It’s heeeeere! We are officially in the thick of tailgating season and I could not be happier!
If you listened to our “All Things Fall” podcast episode, you know tailgating is at the top of our list! The early months of tailgating here in North Carolina can still be pretty hot, so I’ll admit I don’t reallllyyy get into it until October. If I can wear shorts and a long sleeve shirt or jeans and a t-shirt - that is PERFECT football weather in my opinion. Not too hot, not too cold, but juuussttt right.
If you’ve ever been the one to plan a tailgate, you know it is no small feat! There’s the food, drinks, activities, logistics, etc. Inevitably, there is always something that you forget or don’t think through completely, and honestly that’s half the fun! Those “oops” moments always make for the best memories, and sometimes even new friends if you have to ask a neighbor for something!
This is probably not going to come as a surprise to anyone if you’ve been following us for a bit, but the first thing I think about is the FOOD. I want lots of snack options and I want to make sure I have everything needed to keep that food safe. Not in the “safe from thieves” kinda way, but in the “hot or cold,” safe from germs kinda way. Although… the thief thing could be a real issue. Beer tends to make people greedy with the snacks :)
Some of my favorite tailgating snack staples are:
Chips & Salsa Easy to grab on the go and packed with delicious flavors. A favorite to munch on while the rest is cooking. Grab some multigrain tortilla chips to up your nutrition game!
Veggies & Dip Hummus and bean dips are great, protein-packed options
Deli Sandwiches You can pre-assemble at home, but pack condiments on the side to avoid the dreaded soggy sandwich.
Roll Ups Tortillas stuffed with deliciousness and cut into bite sized pieces. What’s not to love here?
Burgers Beef, turkey, black bean, veggie - whatever tickles your fancy! So many options here.
Hot Dogs Also tons of options. Beef, turkey, veggie, chicken - try them all!
Chili This is a super easy one that is always a hit! Pre-cook your chili at home and then reheat on the grill (or bring a crockpot if you have access to power) and you’re good to go with no mess!
The things I always like to make sure I have on hand when eating outside (tailgating or otherwise) are:
Paper towels or napkins
Disposable plates & cups
Plenty of ice
Now, nobody wants to be a major party pooper (pun intended) and get everyone sick - so food safety measures are key here! Bugs (the kind that can wreak havoc on your system) tend to grow best between 40 ℉ - 140 ℉, so it’s important not to keep foods in that “Danger Zone” for too long. The general rule of thumb is 2 hours, or 1 hour if temps are at or above 90 ℉. If I were doing a presentation on this, this is the moment where Kenny Loggins would be playing in the background. Since I don’t have the ability to make magic happen as you read this post, I’ve linked that sweet jam if you wanna take a quick trip to the ‘80s. You’re welcome.
The basic gist of food safety is to keep cold foods cold, hot foods hot, and to avoid cross-contamination (aka don’t mix raw foods with prepared and cooked foods). Sounds simple right? Yep. Simple as mud. Don’t worry though, we’ve got you covered with some easy food safety tips you can start implementing in your own kitchen and tailgate prep today!
Scrub-a-dub. Make sure you wash produce (even the ones that the skin or rind isn’t eaten) before packing in your coolers and baskets. Fruits and veggies that are packaged and labeled “ready-to-eat”, “pre-washed”, or “triple washed” don’t necessarily need to be washed, but a quick rinse won’t hurt if you want to go the extra mile.
Choose two. If possible, two coolers when traveling for picnics and tailgates are best! That way you can keep beverages in one and cooking items in the other. The beverage cooler will be opened more often (hello party people!), making the temperature warm up faster, which isn’t best for those food items. If you separate them into two coolers you can keep your foods below 40 ℉ for longer!
Organize. Cooler organization is key. Make sure raw meats are wrapped up tightly so their juices can’t escape, and place at the bottom of the cooler. You can even pack them frozen to keep them cooler longer. Plus, that gives you an extra ice pack!
Marinate mindfully. You should always marinate foods in the refrigerator (not at room temp on your kitchen counter). If you want to use the same marinade that’s on your raw meat as a sauce or addition to your dish, make sure you bring it to a full boil or set a little to the side prior to adding to your meat, poultry, or seafood. You can marinade on the go by putting the marinade and your protein choices in a gallon-sized plastic bag and placing in your cooler, but the same rules apply. Toss the whole bag (marinade and all) in the trash after you throw your proteins on the grill. Buh-bye bugs!
Cook completely. Make sure you cook your meat and seafood to the temperature at which they are considered safe. A simple digital thermometer is easy to pack and the best way to make sure you hit the right number! Definitely worth the small investment to avoid major stomach aches later.
Fresh beef, pork, veal, & lamb = 145℉
Ground meats = 165℉
Fin Fish = 145 ℉
Shrimp, Lobster, Crabs = Pearly flesh & opaque
Clams, Mussels, & Oysters = Open during cooking
Scallops = Opaque & firm
Keep it warm. Once you’ve got your items to temp on the grill, move them to the side of the grill away from the coals. This keeps your food warm and out of the “danger zone” but avoids overcooking. No rubber burgers here!
Don’t reuse platters and utensils. Anything that touches raw items, can’t be reused with prepared and cooked. Make sure you have doubles of anything you need (tongs, spatula, plates) or are able to wash the items in hot, soapy water to make this possible.
Here’s wishing you a tailgating season full of memories, laughs, and WINS, and free of nasty bugs!
Now, excuse me while I go blare the fight song of my alma mater and make a giant pot of chili! To all my fellow Mountaineers - I’ll see you at The Rock! GO ‘NEERS!!