Top Ten Tailgating Tips


Dear Up in Smoke Subscriber,

If you’re a tailgater, you know there’s as much competition in the parking lot, pre-game, as there is in the stadium. Every week, it’s a new contest.

We’ve put together a grilled menu (with recipes) that will help you crush the opposition. How can you lose with “hammers,” spatchcocked “game” birds, or “pound” cake kebabs?

As a bonus, here our top ten tailgating tips:

1) Pack separate coolers for food and beverages; keep both cold by replacing some of the ice cubes with bottles of frozen water;

2) Choose foods that can either be direct grilled quickly, or indirect grilled foods that cook within 1-1/2 hours; do as much prep work as possible at home;

3) Stand propane tanks or bags of charcoal in milk crates so they don’t tip over in transit;

4) Float a large Mylar balloon above your vehicle so your tailgating guests can find you easily in the parking milieu;

5) Make a master list for essential tailgating supplies (include “tickets”), then have it laminated; make a separate list for food items as your menu changes;

6) If setting up at a new venue, check with the stadium in advance of game day to find out if there are special tailgating rules. And be sure to ask what time the parking lot opens—you don’t want to arrive at 6 a.m. when the lot doesn’t open until 9 a.m.;

7) Pack plenty of disposable aluminum foil pans, paper towels, disposable handwipes, zip-top type bags, and sturdy garbage bags;

8) Develop a plan for dousing and disposing of used charcoal;

9) Don’t leave food safety considerations at home: Keep hot foods hot (140 degrees and higher) and cold foods cold (40 degrees and lower);

10) Pack a couple of permanent markers with your supply of disposable cups so guests can initial their glasses (cuts down on waste).

Now go out and win big!

Source: Planet Barbecue by Steven Raichlen (Workman, 2010)

Method: Direct grilling

Serves: 4

Advance Preparation: None, although the “hammers” can be assembled several hours ahead

4 ounces Gouda cheese
16 pitted prunes
4 lean slices of bacon, or more as needed

You’ll also need: 16 short, thin bamboo skewers or wooden toothpicks, soaked for 1 hour in cold water to cover, and drained; a grill shield or a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil folded like a business letter

1) Cut the cheese into 1/4 by 1/4 by 1-inch pieces and stuff them inside the prunes.

2) Cut each slice of bacon crosswise into 4 pieces: Each piece should be just large enough to wrap around a prune. Wrap each prune in bacon and secure it through the side with a bamboo skewer or toothpick so that it resembles a hammer. The hammers can be prepared several hours ahead to this stage.

3) Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high. Leave one section of the grill fire-free for a safety zone.

4) When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the wrapped prunes on the hot grate with a grill shield or an aluminum foil shield under the exposed ends of the skewers to keep them from burning. (Alternatively, wrap the exposed end of each skewer or toothpick with foil.) Grill the hammers, turning with tongs, until the bacon is crisp and the cheese is melted, 1 to 3 minutes per side. In the event you get flare-ups, move the hammers on top of the grill shield or the safety zone. Transfer the hammers to a platter and serve immediately.

Source: Adapted from The Barbecue! Bible by Steven Raichlen (Workman, 2008)

Method: Direct grilling under a brick

Serves: 2 to 4

Advance Preparation: 2 hours for marinating the game hens

For the marinade:

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup boiling water
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 large bunch fresh basil, stemmed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 game hens (1 to 1-1/4 pound each)*

For serving:

Fresh basil sprigs
Lemon wedges
Cherry tomatoes

You’ll also need: 4 bricks completely wrapped with heavy-duty aluminum foil

A spray bottle of water to control flare-ups

1) Combine the oil, lemon juice, water, garlic, basil, salt and pepper in a blender and process to a smooth paste. Refrigerate if not using immediately; it’s best the day it’s made.

2) For each hen, remove the packet of giblets (if any) from the body cavity and set aside for another use. Remove and discard any excess fat just inside the body cavity of the game hen; rinse the bird, inside and out, under cold running water, then drain and blot dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Place the bird, breast side down, on a cutting board.

