Special topics in football food

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September is upon us, gentle readers. Have you a gameplan? As a grateful nation settles into the glorious grind of football season, it behooves us to be prepared for the onset of conference play -- prime tailgating time. Campus Union spoke with Southern Living Test Kitchen director Rebecca Gordon, West Coast food blogger Sarah Sprague and East Coast food blogger The Gurgling Cod on a range of topics, from food safety to meal planning to the sacred art of cooking an entire pig before a game. Read on, and may your parties be championship-caliber from sunup to cleanup.

Tailgating 102: Food safety & portability

Southern Living Test Kitchen director Rebecca Gordon, here to tell you when that minnercheese turns deadly. (Courtesy of Southern Living)


You can cook just fine in your own kitchen, but can you pull off a multi-course outdoor feast that doesn't serve the same old dishes as the neighboring tent and that won't poison your guests? Guest lecturer: Rebecca Gordon, Southern Living Test Kitchen Director, who's responsible for the development of all recipes in the magazine's new Official SEC Tailgating Cookbook.

SI.com: Let's start with safety, since nobody wants to spend game day working food poisoning out of their system. Southerners are by and large a mayo-based people.  How long is it really safe to let that potato salad or those pimento cheese sandwiches sit out?

Rebecca Gordon: Ice, ice, baby. Nestle platters and bowls filled with mayonnaise-based deviled eggs and potato salad into larger bowls filled with ice. Don’t let food sit out more than one hour. On a hot day (90 degrees or higher), reduce this time to 30 minutes, but definitely use your best judgment and don’t lollygag because we all know it’s going to be hotter than Georgia asphalt until about…um, well, I’d say Thanksgiving down South. If you’re in the sun, take items directly from your cooler and eat them right away.

SI.com Is sous-vide cooking on game day a practical idea? What precautions should be taken?

RG: Glory be. My motto is “safety first,” and this is a practice that must be performed under carefully controlled conditions with several variables to consider. One wrong move and you can kill someone by way of botulism. Leave this trendy technique to culinary superstars such as Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter who can adequately take all of the necessary steps to keep their guests safe. Not to mention I’m a traditionalist and prefer the Maillard reaction to take place which will only happen at higher temperatures. The browning and crust that forms on steak, especially when grilled, is priceless not only in taste but provides for a more visually appealing meal.

SI.com On the matter of leftovers: Which kinds of foods are safe to take home and which should we simply not bother with?

RG: There again, I’m a safety girl. The ice has melted and the bugs have been hovering. I prefer everything to be discarded at the end of the tailgate. Thank the Lord for whoever invented Purell and powder-free disposable rubber gloves.

SI.com: Back seat versus trunk: What's the best place for transporting perishable foods to the stadium?

RG: The back seat of your air-conditioned car is always the safest bet.

SI.com: Wrapping everything in bacon is a craze with no signs of slowing down. Should we pre-cook the bacon at all, if the item in question is going onto the grill?

RG: As long as you smoke slowly until the bacon is crisp and the filling is hot, you should be golden.

SI.com: What's your most essential cooking apparatus on game day? Portable gas grill? Big Green Egg? Hibachi?

RG: I heart a charcoal grill. They’re affordable, easy to transport and break down and your food’s going to taste better -- plus you have all day. Relax and pop open a Budweiser while you wait for the coals to turn gray.

SI.com: And we can't go hungry just because the game is winding down. What's your recommended cooling option for postgame fare that won't leave your food soggy?

RG: I pack postgame sandwiches for every game we attend and have a foolproof method to ensure bread doesn’t expand like a Scotch Brite sponge from the melted ice in your cooler. First of all, choose something that will either get better as it sits, like the Mini Muffulettas (on page 88), or something simple, such as a pimento cheese sandwich (try the Jalapeño-Pecan Pimento Cheese on page 101).  Wrap each sandwich tightly in plastic wrap and slide into a zip-top plastic freezer bag. I like to add several napkins to the bag, too. Make sure you press all of the air out of the bag before sealing (be sure yellow and blue make green -- otherwise your efforts were all for naught) and toss in a cooler. Generally all of the ice doesn’t melt and your sandwiches will stay cold.

SI.com: Game-day recipes fall generally into the category of either "home" or "away" -- that is, things to make for a watch party in the living room or things to pack for a game that's perhaps a several hours drive. What are some of your favorite recipes in the latter category, especially ones that are highly portable?

