reat tailgate parties have fun food. Whether you use a caterer or the college's food service, or you make your own food and carry it in the cooler in your car, take some hints from the professionals.
"Most people expect a certain level of food," says Roger Parker, vice president for Gladieux Catering. "They want something that is easy to eat standing up, that's fast to eat; and keep the knifes and forks to a minimum."
Gladieux does some of the catering for Bowling Green State University and the University of Toledo for tailgate events. "We introduce fun foods like burgers and hot dogs," he says. But sometimes there's a new twist.
The 5-bean Cassoulet is a beautiful, good dish for cold-weather games. Made with green beans, wax and lima beans, red kidney beans, and great northern beans as well as smoked mild sausage and onion, it's a hearty dish that can be reheated.
Warm German potato salad is another fall favorite.
"Sometimes we grill steaks on site," Mr. Parker says. And the catering company sells their Angus hot dogs frozen. "We do various components of a tailgate."
At BGSU, hamburgers, brats, hot dogs, vegetarian burgers, and grilled or shredded chicken sandwiches are popular, says Doreen Bateson, catering manager, noting that a tailgate begins about 2 hours before game time.
"We make chicken wings in 25 flavors (such as teriyaki, buffalo with different heat intensities, and barbecue). Mini sliders are popular, and we make mini barbecue pork sandwiches." Smaller sandwiches are easier to eat. You can eat a little or a lot, and have variety.
"When it gets colder at later games, chili and the fixings with cheese and onion is popular," says Ms. Bateson.
Foods like tacos are popular, says Mr. Parker. Gladieux also does a baked potato bar. When corn is in season, it can be parboiled and finished on the grill at the tailgate. For the cooked corn, use spray butter or dip the corn in melted butter.
Many of these foods can be made at home and taken to the tailgate to assemble or to cook on site.
Fans who arrive early get the best tailgating spot, so plan to beat the crowd and pick your parking spot. If you park at the end of a row, you have more party space for family and friends, advises the Haas Avocado Board.
Before the tailgate, make a list of everything you will need, including nonperishable foods, utensils, cooking gear such as a small portable grill, chairs, ice, trash bags, and containers for leftovers.
Make dishes ahead when possible. Antipasto Salad with salami, Gouda cheese, cherry tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts, and roasted red peppers can be made up to two days in advance. It can also be made without the vinaigrette dressing, with the ingredients served on a platter with toothpicks.
Mediterranean Steak Sandwich has an artichoke olive relish. The marinated steak and bell peppers are grilled at the tailgate and then sliced. A loaf of French bread is sliced and then spread with goat cheese. Then the relish, peppers, and steak slices are layered across the bread. Close the sandwich and cut in quarters.
Pots of Gold from Sizzle by Julie Bisso ($19.95) is a clever idea for the grill, especially if you have it on for the steak sandwich. Small camembert or brie cheeses are placed on an oiled grill rack over medium heat. Cook for 5 minutes and then turn over and cook the other side until the cheese feels soft. Transfer the cheese to serving plate. Make a shallow cut in the top of the cheese and peel back skin. Dunk crusty bread in melted cheese. Serve salads on the side.
When the weather gets cooler, think about soup. Brazilian Chicken Soup from Soup's On! by Leslie Jonath and Frankie Frankeny (Chronicle, $19.95) has basic ingredients of chicken and vegetables. If you cut the pieces small enough, it is easy enough to drink the soup for a tailgate party.
Tomato soup is another easy to carry and drink soup. While garden tomatoes are abundant and perfectly ripe, homemade Tomato Soup is a recipe from Alice Waters; The Art of Simple Food (Clarkson Potter, $35).
Hot apple cider, hot chocolate, and warm lemonade are warm beverages that Ms. Bateson and BGSU catering department offer for tailgating. "In October and November, flavored coffees are popular," she says.
Finger foods such as cookies, dessert bars, brownies, mini cupcakes are popular, says Ms. Bateson.
Use your favorite sugar cookie recipe to make cut-out cookies in the shape of footballs. Classic chocolate chip cookies are also a perennial favorite.
Don't forget fresh fruit such as apples, grapes, melon slices, and other easy to eat fruits.
Don't pack desserts with a lot of frosting or chocolate that will melt if the sun comes out. The only exception to this is when tailgating in Ohio, pack Buckeye candies in a cooler. In Michigan, Sanders candies or Morley candies are a sweet ending. Dried cherries or anything with cherry preserves, cherry pie, etc. is a great regional food for Michigan tailgaters.
Don't pack any desserts with custard-based fillings. Remember to keep food safety in mind - keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.
Also keep plenty of towelettes and napkins available for the cooks and the guests. Wash your hands when preparing raw meat and poultry.
Here's one added reminder: As part of the tailgate, don't forget to watch the game.
Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6155.