This is the time of year when tailgates come down and cheers rise throughout stadiums across the country.
Tailgating has become a national sport in parking lots as much as any game played on the gridiron, so who better to get a few tailgating tips from than one of America's most expert tailgaters, Jeff Dockeray, known as the Gridiron Chef and founder of the Tailgate Radio Network based in San Antonio, Texas.
"I spent an afternoon a few years ago with (Food Network's) Guy Fieri and remember we spent a good hour discussing how, for the past decade, American sport fans have gradually moved the entire pantry to the parking lot. Everyone is now very proud of their own culinary flare," Dockeray says.
Q. Why has tailgating become such a national pastime in the U.S.?
A. "I believe the reason tailgating is a popular national pastime is three-fold. To begin, the mainstream popular sports, i.e., NFL, NCAA football and NASCAR, that tailgate culture supports have become part of the fabric of our weekly lives.
"Two, combine the growth of the 'foodie' culture the past decade with the growth of 'plug-and-play' technology, and you have complete access to everything we need to learn and share about food and beverage. That combined has had a dramatic impact in food and gameday culture.
"Finally, the reason it has not just sustained but flourished as a pastime, is simple. It's family, it's friends, it's libations and good food, and it's gaming. It's breaking bread with your closest comrades -- a half day of celebratory madness built around your alma mater, favorite team or event.
Q. Tailgating is more than just a picnic. It requires much more prep work for some people. What are some of the most important things to take along?
A. "I am unapologetically a hardwood-charcoal guy. Better than 90 percent of my proteins are best grilled and smoked with hardwood, but I am not a fan of petroleum fire starters. So I am big fan of Enviro-Log Firestarters. They get my hardwood charcoal going with ease.
"I also, along with my Firestarters, need my FiAir. It's a little handheld blower that feeds my charcoal. It's compact and, for me, a straight point-and-shoot that allows me to get my charcoal up to temperature quickly so I can get grilling. It's in my apron for the entire tailgate." (Check it out at fiair.net for $29.99.)
"Another staple in my weekly packing is one of the coolest 'finds' this past year, the GateMate Tailgate Party Toolbox. I used to labor every week having to pack multiple bags and boxes to facilitate a large party. The Gatemate Toolbox houses my cooking utensils, cutting board, thermometers, condiments, eating utensils and spices in a single organized unit. It saves a heck of a lot of space when I travel every weekend." (Priced at $129.99 at gatemate.com.)
Q. Do you have a recipe you'd be willing to share?
A. "Yes, this is one of my most-requested staples that everyone seems to love. It's marinated a day in advance, easily transported to the parking lot and, more importantly, a great protein to serve en masse to a large hungry crowd. It's delicious grilled on hardwood charcoal."
3 (1-1 3/4 pounds each) pork tenderloins (or more, depending on crowd size)
5 tablespoons real maple syrup (no substitute)
5 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
3 cloves finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
The day before the game, use a sharp butcher knife to score each side of the tenderloin 1/2-inch-deep diagonally.
In a zippered freezer bag, add the remaining ingredients; use the amounts listed above for each tenderloin you're marinating. e.g., if you have 2 tenderloins, use 10 tablespoons maple syrup, 10 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 6 tablespoons olive oil and so on.
Add tenderloins to bag of marinade (you can marinate 3 pork tenderloins per bag); "burp" air out, then seal bag tight and shake. Refrigerate overnight; flip bag morning of game day.
Bring tenderloins to room temperature 1/2 hour before cooking.
On game day, heat charcoal (or set grill temperature) to 350 degrees. Remove meat from bag to a clean cutting board. Pour marinade into a small pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low.
Grill tenderloins to medium (150 degrees). While grilling, coat tenderloins with small portions of marinade. When grilled to temperature, take meat from grill to a cutting board, cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 5-10 minutes. Cut into 1-inch-thick medallions. Drizzle marinade over the top of the medallions.
Did you know that the pina colada was created in the Caribe Hilton 60 years ago this year in Puerto Rico? I had no idea until an email came my way announcing the fact, as well as a recipe for the hotel's famous drink.
2 ounces white rum
1 ounce coconut cream
1 ounce heavy cream
6 ounces pineapple juice (preferably fresh)
1/2 cup crushed ice
Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend till smooth. Serve garnished with a fresh pineapple wedge and maraschino cherry, if desired. Makes 1 drink.
Contact Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org.