RG: First of all, no exceptional tailgate can start without a signature cocktail. Try the Vanilla-Rosemary Lemonade (on page 56). It’s up to you as to whether you’d like to make it more spirited! I also custom-created the SEC Team Deviled Eggs (on pages 206 and 207) -- one for each of the 14 schools in the conference. To transport easily, prepare a recipe of Tailgate Deviled Eggs up to a day ahead, and once you pipe the filling in the shells, sandwich two halves together and place in a plastic container with a lid. Choose one of the topping ideas and pack in small, separate zip-top plastic bags or containers. When you arrive to your location, un-marry them, place on a platter, nestle the platter in ice and top before serving. (Tip: To keep eggs from sliding, slice a thin piece from the bottom of the cooked egg white shells before filling with the yolk mixture.)

SI.com: What is the least shameful thing to bring a store-bought version of to a tailgate?

RG: Hey, we’re only human. Nothing beats some fabulous ribs if they’re made by someone who knows what they’re doing. But if you’re looking to make that one stop and one stop only -- to pick up extra beer, ice and such -- you can’t go wrong with Sabra Hummus. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the top and crumbled feta if you’re feeling crazy. However, please, please, please spare us all of the congealed French onion dip from the dairy department…please.

SI.com: Conversely, what is the most impressive thing to make from scratch rather than buy?

RG: Fried chicken -- you’ll be a rock star for the day especially if you make it from scratch, I promise.

SI.com: One Razorbacks-themed recipe in the new book calls for Arkansas fans to eat their own mascot. Which other mascots are tastiest?

RG: Hmmm … that sounds like a loaded question! I’m pleading the fifth! I will say that I wouldn’t mind devouring the opponent on the third Saturday in October this year with a batch of Tennessee’s Rocky (Road) Top Team Cupcakes (on page 247).

SI.com: You and the Test Kitchen staffers basically have the dream job of thousands of Southern ladies and gentlemen. How many revisions did the average recipe in this book undergo? How long does it take to develop them? Are there official tasters?

RG: We have an extremely talented group of food professionals with a variety of backgrounds, and there aren’t too many jobs out there where you get to eat for a living. As a food staff (about 14 of us, including editors), we evaluate the recipes at several daily taste testings and discuss everything from taste and how many pots and pans were used to whether the ingredients were difficult to find or not. Most of the recipes we run do not make it through on the first test. The average number of times recipes are prepared before they are actually printed is four times. Once we’re happy with the recipe, it gets rated by our food staff using a five-point scale for evaluation: Fail, one-plus, two, two-plus, three. A three is the highest rating a recipe can receive.

You also may be wondering just who the heck we are.  I was a pastry chef in a former life and love to host cookouts in the backyard, especially when they involve Southern college football games on television. Our resident Mixologist/Barista, Norman King, is a Registered Dietician with a culinary degree who rubs elbows with Matt, Al, Hoda and Kathie Lee when duty calls. Pam Lolley has the Midas touch with yeast dough -- her orange rolls are the best thing I’ve ever eaten, hands down. Angela Sellers has a knack for troubleshooting recipes that have gone awry, and don’t be messin’ with our resident Texan, Vanessa Rocchio. Her bad-to-the-bone ribs can’t be beat.

Southern Living's Official SEC Tailgating Cookbook is on sale right this minute. Don't say we never did nothin' for you.

House party 102: Dawn-to-dusk menu planning

Bacon. Cheddar. Doughnut. Holes. (Courtesy of Sarah Sprague)


As we noted up top, you can cook just fine. But feeding a living room full of tipsy sports fans three meals without letting the atmosphere slide is an exercise in production management. For the perfect home viewing experience, we rely upon former colleague and friend of the blog, today's second guest lecturer, Sarah Sprague, creator of the Football Foodie recipe series.

SI.com: Take us through what you might make for an all-day house party with three sets of games and three meals to consider. I know West Coast watching requires a lot more in the way of breakfast prep than we in the Eastern Time Zone have to deal with.

Sarah Sprague: If I expect a bunch of people in the morning, I like making Bacon Cheddar Doughnut Holes, Breakfast Enchiladas or a Puff Pastry Braid filled with eggs and sausage because everyone is going to be pretty hungry first thing in the morning and I can do much of the prep the night before. While the morning games are going I can get the afternoon munchies ready, things that won't be too time consuming to make for the 1 p.m. start like Cheddar Herb Potato Chips, Toasted Sesame Edamame Dip with Wonton Chips or Choricitos al Vino. It's also a great time to serve items that have been prepped before game day like Italian Pressed Sandwiches, Shredded Buffalo Chicken Wraps, Pizza Stuffed Mushrooms or Spicy Pickle Dip. In the break between the afternoon and late games, I can take time to bake things like Coffee & Pepper Glazed Chicken Drumsticks, get things out of the slow-cooker like Shredded Chicken Mole Frito Pie and Kielbasa Beer Sloppy Joes, make Greek Nachos or fry up some Spicy Peanut Butter Honey Chicken Tenders.

