bell pepper, finely diced
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
1/4 to 1/3 cup fresh squeezed lime juice, to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 minced garlic cloves
2 teaspoons plain chili powder
1/2 to 1 seeded, minced jalapeño, to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 avocado, peeled, cut in small dice
In a large bowl, mix black-eyed peas, corn, bell pepper, onion, celery and cilantro. In a medium jar with a tight-fitting lid, shake together the lime juice, olive oil, garlic, chili powder, jalapeño and cumin. Blend in salt and black pepper. Pour over vegetables and toss gently. Cover and refrigerate until serving time. Just before serving, peel and dice avocado; stir it into the black-eyed pea mixture. Serves 6 to 8.
Hoisin Barbecued Ribs
Barbecued ribs are a breeze to finish off during tailgate parties, if they are precooked a short time in advance. Leftovers are delicious, although there are rarely any to be found.
2 racks (4 to 5 pounds) baby back ribs, rinsed and patted dry
sea salt and black pepper
1/4 cup quality soy sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons medium-dry sherry or pineapple juice
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon minced fresh gingerroot
1 large minced garlic
1 teaspoon five spice powder
2 teaspoons chili paste with garlic, or Sriricha sauce, to taste
maple syrup, toasted sesame seeds and minced green onion for garnish
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Season ribs with salt and pepper. Place on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Cover and bake 45 minutes to one hour, just until tender. While ribs cook, combine the remaining ingredients except maple syrup, sesame seeds and green onion. When ribs are tender, remove from the oven and cool. With a kitchen brush, spread half the barbecue sauce over the ribs, focusing on the meaty sides. Cover and refrigerate as long as overnight before the final grilling. Reserve remaining sauce.
Prepare the grill, coating grill rack lightly with cooking oil. Remove ribs from the refrigerator 1/2 hour before the final cooking. Place ribs on grill, uncovered, over medium heat. Brush with some reserved sauce. Turn one or two times. Cook 15 to 20 minutes or until browned. Brush meaty sides of ribs with any remaining sauce about 5 minutes before done. Off the grill, brush lightly with maple syrup. Cool about 5 minutes then cut between the bones into individual ribs. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and green onion. Serve at once. Serves 5 to 6.
Crunchy Spiced-Walnut Coleslaw
This colorful coleslaw is a flavorful addition to any tailgating party spread. The crunchy spiced walnuts add a special touch. Peeled shredded celery root drizzled with vinegar or peeled shredded jicima can be substituted for the pear-apple.
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/3 cup safflower oil
1 teaspoon quality soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon grated fresh gingerroot
4 cups finely shredded red cabbage or colorful pre-shredded cabbage mix
1 Asian pear-apple, shredded
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1 small yellow bell pepper, cut in julienne strips
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
3 green onions, thin sliced
1 cup walnut halves
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of sea salt
To make the dressing, put the first eight ingredients (orange juice through gingerroot) into a medium-size jar with a tight fitting lid; shake well then set aside to allow the flavors to develop. In a large bowl, toss together cabbage, pear-apple, carrots, bell pepper, cilantro and green onions. Pour dressing over vegetable mixture; toss well. Adjust seasonings to taste. Place in a serving container; cover and chill.
To prepare walnuts, place nuts and sugar in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Stir nuts constantly until the sugar dissolves and turns light golden brown. Mix in vanilla, cinnamon and sea salt. Scoop nuts onto foil lightly sprayed with oil. Cool completely. Break up into smaller pieces, if desired.
Slaw is best served the same day. Just before serving, sprinkle with spiced walnuts. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Spicy wasabi peas add a pleasant burst of heat to this Asian-inspired snack mix. Nori Komi Furikaki is a tasty mixture of sesame seeds, seaweed flakes, salt and sugar and comes packed in small jars. It is used as a seasoning for cooked rice and adds real flavor to this tailgating snack. Buy it (or other varieties of furikaki) in Asian markets and some grocery stores. The highly addictive Savory Thin Mini Edamame Crackers from Trader Joe’s also go well in this mix.
