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Tailgating season is upon us, and no matter which team you support, game day get-togethers with friends and family are on the agenda! Football fanatic and tailgating master Rebecca Gordon joins us again today with some expert advice on hosting an easy to pull off, yet fabulously chic tv-side tailgate that is sure to impress your guests and leave you doing an inner touchdown dance in celebration of your party success! 

Smoked Turkey Panini

Smoked Turkey Panini


The most memorable get-togethers, the ones your friends talk about time and time again, all boil down to the little extra details. Get the Hostess with the Most-est conversation started with this menu and these simple ideas at your next television tailgate.

Fantastic soirees start with good planning, whether you’re pulling out the fine china or picking up paper products from Target. Here are some tips to help make sure you bring your A-game to the party:

Shop early: Make a list the week before your get-together. Pick up craft supplies and have the kids pitch in on making school spirit bags and tags for a fun after school project.

The buffet line: Avoid a bottleneck by the shrimp cocktail or queso dip by setting up food and drink stations in several areas throughout your home. Try appetizers in the kitchen, the main course in the dining room, and a cocktail cart on the deck. 

Test drive your table: Leave room for guests to set down cocktails and plates to make filling a breeze.

Food safety: Keep deviled eggs and the like at the proper temperature. Pull out just before serving, place on platters, and nestle in trays filled with ice. Put items away once everyone has had time to go back for seconds.

Here’s a tailgating menu I really like:
Store-Bought Snack Mix in Homemade School Pride Bags
Panini Bar featuring Smoked Turkey-Sun Dried Tomato Paninis with Lemon-Basil Aioli
Caprese Pasta Salad
Bourbon & Coke Floats

How To Pull It Off: 

1.) Offer drinks and snacks as guests arrive.
2.) Plan to serve the main meal during halftime.
3.) Let folks mill about during the second half and help themselves to the dessert bar.


Store-Bought Snack Mix in Homemade School Pride Bags

Cute Snack Mix bags

Cute Snack Mix bags are perfect for at home tailgating.

It’s okay to take shortcuts in the kitchen, but spend a few extra minutes on the presentation to make it special. Glassine bags adorned with craft paper in your school colors—tape, tags, scissors, twine & a hole punch are all that’s needed for this easy idea (and easy one-stop shopping at Michael’s). Fill with your favorite Chex Mix from the snack aisle of the grocery store.

No time? No worries. Pour snack mix in a large bowl, add an ice scoop, and set the glassine bags to the side layered with paper napkins in fresh prints and team colors.


The Panini Bar

Let guests serve themselves with a panini bar.

Let guests serve themselves by setting up a panini bar.

I like to plan a meal that can be made ahead of time so I can enjoy my company and the game. If you’re like me, you’ll be watching every play, hostess or not. (Be sure to be attentive to guests needs during the commercials, though.)

Safety First
Push your dining room table against the wall so you’ll have access to a power outlet and to ensure cords will be tucked away or a kitchen island or counter top area is ideal to set the bar up. Turn on the panini press about 6 minutes before the half is up. Once everyone has had a chance to fix a plate, motion a time out for a “last call” announcement and unplug the appliance.

My preferred appliance for this is the Hamilton Beach Panini Press. It’s simple to use, the indicator lights let you know that the power is on (red) and when it’s preheated and ready to use (green) and it’s easy to care for.


  • Use an oven mitt while cooking. 
  • Carefully remove cooked sandwiches with a plastic utensil to a cutting board to finish assembly and cutting


Pre-Game Planning:
Arrange sandwich fixings up to a day ahead on platters and plates and in bowls and jars. Cover with plastic wrap or lids and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve them. Organize items on trays and add height with cake stands and wooden crates. Elevate the casual feel by layering in hemstitched neutral linens.

Offer a selection of toppings, meats, cheeses, breads, and spreads to satisfy an array of palates. For breads, I like sourdough, Italian sandwich loaf (try Publix) and ciabatta. For meats, smoked turkey, rotisserie chicken (pull the meat from the bone), ham and roast beef work well. And for cheese, include Havarti, smoked Provolone, sharp Cheddar, and Gouda.

