National Tailgating Month

Dear Up in Smoke Subscriber,

The American Association of Tailgaters has declared this National Tailgating Month. Hopefully, you haven’t let any valuable friendships lapse during the year—i.e., friendships with season ticketholders. Below, Steven shares some of his best tips for achieving victory on the asphalt, including organizational strategies and new recipes.

As always, don’t forget to share your tailgating experiences and most successful recipes on the Barbecue Board. Thanks in advance.

Happy tailgating,

Nancy Loseke
Features Editor
Up in Smoke

Steven recently taped a tailgating episode on the popular PBS show MotorWeek. The episode, entitled “Honda CR-V,” will begin airing in American markets on Friday, September 29. To check times in your viewing area, go to the Maryland Public Television website,

Ribs Do Taste Better ON the Grill!
Michael Weisberg is the winner of the America’s Most Outrageous Rib Lover contest with his picture of 3-year-old Elliot enjoying a rack of ribs on the grill.

Thanks to everyone who voted on the BBQ Board. Michael’s entry got 41% of the votes, and he’ll be receiving a year’s worth of pork from the Pork Board (looking forward to seeing those pictures on the BBQ Board), an autographed copy of Raichlen on Ribs, Ribs, Outrageous Ribs, a t-shirt, an apron, a Best of Barbecue rib rack, and the Best of Barbecue sauce mop and bucket.

The 9 runners-up will be receiving an autographed copy of Ribs, Ribs, Outrageous Ribs and the Best of Barbecue sauce mop and bucket.

Thanks again to everyone who entered, and congratulations to our winner and runners-up!

To the casual observer, tailgating would appear to be nothing more than a big, rambunctious party in a parking lot. But scratch that beer-and brat-fueled conviviality, and you’ll discover a raw desire to win, to dominate, to conquer. Yes, tailgating itself has become a fiercely competitive sport. Is the real contest on the Astroturf, or on the asphalt? You tell me. In any case, it’s an American fall tradition.

Tailgating and football go way back together in this country, perhaps as far back as 1869, when Rutgers and Princeton played their first football game. Students gathered before the contest to drink and socialize, setting out their picnics on the lowered tailgates of their horse-drawn wagons.

Flash forward to 2006. Tailgating has been embraced by fans of soccer, baseball, and especially NASCAR. The American Tailgaters Association reports more than 20 million Americans attend these parking lot parties.

We’ve all seen or heard about elaborate tailgating set-ups—the limos and silver candlesticks, the stereo systems and plasma-screen TVs. There’s even a company in California that will customize your pick-up truck with a built-in grill and refrigerated beer kegs—but you really don’t need much to get started.

A vehicle, preferably one with a tailgate, is the first thing you need, followed by a sturdy but transportable grill. You certainly can’t go wrong with a 22-1/2 inch kettle. Another grill I like a lot is the wood burning Woodflame ( from Canada. Gas grillers will warm to the ultra portable Weber Q, which comes in multiple sizes. I personally prefer charcoal grills at tailgate parties, as you can smoke on them as well as grill. Not to mention the high testosterone thrill of playing with live fire. You may even want to bring multiple grills—a gas grill for bratwurst or burgers, for example, and a charcoal grill for beer can chicken.

Bring all the grilling tools you’d typically use if cooking at home: charcoal (preferably lump), or if you’re a gas griller, an extra tank of propane; a chimney starter or two; a long handled stiff wire brush for cleaning the grill; a grill hoe for distributing coals; tongs; grilling gloves ; spatula for turning food; basting brush; foil drip pans; smoking chips; an instant read meat thermometer; etc. Don’t forget the matches or butane lighter. It’s also important to bring a metal ash can so you can safely dispose of hot coals. These tools and more are available at the Store.

Tailgating is a lot like camping; it’s an adventure whose success depends on preparedness. So don’t rely on memory when packing up your party: Make a list. (Some people keep a laminated copy with their tailgating gear. I like to keep my list on my computer and refine it as needed.) Write down everything you’ll need for cooking, serving, and clean-up. Once you’re at the stadium, you can’t run back to the house and grab a forgotten item. Speaking of which, don’t forget to bring a fire extinguisher . . .

If you’re a seasoned tailgate warrior, you undoubtedly have a well-honed battle plan. You’ve mastered a few tried-and-true menus, and are able to relax with your beer and your guests while less experienced tailgaters struggle to put food out before game time.

Here are some tips for grilling competition-quality food—without being so busy you can’t enjoy the party.