Using poultry shears or a sharp knife, cut through the flesh and bone along both sides of the backbone. Cut from the tail end to the head end and completely remove the backbone.

3) Open out the bird (like opening a book) by gently pulling the halves apart. Using a sharp paring life, lightly score the top of the breastbone. Run your thumbs along and under the sides of the breastbone and attached cartilage and pop them out. Spread the bird out flat.

4) Turn the bird over. Using a sharp knife, make a slit in the skin between the lower end of the breastbone and the leg, on each side, approximately 1/2 inch long (you’re trying to accommodate the end of the drumstick). Stick the end of the drumstick on that side through the slit.

5) Put the spatchcocked hens into a nonreactive baking dish and pour the marinade over them, turning to coat completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, preferably for 1 hour.

6) Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the game hens on the hot grate, all facing the same direction, at a 45 degree angle to the bars of the grate. Place a brick on top of each. Grill for 6 to 8 minutes per side; replace the bricks after turning. The bricks make it more difficult to control spontaneous flare-ups, so have a spray bottle on hand and use it judiciously if the flames threaten to burn the hens. The hens are done when an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh (but not reaching the bone) registers about 170 degrees F.

7) Transfer the hens to a platter; let rest for 3 minutes before serving. Garnish with sprigs of fresh basil, lemon wedges, and cherry tomatoes.

*Game hens are available from if you can’t find them locally.



Source: Adapted from How to Grill by Steven Raichlen (Workman

 Publishing, 2001)

Method: Direct Grilling

Serves: 4

8 Belgian endives, trimmed and halved lengthwise (See Note)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Coarse salt (kosher or sea)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup English walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) crumbled blue cheese, preferably Roquefort
1/4 cup curly parsley, finely minced

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

2) Brush the endives with olive oil and generously sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3) Arrange the endives on the hot grate and grill until nicely browned, 3 to 5 minutes per side, turning with tongs.

4) Transfer the endives to a platter; arrange in two rows of eight pieces each.
Sprinkle the walnuts, cheese, and parsley down the center of the platter.

Serve immediately.


Method: Direct grilling

Serves: 4

For the glaze:

1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup rum
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the fruit:

2 large ripe freestone peaches, nectarines, or pears
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 plums
1 large banana
4 1-inch slices of pound cake, cut into 1-inch cubes (preferably Sara Lee; homemade is too crumbly)
1/4 cup melted butter

For serving:

Vanilla ice cream (optional)
Sprigs of fresh mint

You’ll also need: 4 long cinnamon sticks (8 to 12 inches each)

Metal skewer

1) Make the glaze. In a small nonreactive saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the cream, honey, rum, and cinnamon. Gradually bring to a boil over high heat, then let boil until the glaze is slightly reduced and just beginning to become syrupy, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

2) Prepare the fruit. Cut each peach in half along the crease. Twist the peach halves in opposite directions to separate them. Remove and discard the pits. Cut each peach into quarters, and transfer to a bowl; gently toss with lemon juice. Pit each plum and cut into quarters. Peel the banana and cut into 1-inch pieces.

3) To assemble the kebabs, skewer the peaches, plums, bananas, and pound cake chunks on cinnamon sticks, dividing the fruit and pound cake evenly between each. Make starter holes in the fruit, if necessary, with a metal skewer, starting from the pit side and handling the fruit as gently as possible. With a pastry brush, lightly brush the melted butter on all sides of the kebabs

4) Preheat the grill to high.

5) Grill the fruit kebabs until the pound cake is lightly toasted and the fruit is sizzling (2 to 4 minutes per side). As the kebabs grill, baste them lightly with a little of the Honey-Rum Glaze.

6) To serve, place the kebabs on plates or a platter. Drizzle with warm Honey-Rum Glaze, and accompany with bowls of vanilla ice cream garnished with fresh mint sprigs (optional).

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

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