Tailgating used to be something that only football fans did. Nowadays, you can find people cooking up a storm, sharing good food and drinks with friends and fellow fans in the parking lots of various venues -- sporting and otherwise -- across the country: Sanford Stadium (Georgia Dawgs), Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City Royals), the New Hampshire Speedway (NASCAR), and yes, even the season's opening night at the Santa Fe Opera. While the origin of tailgating, a Princeton-Rutgers football game in 1869, is debatable, it is nearly impossible to challenge the practice's appeal. As tailgating grows in popularity, more and more tailgating cookbooks flood the market. So we've narrowed down the field to five cookbooks loaded with tasty recipes and practical tips that'll help you tailgate successfully, whether you're a newbie or a pro. There aren't fancy layouts or lots of color photos, and if you're a vegetarian or have dietary restrictions, you'll be hard-pressed to find many recipes that meet your needs. What they are filled with is plenty of personality from their authors, as well as features on die-hard fans, historical context, trivia, and anecdotes.
The Tailgater's Cookbook
by David Joachim (Broadway Books)
Recipe to try: Beer and Coffee Steak
Tailgating "is about getting together to enjoy some quality time with your friends and family." And with that, David Joachim tackles the American phenomenon of tailgating and the loyal fans who make it happen. For Joachim, a tailgate isn't relegated only to football stadium parking lots and the raceway infields: He finds opportunities at baseball stadiums, soccer fields, and even the cricket field. A thorough introduction and a chapter on essential tools and equipment (including a checklist) ensure that readers will understand that in order to have fun, you also need to know how to set up, clean up, and keep it safe. From the usual Brats in Beer to the unexpected Chocolate Whiskey Pudding, the 90-plus recipes fall into categories such as "On the Grill" and "From the Thermos," which helps with planning. But the feature that sends this book out of the ballpark is the set of preparation steps -- "Before You Go," "When You Get There," and "Neighborly Tip" -- for each recipe. The directions and tips explain how best to prepare the food. Also included are sample menus, most of them based on college football rivalries like the University of Oregon vs. Oregon State (a.k.a. "The Civil War"), as well as an equipment source index. And don't forget the fans and trivia. Interspersed are features on super fans like Syd Davy (Minnesota Vikings) and factoids, such as the history of Gatorade. Add all these elements together, and there's no question why this is our top pick.
Best for Gourmands:
If you're looking to step up your tailgate grilling, look no further, because Ray Lampe, a.k.a. Dr. BBQ, is in the house. This oversized book is beautifully produced and would make a wonderful gift. It would also be a great way to convince a skeptical nontailgater that you can have gourmet-quality food at a tailgate. Organized by dish type ("The Kickoff: Amazing Appetizers," "Between the Hash Marks: Great Sandwiches"), the 150 recipes "are designed to be elegant enough to serve at home, yet sturdy enough to travel to the game." And therein lies this cookbook's beauty. So don't be surprised if you're noshing on Screaming Yellow Salsa, Shrimp Étouffée, and Citrus Flan at Soldier Field. And while you cook, get acquainted with all 32 National Football League teams. Basic information like home stadium address and championships won is provided, but the most valuable pieces of information are Lampe's choices for best barbecue joints and brews in all the teams' hometowns, a team-specific game-day menu, and a review of each city's food scene.
Best for Amateurs:
If you prefer the college football scene to the NFL for its purity of play and the intense loyalty of its fan base, then Pableaux Johnson's cookbook is for you. Filled with 80-plus recipes, this book targets fans with "no discernable kitchen skills" as well as those who "want to get out of the pocket and operate beyond their comfort zone." Johnson loads the book with classic recipes like brats in beer and chili, but there are also intriguing twists on ordinary recipes, such as fresh ginger in the Citrus Bowl Lemonade, and Blue Devil Cheese and Bacon Dip, which gets a zing from peppered bacon. A bonus for college football fans who watch ESPN's College GameDay: The book includes irreverent banter between cohosts Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, and Kirk Herbstreit. Look also for fun asides like "Fire Up the Mascot," a list of edible meats and corresponding teams' mascots you can symbolically torch at your next cookout, and "No Place to Start a Food Fight," a list of long-standing team rivalries and the games that went down in the history books.
Best for BBQ Fanatics:
The book's 140-plus recipes reflect Bob Sloan's understanding that nobody wants to be stuck in front of a grill throughout the tailgate. "While the food is an essential part of the experience, no one should be so distracted by the cooking that they can't enjoy themselves," he writes. Recipes are broken down into what can be done at home and at the tailgate, giving even a first-time tailgater the confidence to try the more advanced dishes. All-time tailgate favorites like deviled eggs, brats, and burgers appear alongside more creative dishes such as Curried Beef Kabobs and Wild Rice Salad with Dried Cranberries. Sloan pays homage to the world of football tailgating, but he also expands the coverage by featuring recipes that you might find served at more unusual scenes, such as Grilled Pork Tacos at New York City's Mexican Soccer League and Pam's Artichoke Rice Salad at the summer music festival at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. Not sure if you're a real tailgater? There's a ten-point checklist that'll help you figure it out.
Best for Home Tailgaters:
Need a reason to tailgate? Then pick up Debbie Moose's book. Right off the bat, you'll find a year-round schedule of sporting events. So whether it's the NFL play-offs in January or the College World Series in June, one of Moose's 100 recipes should suit you. But even if the cooking's only in the kitchen and the game's on the TV, these recipes help re-create an authentic tailgate indoors that any fan will enjoy. A good number of the recipes honor sporting teams in the South, but Moose includes recipes from other regions, such as Hawaii (Jo's Hibachi Seafood Mix) and Ohio (Kevin's Racin' Ears). In addition to the usual football coverage, she includes recipes inspired by and served at other sporting events, such as an avocado spread for the Brookhill Steeplechase, classic pimiento cheese sandwiches for the Masters Golf Tournament, and a veggie pizza for the Iditarod. Suggested menus and key conversion charts are provided, as are her do-ahead tips ("Extra Points"), which will help the cook bring his or her A game.
Esther Sung first joined Epicurious.com in 2006. Prior to this, she spent several years in book publishing, including at Harper Entertainment, where the proverbial three-martini lunch was sadly nowhere to be found. When not in the office, she moonlights at the Bottle Shoppe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and through this she has developed a fondness for Syrah and Malbec. A quasi-vegetarian, she admits to having relished eating yuk hwe, a Korean raw beef dish.
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