John Stage, Founder of Dinosaur BBQ, Offers Up the Definitive Tailgating Checklist
Dinosaur BBQ is something of an institution in the Tri-state area, in the sense that the restaurant immediately becomes the best (I'll own that) BBQ spot in any town it sets up a smoker. (Seven locations and counting, from its Syracuse roots on out to Connecticut and Jersey.) I went to college in Rochester, NY, home of the second Dinosaur outpost, and can attest to the restaurant's magnetism: It was a no-brainer for group outings and casual dates alike. (For fancier dates, such as those preceding school semi-formals, a common destination was the Hibachi steakhouse in a strip mall about 15 minutes from campus. Like any Hibachi restaurant worth its butter, the place did both the onion volcano and the beating rice heart. For semi-formals, all stops = pulled out.)
I didn't—and still don't—have a particularly discerning palate when it comes to BBQ, an unfortunate byproduct of my New England upbringing. But I'll be damned if I ever turn down an invitation to Dinosaur. The architect of that appeal is John Stage, who co-birthed the Syracuse restaurant back in 1988. A man learns a great deal about meat after spending that much time cooking it, which is why SI asked him to tame the grill at MetLife Stadium this Saturday during the first stop of the Go RVing Tailgate Tour. Being that most of America's outdoor cooking plans this weekend don't involve a fancy-pants BBQ event the Meadowlands, we had Stage quickly highlight what he considers to be the five tailgating essentials. Thorough mentor that he is, he even provided a preface:
"Obviously, what you bring to a tailgate depends on your menu and how much time you have. BBQ is such a long-cook item—for a 1pm game, you really need someone out there at midnight getting the fire right. So right now, I'm going to focus on what's good and easy. The advanced guy is going to have all of these items. The novice should."
1. Charcoal grill
"A simple Weber will do. By going with charcoal you don't have to worry about any propane laws; beyond that, I just like cooking over coals. There's definitely a taste difference—charcoal gives it a more real, outdoorsy flavor."
2. Sturdy pair of tongs
"I'm just going to assume that anyone reading this is planning to grill. It doesn't matter what brand you get, so long as they feel good in your hands. You want them to be comfortable."
3. Chef's knife
"With a good chef's knife you can accomplish anything. There's no need to bring an entire knife set. You can get by with one 8"-to-12" knife. Just make sure it's sturdy and sharp."
4. Salt and pepper
"Tailgating 101 is 'Season it to taste.' You'll want a good BBQ rub, of course, but let's just say it's real basic—you can make anything taste better with salt and pepper. They're all you need."
5. Beer on ice
"It's a must. I like to have two different beers—a craft beer from the region, and straight-up PBR or Miller High Life. Stock up on both. PBR and MHL are nostalgic for me. It's what I grew up drinking. We have 24 craft beers on tap at our restaurants, and I love them, but something about being in a parking lot lends itself to drinking something light and easy. You don't have to think about it."