Passing a Good Time: Tailgating 101
● Published by Robert Frey
By Curt Guillory
Tailgating – America’s Favorite Pastime
When cool fronts from the north start to push through our hot and humid air, the leaves begin changing and drum lines can be heard in the not-too-far distance, you think to yourself, “Yes, it’s finally here!” — tailgating season.
It’s an understatement to say that in South Louisiana we love our football. Whether you’re chanting Geaux Tigers, “Allons Cajuns” or taking a trip down to the Big Easy for a Saints home game, one thing is for sure, you had better get there early for tailgating.
Tailgating, for those who don’t know, is what happens before the game. Groups of people show up in the parking lot of the stadium, select a spot and commence to cook, play music, dance and mingle with fellow tailgaters. Yes, there is some drinking involved, or so I’m told.
Tailgating, in its earliest form, dates back to 1861. At the Battle of Bull Run spectators gathered on the hillsides to cheer with picnic baskets in tow. They cheered, “Go big blue!” And no, they weren’t cheering for Michigan. That takes care of the food and “team” part, but what about the tailgate part.
Fast forward five years to a Texas ranch where the idea was born to feed people from something transportable — the chuck wagon. The back portion of the wagon folded down to provide a place to prepare food. I’m sure you guessed by now that it was called the tailgate.
These two seemingly unrelated events were brought together at what is considered our nation’s first football game. In 1869 the colleges of Rutgers and Princeton met and marked the first time spectators donned school colors to show their support. There was a pregame celebration and food at that event, which brings everything together for the first sporting event tailgate.
Personally, I think that modern-day tailgating was born from people showing up early at the stadium to get a good parking spot, and someone decided to pack the barbecue pit, Old Smokey, and cook from the tailgate to pass the time. Today they aren’t showing up early for a good parking spot, but rather to stake out prime tailgating real estate.
Tailgating is a Food Lover’s Paradise
Back in the day most of the food cooked at tailgating events was grilled; today the sky is the limit. What you get when a bunch of Cajuns get together in the fall to cook is almost every kind of delicious food imaginable in one spot. From gumbo to grillades, jumbo po’boys to jambalaya, fried shrimp to fajitas, boudin to barbecue, even barbecued boudin; it can all be found tailgating. There’s an old saying that if you leave tailgating hungry, that’s your fault.
There is an excess of cooking set-ups at a tailgating event. Pass by Cajun Field this fall and take a look. It’s not uncommon to see a simple grill under a tent next to a mammoth RV complete with outdoor stoves and giant grills fired up. Tailgating can be a little daunting for a novice, but there is no need to be intimidated. Simply bring what you have, and cook what you like.
Here are a couple of my recipes that would be great tailgating eats.
The Best Grilled Pork Tenderloin
Simple is best right? When it comes to cooking, the best results come from high quality ingredients and simple cooking techniques. There is no better example of this than grilled pork tenderloin.
Years ago, many years ago, it was common knowledge that pork should be cooked well. As a matter of fact, it was said that pork should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 170 degrees. At the time that was true because a great deal of pork was home raised, and its food sources made it susceptible to many parasites.
In the last 20 plus years individual pig farming is all but nonexistent. Modern commercial pig farms now supply the vast majority of the pork we consume. The USDA closely watches these farms and their products. The bottom line is it’s perfectly acceptable to cook pork to medium doneness, which would be 140 degrees internal temperature on a meat thermometer.
• 3-4 pounds pork tenderloin (cleaned and trimmed)
• 1 pint Cajun Injector (roasted garlic and herb)
• 1 cup pesto sauce
• All-purpose Cajun seasoning to taste
Inject the tenderloin using about ½ of the injector liquid. Make sure to inject the meat in several places to ensure good flavor distribution. Do this the night before.
Season the outside of the tenderloin with the all-purpose seasoning to taste.
Place the tenderloin on the hot part of the grill and sear each side for 1-2 minutes each.
Move the tenderloin to the cooler side of the grill and cook to an internal temperature of 140 degrees in the thickest part.
Remove the tenderloin to a sheet, or roasting, pan and coat on all sides with pesto sauce.
Loosely tent with foil and allow it to rest for 5-7 minutes.
Slice into ¾” slices and serve.
Grilled Red Snapper
The cooking is done entirely on the grill, and at a somewhat slower pace. Not much attention is needed past the first couple of minutes, so the technique is quite easy.
Use all the flavors available to season your fish such as, onions, bell pepper and fresh lemon, but also to keep it moist while cooking.
