And on the 8th day, God created football … ” The Gospel of Gridiron

Okay, maybe there’s no Gridiron Gospel, but there might as well be. Here in the South, football is not a sport — it’s a religion. That stadium’s a church … why do you think we all get gussied-up in our Sunday best before piling into the stands? When reverent players cross into that end zone, each cheerleader seems to sing the Hallelujah Chorus. Before and after the service game, the time-honored ritual of the tailgate brings the “congregation” together in communion with one another to break bread and toast traditions. ‘Tis a foolish soul that turns up at that game without an offering for the sacramental spread. At this year’s Atlanta Food & Wine Festival (AFWF), the popular class session on Food & Sports fielded a fierce debate on the competitions rolling out in the kitchen as well as on the turf. We asked chefs from the AFWF Advisory Council to continue the discussion and kick-off the season with some of their personal reflections on the topic:

The distinguished panel leading the "Food & Sports" discussion at AFWF, Yes, those are mascot costumes.

The distinguished panel leading the “Food & Sports” discussion at AFWF. Yes, those are mascot costumes. (Image: AFWF)

Kelly English – Memphis, TN; Restaurant Iris, Kelly English Steakhouse at Hollywood Casino St. Louis, The Second Line and Magnolia House by Kelly English at Grand Casino Biloxi

  • What is your favorite tailgate treat? Either pimento cheese or cold, spicy Popeyes fried chicken (guilty pleasure that has always meant “today there is football” to me).
  • What’s the oddest thing you wish would disappear from tailgates? I still see people bring congealed salads. Stop it, stop it right now.
  • What do you bring? I bring bourbon first and foremost. John Currence has an incredible catering setup for tailgates in the Grove, so we usually let his team do the heavy lifting.
  • Can you provide a recipe? Highfalutin Cole Slaw … In Memphis, a BBQ sandwich isn’t a BBQ sandwich without slaw on it. Enjoy!
  • Anything else you want to add? Five words — Pimento. Cheese. Stuffed. Sausage. Balls.

Highfalutin Cole Slaw

Kelly English
This zesty coleslaw is slightly spicy and tangy. Ideal for a Memphis BBQ sandwich.
5 from 1 vote
Course Side
Cuisine American/Southern
Servings 6

Ingredients
  

  • 1 head of Napa cabbage washed and sliced
  • 1 carrot washed, peeled & grated
  • 1 bunch of green onions washed and sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper washed and sliced
  • 2 tsp sambal oelek or your favorite Asian pepper blend
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • ½ cup of torn cilantro leaves
  • 1 lime: zested and juiced
  • 3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 9 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste

Instructions
 

  • Put all the ingredients in a bowl
  • Toss together
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tailgate recipes

Chef Kelly English plates burgers at the 2014 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, though he confesses that a bucket of fried chicken really screams “Tailgate” to him. (Image: AFWF)

Eli Kirshtein – Atlanta, GA; The Luminary

  • What is your favorite tailgate treat? Wings. I am a sucker for wings. Anytime I see that someone has gone the extra effort and brought a full-on fryer to a tailgate, they get a gold star in my book. The fryer often translates to wings, and for them supplying me with those, I am forever grateful.
  • What’s the oddest thing you wish would disappear from tailgates? I hate when you see someone break out the pre-made dips or commodity frozen items. Tailgates are a gift to us all, try to put some effort into it!
  • What do you bring? By nature, I plan ahead, so I try to bring something that is ready to eat or easy to reheat. I often find this being a BBQ-type dish. I do ribs a lot, I smoke them at my place ahead of time, and just reheat them on site.
  • Can you provide a recipe? For a straightforward rib recipe, I recommend putting your favorite BBQ rub on the ribs and then smoke them over hardwood in a barrel smoker for about 5-6 hours at 220 degrees. Even if you don’t turn into a pitmaster that day, most likely your results will be more than palatable.
  • Anything else you want to add? Don’t overthink your tailgate and forget the reasons you are doing it. Remember to talk copious amounts of trash about the opponent’s team during the pre-game, and talk about how “we’ll get ’em next time” when cleaning up after the game.

Rob McDaniel —Alexander City, AL; Executive Chef, Springhouse at Crossroads 

  • What is your favorite tailgate treat? My favorite tailgate treat is for sure a Bloody Mary with a few pickled vegetable floaters.
  • What’s the oddest thing you’ve sampled at a tailgate? My first ribbon sandwich experience was at a tailgate while a student at Auburn — pimento cheese, grape jelly and peanut butter. It is definitely the oddest flavor combination that I’ve had at a tailgate, but it was tasty.
  • What do you bring? I like to bring sandwiches to a tailgate — you can get by without a plate if need be and no utensils are needed. My favorite tailgate sandwich is a porchetta sandwich with crispy skin and chimichurri.
  • Anything else you want to add? WAR DAMN EAGLE!!