5 cups Rice Chex ® cereal
5 cups Bugles
1 6-ounce bag Goldfish crackers (Colors, Pretzels or Original flavor)
1 cup roasted cashews, almonds or peanuts
4 tablespoons melted butter
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon quality soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 4.23-ounce bag (about 1 cup) wasabi coated peas
Nori Komi Furikake, as desired
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. On a large heavy baking sheet, mix cereal, Bugles, crackers and nuts. In a small bowl, microwave butter a few seconds until melted; stir in Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, curry powder and cumin. Drizzle seasoning over cereal mix; toss to coat well. Place in hot oven about 30 minutes, stirring in 8 to 10 minute intervals. Mixture should be fragrant and hot. Remove from oven; stir in wasabi peas and sprinkle lightly with furikake. Cool then store in an airtight container. Serves 6 to 8.
S’mores on the Grill
Here is a sweet grill recipe from the out-of-print Columbia Junior League cookbook that works well for tailgating; kids love it. A few favorite ideas for making S’mores are included in the variations below. Homemade cookies are always preferred, whenever possible.
24 quality graham crackers
1 1/4 3-ounce bars good quality bittersweet chocolate, broken into 36 pieces
Place 12 graham crackers on twelve 8- by 8-inch sheets of foil. Arrange 3 pieces of chocolate in the shape of a triangle on each graham cracker. Toast the marshmallows over hot coals until golden brown. Place 1 marshmallow on top of each chocolate triangle. Top with the remaining graham crackers. Seal the foil packets to enclose. Place foil packets on a grill rack 5 to 6 inches above the heat source. Heat for 1 minute on each side or until the chocolate melts. Makes 6 to 12 servings.
Variations for S’mores (for one; increase as desired)
- Two Nabisco Famous Chocolate wafers spread with Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread) and topped with a toasted marshmallow. No heating necessary.
- Two thin peanut butter cookies with 3 chocolate pieces and a toasted marshmallow. Prepare as directed above.
- Two thin chocolate chip cookies spread with a layer of peanut or almond butter, 3 chocolate pieces and toasted marshmallow. Prepare as directed above.
- Double graham cracker piece, thick caramel sauce, 2 toasted marshmallows and 2 fresh peach, mango or pineapple slices. Spoon caramel sauce on double cracker; top with marshmallows and fruit; serve at once.
- Two thin, crisp chocolate or sugar cookies spread thinly with Trader Joe’s Crunchy Speculoos Cookie Butter, 3 pieces of dark or white chocolate, and a toasted marshmallow. Prepare as directed above.
Toffee Mocha Cookies
These rich mocha cookies are chock full of chocolate chips and English toffee bits. Serve with a platter of fresh seasonal fruits or dried fruits like cherries, peaches, apricots, cranberries, plums and blueberries. A compote of dried fruit poached in port and honey then topped with Greek yogurt is another appealing option.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 packed cup light brown sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (optional)
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups (18 ounces) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup pecan or walnut halves
1/2 cup (8-ounce package) Heath toffee bits
Preheat oven to 360 degrees. Grease baking sheets. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, soda and salt for 30 seconds; set aside. With a mixer, beat butter with both sugars and espresso powder until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Mix in the reserved flour just until blended. By hand, stir in chocolate chips, nuts and toffee bits. Drop dough by the generous tablespoon onto cookie sheets, 3 inches apart. Bake until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool 3 to 4 minutes then remove to racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container. Serve within two days. Cookie dough can be made 2 days ahead and refrigerated until baked or frozen for longer storage.
Special thanks to Wanda Teague, Amber Blackwell and Garnet and Black Traditions at Jewelry Warehouse for the loan of USC Gamecock tailgating items.
Susan Fuller Slack is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, a charter member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and a founding member of the Charleston S.C. Chapter of Les Dames d’ Escoffier International.