  • Build your menu around a large chunk of meat that serves lots of people but needs relatively little tending. Good candidates include Brewmeister’s Chicken or Root Beer Chicken or Cousin Rob’s Cajun Chicken (see Beer Can Chicken, pages 38 and 55, respectively), Pastrami Turkey Breast (How to Grill, page 265), Rosemary Grilled Pork Loin (The Barbecue Bible, page 159); or Spit-Roasted Leg of Lamb (BBQ USA, page 310).All of these dishes are indirect grilled at medium heat (350 degrees), so you can cook them from start to finish in about 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
  • Everyone loves ribs. Focus on baby backs, which can be smoke-roasted on the grill in as short a time as 1-1/4 hours. Some of my favorites this time of year are the Maple Glazed Ribs, Chinatown Ribs, or Mint Julep Ribs—all in Raichlen on Ribs (pages 70, 77, and 73, respectively).
  • If you do go the low and slow route of true barbecue (for pork shoulders, briskets, and spare ribs), be sure you have enough time to finish it before the kickoff. Some parking lots have discouraging restrictions on when tailgaters can begin setting up. Check with them in advance. As an alternative, smoke-roast the meat at home and reheat it at the party.
  • As any Wisconsin Cheese Head will tell you, bratwurst is the ultimate sausage for tailgating. Sure, you can direct grill it (work over a moderate flame), but you’ll likely spend the afternoon dodging burnt casings and flare-ups. The easiest way by far to grill brats is by indirect grilling; the resulting sausage will be considerably more plump and juicy. Toss a handful of soaked wood chips on the coals and you’ll give the brats a whole new dimension. (Ditto for Italian sausage and chorizo.) And you can hold the cooked brats in an aluminum foil pan of warm beer flavored with sliced onions and melted butter.
  • For a lot of people, no tailgate party is complete without burgers. I like to enclose a pat of butter into the center of each patty before grilling. That way, you can cook the burger through—which you really should do anyway to eliminate the threat of e. coli—without drying it out. Contrary to popular belief, you should not press a burger with a spatula when grilling—this forces out the juices and dries out the burger.
  • Don’t let the party or the last play distract you from food safety. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. (The danger zone is 41 to 140 degrees F.) Wash your hands. Avoid cross-contamination of utensils, knives, cutting boards, etc. Use separate ones for raw and cooked meats. Dispose of leftovers that have been sitting at room temperature for more than an hour. Remember, “room temperature” on hot asphalt can be 95 degrees!

Here are a few final tips for tailgating.

  • Try to arrive at least 3 to 4 hours early if the parking lot allows
  • Tie a helium-filled mylar balloon to your car so everyone can easily find your party
  • Pack plenty of aluminum drip pans (I buy them by the case). Use them for marinating meats, as drip pans for indirect grilling, as serving platters, and for holding leftovers. When you’re done grilling, dump the hot embers or ashes into them and douse with water
  • Bring a separate cooler for beverages so people aren’t rooting around your raw chicken to grab a beer
  • Buy industrial strength trash bags, and bring plenty. They can double as impromptu rain gear, if needed
  • And of course, don’t forget to bring your tickets!

Below are two new recipes to add to your tailgating repertoire. Hundreds more are in my books, which are available through the Store. You’ll find Indoor Grilling (Workman Publishing, 2004) an especially valuable resource for ideas as each recipe includes instructions for portable grills.

Bangkok Wings

(with Thai Sweet Chili Sauce)
Method: Indirect grilling
Serves: 4
Advance preparation: 2 to 4 hours for marinating the wings

6 cloves garlic, rough chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons coarse salt (kosher or sea)
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine or sherry
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 cup vegetable oil, or as needed
12 whole chicken wings (about 2 pounds)
3/4 cup Thai sweet chili sauce (see Note)

1) Make the marinade: Place the garlic, half the cilantro, salt, pepper, and coriander in a food processor and finely chop. Add the soy sauce, rice wine, lime juice, and sesame oil and puree to a smooth paste. Rinse the chicken wings under cold running water and blot them dry with paper towels. Cut the tips off the wings and discard them. Cut each wing into 2 pieces through the joint. Place the wings in a large nonreactive bowl and add the marinade, turning to coat the wings thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate, and let marinate for 2 hours, or as many as 4. (You can also use a large resealable plastic bag to marinate the wings.) Do this at home before the game.

2) When ready to cook, set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium-high. Arrange the wings in the center of the grate, skin side up, over the drip pan and away from the heat. Cover the grill and cook until the wings are sizzling, golden brown and cooked through, 30 to 40 minutes.

3) Transfer the wings to a foil pan and douse with the chili sauce. Toss to mix. Sprinkle the wings with the remaining cilantro and serve at once.

Note: Thai sweet chili sauce is available in the ethnic section of most supermarkets or from One good brand is Mae Ploy.

Chipotle-Rubbed Flank Steaks

with Sweet Onion Salsa
Method: Direct grilling
Serves: 4

1 large flank steak (1-1/2 to 2 pounds)
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
4 teaspoons pure chipotle powder
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground pepper
Sweet onion salsa (recipe follows)

1) Place the steak on a cutting board and lightly score on both sides in a crosshatch pattern. The cuts should go no more than 1/8 inch deep and be spaced 1/4 inch apart. Scoring fosters absorption of the seasonings and helps keep the steak from curling.

2) Season the steak on both sides with chipotle powder, salt and pepper. Let the steaks marinate for at least 5 minutes, and as long as 20 minutes.

3) Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high.

4) When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the steaks on the hot grate and grill until cooked to taste, 3 to 6 minutes per side for medium rare, depending on the meat’s thickness. You can also check the doneness by inserting an instant meat thermometer into the thin end of the steak. Medium rare will be about 140 degrees.

5) Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let rest for 3 minutes. Slice very thinly across the grain and serve on grilled garlic bread or rolls with the salsa spooned on top.

Sweet Onion Salsa 
Yield: About 2 cups

1 medium sweet onion, like a Vidalia or Walla Walla, finely chopped
1 large luscious ripe red tomato (the sort that goes splat when you drop it), seeded and finely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 to 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced (for spicier salsa, leave the seeds in)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or to taste
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or to taste
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper

Place the ingredients in a mixing bowl and toss to mix, adding vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste.

Note: the salsa can be made up to 4 hours ahead of time, but it really tastes best served within 30 minutes of mixing.

Yours in righteous grilling,
Steven Raichlen, Grill Master and Editor-in-Chief
Nancy Loseke, Features Editor

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