Porchetta

Rob McDaniel
Enjoy this rich pork roast with crackly skin on a sandwich at your next tailgate.
5 from 1 vote
Course Meat
Cuisine American/Italian

Ingredients
  

  • 1 skin on pork middle a pork middle is a skin on pork belly with the loin attached
  • 2 heads of garlic minced
  • 2 tablespoons Arbol chili flakes
  • 3 tablespoons fennel pollen
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
  • Kosher salt
  • Butchers string
  • 1 extra set of hands
  • 5 extra-long zip ties

Instructions
 

  • Day before tailgate: Prep Porchetta for roasting lay your pork middle on a large cutting surface skin side down and evenly distribute garlic, chili, fennel pollen, rosemary, thyme & salt.
  • Turn the middle so that the loin side is closest to you then tightly roll the middle over itself until you have one large roulade of pork goodness.
  • Zip tie the Porchetta in order to keep it very tight.
  • Once you have all the zip ties securely holding the Porchetta tightly us your butchers twine to truss the entire Porchetta then remove the zip tie.
  • Place in refrigerator overnight uncover to allow to dry.
  • Day of tailgate: Remove Porchetta from the refrigerator and allow to come up to room temperature, about an hour should work.
  • Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  • Place Porchetta on a roasting rack and slow roast for 3 hours rotating Porchetta every hour.
  • After the third hour drain the pain of dripping and return to the oven but turn the temperature up to 500 degrees. This process is very important for crispy skin but watch closely so you don’t burn the skin.
  • Once the skin has bubbled up and turned golden brown, remove and allow one hour for resting, then break into smaller squares to be placed on the sandwich with the chimichurri.
  • Shave as thin as you possibly can and keep warm. Serve on a toasted onion roll with chimichurri.
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Chimichurri

Rob McDaniel
This colorful chimichurri sauce pairs amazingly well with the rich porchetta.
5 from 1 vote
Course Condiment
Cuisine American

Ingredients
  

  • ¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped oregano
  • ¼ cup chopped scallion
  • 1 tablespoon chili flakes
  • 2 cloves micro planed garlic
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Zest of one lime
  • Kosher salt

Instructions
 

  • Mix everything together and keep cool next to the beer so that the herbs don’t turn brown.
  • Toast an onion roll, pile high with Porchetta then top with chimichurri and crispy skin
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tailgate recipes

The consensus of AFWF Advisory Council chefs seems to be that, when it comes to tailgating, we can’t go wrong bringing something for the grill. (Image: AFWF)

Todd Richards — Atlanta, GA; Executive Chef, The Shed @ Glenwood and The Pig & The Pearl

  • What’s your favorite tailgate treat? Anything that fits between really good bread. It could be hot dogs, brats, burgers, cheese, and sausages. Also the garnishes like sauerkraut, crunchy pickles, grilled onions; all make for the perfect tailgate menu.
  • What’s one thing you wish would disappear from tailgates? I still don’t know why there always has to be someone who brings some type of “healthy” snack. The crudités with the dried looking celery and carrots under the plastic dome; I just look at that thing and shake my head.
  • What do you bring? I always bring something that can go on the grill. I prefer to bring fussed-up burgers, like lamb burgers with cumin mayo or buffalo burgers with Gruyere cheese. Sausages are a must … I always go to the local butcher to find great sausages for grilling.
  • Anything else you want to add? The best way to enjoy your tailgate is to plan the cooking ahead. Proper planning of the tailgate area and ensuring there is adequate cooking space and ice to keep things cold are essential to preparing a fantastic meal.

Lamb Burger

Todd Richards
These juicy and flavorful lamb burgers are a must!
5 from 1 vote
Course Sandwich
Cuisine American

Ingredients
  

  • 1/2 lb. ground lamb
  • 1/4 tsp fennel seed
  • 1/4 tsp ground coffee
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp chopped mint
  • 1/2 tsp chopped garlic
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp crack black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flake
  • 1 tsp Greek yogurt

Instructions
 

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients.
  • Let stand for a minimum of 1 hour, the shape into 8-ounce burgers.
  • Grill burger on high heat, 5 minutes each side.
  • Serve burger medium to medium-rare for best results.
  • Top with Cumin Mayo: Combine 2 tbsp mayo, 1/4 tsp ground cumin, 1/4 tsp lemon zest, 1/4 tsp red pepper chili flakes.
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Football is religion in the South... and that tailgate is as sacred as any church supper. (Image: SECrant.com)

Football is religion in the South … and that tailgate is as sacred as any church supper. (Image: SECrant.com)

Tried and true or tired and tossable? Re-evaluate your tailgate tendencies and try something new this season. After all, a bowl of stale chips does not generate bowl-game-worthy enthusiasm. Food and football — this is serious. Go in peace … and make sure the bucket has enough pieces. Amen.