SI.com: Now for some quick hits. Tell us your favorite recipe for breakfast tailgating, your favorite late-night snack, your favorite game-day beverage (doesn't necessarily have to be a recipe), your favorite healthy-ish recipe and your favorite horrendously unhealthy recipe.

SS: Favorite for breakfast tailgating and favorite game-day beverage are actually the same thing, a good Bloody Mary. Stick enough pieces of bacon, celery and pickled asparagus in the glass and you have a meal and a drink. For healthy, I prefer Veggie Sloppy Joes over meat ones any day and a roasted butternut squash dip. Favorite unhealthy? That's like asking me to pick my favorite player of all-time or favorite Star Wars movie, it's just too hard to choose! But probably Sriracha Fried Pickles or Blue Cheese Pierogies with Buffalo Sauce. Or Smoky Habanero Jalapeno Popper Bread. I said it was hard to pick! Favorite late-night snack is easy, leftover sfincione, which is a type of Sicilian pizza where the cheese is under the sauce. It reheats beautifully.

SI.com: How much planning and shopping goes into a typical game week when you know you'll have a crowd Saturday (or when you're throwing a Steelers party on Sunday)?

SS: Depends on how many people I expect, what time the game kicks off and what I feel like. Sometimes I have a menu in my mind and then the night before I crave something completely different. I try to get shopping done on Friday night and buy any last-second ingredients that need to be fresh first thing in the morning. I've been the crazy lady standing outside the market waiting for it to open at 7 a.m. more times than I can count.

SI.com: Let's explore your preseason planning process. How do you develop recipes? How are they typically sourced? How many iterations do you usually go through, developing your own adaptations?

SS: The ideas for new recipes come from everywhere. I like reading old cookbooks, especially ones from the '60s and '70s when people started really looking at ingredients like avocados and Chinese five-spice as new and exciting because you can see where the recipe still has room to grow even further with today's tastes. I'll stop and look at restaurant menus that are posted outside and think about how they can be adapted for entertaining while walking down the street. Living in Los Angeles means I can try out food from all over the world on the cheap, from the Honduran baleadas, Vietnamese pho shops, Peruvian soups and fish to Cali-French classics. While those menus may not be suitable for game days, ingredients in those dishes might inspire changing a typical football snack, like making your own enchilada sauce for a chicken dip or searing unusual cheeses like queso blanco instead of making the same old mozzarella sticks.

Before posting something on the site, I generally make a dish three times to make sure it's going to work every time. Movie nights and cookouts with friends during the offseason give me a lot of chances to test out new recipes since I'm too superstitious about my hockey rituals to fool around with different snacks. Not all snack ideas succeed. I have a recipe with chiles I've been trying to get right for three years and it still falls apart when baking or frying. Sometimes they never work and I still post them to say, "This is a horrible recipe and I stink at doing these things sometimes too" just so people don't think it's all magic around here. Far from.

Find yourself on a downward spiral in the kitchen this season? Fear not. Make a quick tangerine tequila punch and call or text Sarah's football food emergency helpline. Tell her Holly sent you. 

Advanced topics in tailgatery: Whole hog, whole ham

From brisket to flank steak to giant pigs in boxes, The Gurgling Cod is our resource for all game-day meat knowledge. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Hunter)


Jonathan Beecher Field, an associate professor of English at Clemson University who writes about food pseudonymously as the The Gurgling Cod, is an enthusiastic preparer of whole pigs cooked at football games. Could you ever possibly accomplish such a feat yourself? Of course you could, camper. Read on, and accept our apologies for the use of Unnecessary Capital Letters; it's just that this whole process borders on a religious experience for us.

SI.com: First of all, how does one go about procuring A Pig? And what should we expect in terms of cost?

The Gurgling Cod: There are big variables here in terms of locale. If you don't have a pig guy, your best bet would be to talk to a chef at the kind of restaurant that has whole pigs coming in regularly. Better yet, you might get a farmer’s name from a chef. In the good old days, I could get pigs right on campus, because Clemson has an ag school. When that stopped, I asked Hugh Acheson of the Five & Ten in Athens for a lead, which is how I found myself in Ila, Ga., one fine afternoon, discussing the perfidy of Michael Adams with a hog farmer, as we watched his guys butcher my hog, suspended by its trotters from a bucket loader, as a dozen of the most miscellaneous dogs imaginable contended for the offal.

If that angle does not work, try wholesale meat places, or ethnic supermarkets, especially Latino markets. You will need to order well in advance. Cost varies with size and price per pound, but if you are shooting for a pig in the 80-pound ballpark, $150-$250 seems reasonable. If they quote you a weight, make sure it’s for a dressed (minus guts) hog. You will want them to give you the head and the trotter, so you can a) make the pig’s head torchon recipe in the Momofuku cookbook (or souse, or head cheese), and b) put the trotters in the stock you will make. Make sure they butterfly it (i.e., split the vertebrae, but leave the skin holding the two halves together). Lowball the weight, because pig farmers will always give you a bigger pig than what you ask for.