If using a charcoal grill, then use natural lump charcoal. The flavor and burn time are excellent. Build the fire to one side of the barbecue pit away from the exhaust vent. This will allow for both direct and indirect cooking.
If using a gas grill, use a smoke box with soaked hardwood chips. Light the burner farthest away from the exhaust vent. Just like the charcoal pit this will allow for direct and indirect cooking.
This recipe calls for the use of a citrus compound butter. Compound butter is nothing more than softened butter, which is flavored then chilled again and allowed to harden. Almost any flavoring can be added to butter.
• 5 pounds red snapper filets (skin on)
• 1 large yellow onion (sliced)
• 1 large bell pepper (sliced)
• 1 pound unsalted butter (softened)
• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
• 2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
• 2 teaspoons fresh lime zest
• 2 tablespoons olive oil for brushing the fish
• 2 tablespoons canola oil for brushing the grill
• Kosher salt and all-purpose seasoning to taste
Combine the lemon juice, lemon zest, lime juice, lime zest and butter in a bowl. Stir until the juice is incorporated.
Place the butter on a layer of plastic wrap and roll end over end length wise forming a tube shape about 1½” to 2” in diameter.
Place the butter roll in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours prior to using.
Remove the butter roll and slice into ¼” slices, place in an airtight container and return to the refrigerator until needed.
Remove the pin bones from the fish filets by using a cleaned set of needle nose pliers. Rub the fish against the grain of the meat, which is from the tail to the head, to feel for the bones.
Leave the rib bones in place.
Brush the filets with olive oil and season with salt and all-purpose seasoning to taste.
Use a heat resistant brush or kitchen towel to coat the grill with the canola oil.
Place the filets flesh side down directly over the fire for 2 minutes.
Using a fish spatula, or suitable heavy spatula, slide under the fish bearing down on the grill, lift and turn the skin side away from the fire, near the upper vent.
Place 4-5 butter slices on each filet along with several slices of onion and bell pepper.
Cover the grill, open the upper vent and cook for 15-20 minutes.
Check the fish for doneness by using a fork to flake apart the thickest part of the meat.
If the meat flakes very easily, the fish is done.
Remove the fish and serve immediately.
Note: Smaller filets will be done quicker than larger ones. Remove each one as they are done individually.
Note: If using whole fish, simply place the ingredients inside the cavity of the fish, and grill for 2 minutes on each side before moving the fish to the cool side of the grill.
Food Safety, Food Safety, Food Safety
This is a really big deal. Cooking food early and having it sit out on a table for four or five hours is an open invitation for game-day food poisoning. I know, I know we’ve all been there—eating something off of a tray that’s been hanging around most of the afternoon and nothing happened. Take it from me; the first time you get a belly full of nasty bacteria is the last time you will ever want to experience that again.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
• Keep hot food above 140 degrees Fahrenheit and cold foods below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
• Keep food chilled until you are ready to cook.
• Cool cooked foods down to below 40 degrees quickly.
• Cook foods in small batches rather than all at once.
• Make sure you have plenty of ice on hand.
• Fill spray bottles with a mixture of one-tablespoon dishwashing liquid and one tablespoon chlorine bleach to one gallon of water for cleaning and disinfecting.
• Bring a supply of clean water for rinsing, etc.
• Zipper sealing bags are great for storing all sorts of things.
It’s just not tailgating without some great tunes. Make sure your playlist is complete, pack your speakers and don’t forget the charging cord. Just remember that you will have neighbors all around you so be kind with the volume, and know that there may be kids around. Do everyone a favor and pass on the X-rated versions. It will save you some ugly stares at best and unwanted visits at worst.
Streaming music is all the rage right now, but sometimes the networks’ signals aren’t the best. Keep your crowd’s favorites stored on your device so the music doesn’t stop. Then again, you can always go old school and have a FM radio tuned to your favorite local station. It’s a great way to keep the party going and stay informed about what’s going on around town.
Go Visit Other Tailgaters
Anytime you go tailgating there is going to be hundreds, if not thousands, of people there. Go walking around and visit. Especially the pros like Krewe de Chew at UL games. They have tents set up and know how to tailgate. They love visiting, and will be glad to let you know if you can “Roosta like you used to.”
Don’t Wait to Start Tailgating
It may seem a little intimidating and overwhelming, but tailgating is nothing more than a group of people with a common interest enjoying some pre-game celebration. Like anything else, tailgating can be as simple or over the top as you want, but the most important aspect of any tailgating event is to have fun. So get out there, show your colors, cook some food and have a great time.