To make the sandwiches, you (or your guests) brush 1 side of each bread slice with olive oil. Place oiled sides on grates, close lid, and cook 2 to 3 minutes or until cheese melts, meat is warmed and  bread is golden brown.

Near the panini maker, have these toppings available to add to your freshly pressed sandwiches:

  • chopped marinated artichoke hearts
  • sundried tomato spread (try California Sun Dry)
  • sliced red onion or sliced black olives.
  • leafy greens, like arugula and fresh spinach leaves
  • bread spreads, like mayonnaise and Dijon mustard, or homemade aoli (see recipe below)


Now, for the recipes:

Smoked Turkey-Sun Dried Tomato Panini with Lemon-Basil Aioli
Layer Havarti, smoked turkey and sun dried tomato spread between oiled Italian bread slices. Cook according to the instructions above. Remove sandwiches from the Panini Press and fill with arugula and Lemon-Basil Aioli.

Lemon-Basil Aioli
makes about 1 1/2 cups
Stir together 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise, the juice of 1 small lemon, 3 Tbsp chopped fresh basil, 1 pressed garlic clove, and kosher salt and pepper to taste.

Caprese Pasta Salad
Serve this delicious accompaniment with the sandwiches. You can make up to one day ahead. (And toss in leftover rotisserie chicken with the leftovers for an easy Sunday supper.)

Caprese salad is always a crowd pleaser!

Caprese salad is always a crowd pleaser!

This recipe makes 10 servings and takes about 25 minutes to prepare.


1 (16-oz.) box penne pasta
1 (12-oz.) bottle T-Lish Sweet Garlic Vinaigrette
Kosher salt & pepper to taste
1 (8-oz.) container Crave Brothers Fresh Mozzarella Medallions, drained and cut into thirds
1 (10-oz.) bag San Marzano tomatoes, cut in half
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 (1-oz.) package fresh basil, chopped

Cook pasta according to package directions. Rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain. Toss the pasta with the dressing in a large bowl and season generously with salt and pepper. Stir in the remaining ingredients, seasoning each addition generously with salt and pepper to taste. (Note: This dish travels well in an icy cooler if you need a dish to go.)

The End Zone: The dessert bar is open!

Bourbon and Coke Floats for Moms and Dads
Ice down individual cups of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream with bottles of Coca-Cola in a beverage tub (tie the bottle opener to the tub with ribbon in your team colors). Set up a small table (borrow from another room in your house) and line up mason jars or stacks of red solo cups, pretty silver teaspoons and a few bottles of your favorite bourbon. Guests can help themselves to a treat after the halftime feast.

Cherry Coke Floats for the Kids
Create a separate alcohol-free station (try a Radio Flyer for easy access). Offer bowls of cherries and use mini Coke. Straws and colorful paper party cups make their dessert more special (and half-pint portion friendly).

Enjoy your soiree!
And as always, let me know how I can help!

Here’s the song I selected for today’s post:
“Bring It On Home” Little Big Town Watch the video on YouTube (uploaded by emimusic).


Thanks, Rebecca! For more FANtabulous football tailgating ideas, be sure and tune in to Rebecca’s segment on FOX’s Tide and Tigers and visit her website, Buttermilk Lipstick!


styleblueprint_rebecca-gordon-headshot_july_2013Rebecca Gordon is a Southern lifestyle expert, as well as media personality, cook, writer, hostess and football fanatic. After a 13-year career with the magazine, she recently stepped away from running the Southern Living Test Kitchens to launch her own brand that speaks of all her passions–food, fashion, style and beauty–and shares unique stories others have to tell. Most everything on Buttermilk Lipstick ties back to her obsession for Southern food and cooking. Her posts are accompanied by a song to further enhance the visitor’s experience. Rebecca says that the music is “sort of the most fun of all and takes me back to my childhood. I used to sit in my room for hours by myself listening to and getting lost in the sound, recording songs from the radio with a tape recorder. Glory be! How things have certainly changed!”


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