From the parking lots of stadiums or arenas, to at-home, outdoor events, the tradition of tailgating is a great opportunity to have fun with family and friends, enjoy tasty meals and libations, and create a memorable event about which guests will be talking long after the game has ended.
According to the American Tailgaters Association, “the first occurrence of tailgating occurred in mid-summer of 1861 — a full eight years before the first football game — in Manassas, Virginia, before Confederate forces and Union soldiers met in the First Battle of Bull Run.” Historians believe that “civilians arrived at the battlefield in wagons loaded with wines, whiskeys, and food.”
While the genesis of this tradition involves a Civil War battle, it evolved into the more familiar act of pre-game revelry 145 years ago before “football’s first contest that pitted Princeton against Rutgers,” as Vice Sports reports.
Tailgating is commonly regarded as a uniquely American pastime; however, it may actually have European roots. Perhaps tailgating goes even further back, all the way to the Reign of Terror in France in the final years of the 18th Century. The guillotine executions took place at prime time, programs containing the names of the soon-to-be headless were sold, and people brought their families to dinner at the conveniently named Cabaret de la Guillotine before heading to the scaffolds. Matt Osgood, sports journalist, writes, “The precedent for the face-painted, early-morning imbibers may be the Tricoteuses (French for knitters), the earliest of season ticket holders, who’d knit and gossip in between the chopping.” Despite this rather gruesome origin, today tailgating has become a popular activity associated with sporting events.
For folks looking to throw a tailgate, Michele Sinacore of Michele Sinacore Events (michelesinacoreevents.com) in Southport, offers the following suggestions: “Tailgating in 2017 is about creating a feeling of celebration, spirit and a representation of your personal style! If you’re the host, consider picking a tailgate theme and elevating it up up a notch. Decorate with mini mascots, choose team spirited words, or just have fun with team color décor.” She continues, “Think about the space you are hosting in, whether it’s your home or a stadium. Pre-plan seating, food, and mingling areas. Create an atmosphere that will make a big impact yet be comfortable. And don’t forget to consider the clean up and pack plenty of basic supplies to have on hand for prepping and cleaning.” She cautions hosts not to forget essential items like garbage bags and bottle openers.
When it comes to planning food and beverages, Michele has some helpful tips. “While the tried and true basics never fail at a tailgate, consider elevating them up a level. Think hot dogs with a custom toppings bar or grill up sausages with unique varieties of colorful peppers, grilled veggies or seasonings to top. Consider mini meatball and marinara sandwiches with fresh ricotta. Marinate meats at home and grill them up on site.” Michele says that custom “chip bars with sweet potato chips, plantains, and homemade potato chips would be a big hit. Serve sides like corn pudding or fill up a mini keg with pickles. “Serving up custom chopped salads in mini mason jars or let guests take jars home to sample your favorite chili post game,” she suggests.
Besides the classic wine and beer libations, Michele recommends providing cocktails in team themed colors with touches of luxury ingredients or create a signature drink for your guests. “And don’t forget custom microbrews from your team’s regions,” she adds.
Tim Dolnier, N.Y. Giants fan and co-owner of the Village Market (villagemarketwilton.com) in Wilton, recommends easy-to-manage finger foods, like pulled pork sliders, anything on a skewer — fruit or tomato-basil-mozzarella kebobs — and do-ahead meat and cheese platters, when planning a tailgate. “Avoid foods that require a knife and fork,” he says. “Guests want to be able to hold a drink in one hand, and something easy to eat in the other, like you would at a cocktail party.” Also, it’s always nice to offer a specialty drink, and have a grill going, although you can go beyond the usual burgers and dogs, according to Tim. “Plan food and beverages, as well as places for sitting, ahead of time, so you can also enjoy the party,” he states.
Palmer’s Darien (palmersdarien.com) offers a grab-and-go gourmet foods section that is tailor-made for tailgating, according to Megan Palmer Rivera, culinary director. “People want easy to serve tailgate party items,” she says, “and we carry platters that come on beautiful wooden boards … customers can choose from tapas featuring Spanish tortilla wedges, stuffed piquillo peppers, chorizo, Marcona almonds, garlic shrimp and Manchego cheese, as well as empanadas, chicken enchiladas, and barbecue pulled pork sandwiches, to name a few.” House- made potato chips with truffle parmesan dip and the store’s selection of craft beers can serve as delicious accompaniments the store’s selection of prepared foods.
When it comes to dessert, foods should be functional with a touch of luxury. “A dessert menu might include colorful truffles, mini donuts sanded in team color sugars, s’mores on a stick, caramel popcorn served in paper cones and a fun hot chocolate bar with take away cups and some adult mix-ins,” Michele says.
Finally, Michele offers tips to elevate a tailgate. “Offer guests a fun favor that will last beyond your amazing tailgate. Stuff mini tailgate survival kits for guests to take to the game and/or a post party celebration. Think about your containers — serve chips and guacamole out of team helmets, chili out of metal garbage cans and embellish your cocktail stations with team color straws, fruits, mini flags and foam fingers. Throw down luxury touches like oversized throw pillows, simple floral arrangements, plush blankets or throw rugs in team colors. Add some AstroTurf or fresh grass to containers or tablecloths.”
In addition to these little personal touches, opportunities to express yourself and your style can be found in the entertainment. “Consider hiring a professional face painter, glitter tattoos in team colors with spirited slogans or set up an airbrush station making cool shirts and tanks with team slogans. The ever popular selfie station would be a huge hit. Grab your local college students to serve as referee for a spirited game of corn hole or set up a paint your own mini helmet station for kids. Food trucks are another tailgate option — from chicken and waffles to boozy desserts.”