SI.com: How does one safely transport and store A Pig until cooking time?

TGC: For one thing, make sure you are buying thawed, or can arrange for appropriate (refrigerated) thawing. In terms of transport, it’s an 80-pound dead weight, so imagine you are transporting a healthy fifth-grader. A large Rubbermaid box like they sell at Target with ice works, if  cooking on the road. Depending on your domestic situation, throwing the pig in a bathtub overnight with some ice works, though in my experience, leaving the kidneys in the soap dish will not make you popular in your house.

SI.com: What are some common methods for cooking this alleged pig?

TGC: There are many ways to cook pigs, and if you cook one in public, people will approach and inform you of other, better methods of pig cookery. But you are the one cooking the pig, not the one talking about how your daddy used to do it, so proceed accordingly.

The only way I’ve ever attempted a whole hog is in La Caja China. They are a little pricey for what is basically a plywood box lined in galvanized steel, but they are pretty durable. They want you to inject marinade, etc., which is fine, but I think not necessary, if you have a good pig. I’ve messed around with brines, but it’s very hard to keep the whole pig brining, so I’ve gone to a 50/50 salt-sugar rub. Maybe some black pepper, but it’s roast pork, so just get out of the way. You can also do whole lamb, etc., in the Caja China.

SI.com: What other ingredients besides pig are needed?

TGC: It’s really up to you. Worth recalling that you are serving a giant pork roast, not BBQ, per se, so adjust accordingly. I usually serve some kind of green salsa, sometimes a chipotle applesauce if it’s late in the fall, but it’s up to you. I find the big challenge is not looking dismayed when someone shows up with a litter box full of supermarket coleslaw and expects you to look excited. You will want an easy-drinking American lager for the hours you will be standing around watching the pig roast.

A basic game-day checklist:

  • Pig
  • Caja China
  • Charcoal
  • Cutting board
  • Knife roll
  • Big Fork
  • Tongs
  • Lighter
  • Paper
  • Paper towels
  • Garbage bags
  • Gloves 2 pr
  • Wire
  • Brine
  • Sauces
  • Bucket
  • Plywood
  • Cooler
  • Ice
  • Rubber bands
  • Table

SI.com: How much game-day time should be budgeted for pig prep?

TGC: ESPN is the enemy of the tailgate pig roast. You need to plan, and you need to prepare, and kickoff time variables are a challenge. The Caja China is much faster than some methods (why it is also known as the Cajun Microwave), and they claim about five to six hours. I’d allow seven to eight from ignition of charcoal to serving, in order to be on the safe side. Whole pig is the opposite of steak, in that nobody is mad if it’s a little overdone, but it’s not fun if it’s underdone (save your immaculate rosy-hued 137.5 Fahrenheit internal temp roast for your Niman Ranch loin and an anniversary and an oven). Conveniently, the Caja China has instructions painted right on the side, which offer good guidelines for when to add how much charcoal. You will want to cook it open side up, then check internal temp of the thickest parts, and flip the pig when the temp is 140 or so on your instant read thermometer. Buy one of these. Buy two. They get lost. Slice and peek does not work that well in this context.

Once the pig is flipped, you crank up the heat by dumping the ashes, and adding fresh charcoal. Things will start to happen fast now, in that you want the skin to crisp, but some parts will get more than crisp. There are people who can get the whole exterior a crispy mahogany, and more power to them. But for us, you peek, and you can put foil on spots that seem to take too much color too fast.

SI.com: Any handy online or printable resources for The Carving Of The Pig?

TGC: No. What you do is you take the pig out of the box, and lay it on the piece of clean plywood that will be your cutting board. You will need a big enough piece to flip the hog back and forth. You will probably have needed to wire the grates on either side of the pig in place, because the S-hooks that come with the Caja China are not that helpful. So, place pig on table, skin side up, remove upper grate and flip pig onto back for carving. If you have cooked pig thoroughly, there may be some pieces that fall off here, like one of those pictures from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Pick them up and put them back on the table, and smile.

For carving, useful to think of six units: two shoulders, two ribs, two butts. I usually start with the butts. You will want a carving fork and a big sharp knife. I’m fond of the Dexter-Russell Sani-Safe line -- 12 inches is good. For butts and shoulders, your basic approach is to get big hunks off the bone, then chop perpendicular to the grain. Have a clean bucket nearby so you can save the bones for stock. If Holly will let me, I can tell you later how to make a ridiculous French onion from this stock. [ed. note: YES] For the ribs, separate left and right, and ideally carve between ribs so you have a rib with crispy skin attached to a hunk of loin. Even if it ain’t pretty, it will still be tasty.