The sun is shining. You lazily sip an adult malted beverage as the scent of meat, sizzling over a charcoal fire, wafts through the air. The kids are happily playing a few feet away, when suddenly, from out of the charcoal fueled haze, a man appears, half naked and painted from head to toe in bright and gaudy war paint. He screams his war chant at you and you retaliate with one of your own. Amazingly, no one around you seems to even take notice. You have left reality behind and have entered into the Tailgate Zone along with a few thousand others, all of whom you feel you share a bond with, at least for the next few hours.
Tailgating has become the "great equalizer" of the 21st century. For a few hours each week, in stadium parking lots across this land, boundaries disappear. Race, religion, national origin, age, sex, none of it matters. Even mortal enemies such as Bears fans and Packers fans put aside their differences for those few hours preceding the Conflict, aka the football game, and come together over beers and brats for some good natured ribbing and joking before once again heading to their team's corner and allowing their dark, competitive natures to rise to the surface.
While pre-game picnics and parties are nothing new, it took American college football to elevate this tradition to heights not seen since the days of the Roman Empire. What's interesting are the events that have led to the popularity of modern tailgating. It starts with the first college football game played between Princeton and Rutgers in 1849. During this time games were played in the afternoon, but beforehand the teams used to engage in a large pre-game meal. Many spectators would bring their own food and join in the pre-game festivities. The 1900's saw the advent of electricity and many games moved to the evenings. This left plenty of time for pre-game parties and spectators would dress up in their Sunday's finest and hop from pre-game party to pre-game party before attending the game. Flash forward to the 1950's and the birth of televised games; this forced many games to again be played in the afternoon so that as many games as possible could be televised. Since spectators no longer had time to hop from party to party they decided to bring the party back to the game, and thus the modern tailgate party was invented. Tailgating has now moved beyond college football to include all sports, but it is at football games, baseball games, and car racing where the tailgate party has become an art form.
Personally, I don't feel it's a proper tailgate party unless you cook there, in the parking lot. No cold cut sandwiches allowed. Beyond that, the fare can be simple such as burgers and dogs, ambitious, such as full blown barbecues or upscale, serving things such as Cedar Planked Salmon drizzled in dill butter sauce and accompanied by an array of grilled vegetables. I usually like to keep it on the simple side so I can enjoy the camaraderie of the parking lot and not spend all my time preparing food. While I like to keep it simple, that doesn't mean ordinary or mundane. A typical tailgate, for me, might include Devil's Deviled Eggs (spiked with minced jalapeno and topped with ground chipotle pepper instead of the traditional paprika), home pickled mushrooms, BBQ Pork Sandwiches with Apple BBQ and Apple Butter, store bought Sun Chips, brownies in any way, shape or form, and Mojito Spiked Watermelon. The web is full of sites totally devoted to tailgating and you can find tried and true recipes for just about any type of tailgate you might want to throw. No matter what your menu is, the key to successful tailgating is preparation. Try to have everything prepped and ready to go the night before. In the morning pack it all up. At the game you should only have to do the cooking and the final assembly of your goodies. Remember, while the food is important to a successful tailgate party, what really matters out there is the fellowship you share with 3000 of your closest neighbors. Don't get so caught up in what you are doing that you don't take time to see what others are cooking. Share a beer with the family next to you. Accept a beer from the complete stranger that wanders into your party, and above all else, seek out some one cheering for the opposing team, offer them a beer then tell them in detail why they are going to lose!