There’s tailgating. And then there’s tailgating.
“When I was at University of Florida, there were people who got there at 2:30 in the morning cooking a whole pig on a spit,” said Taylor Mathis, author of “The Southern Tailgating Cookbook: A Game-Day Guide for Lovers of Food, Football and the South” (University of North Carolina Press). “It’s great to see that kind of dedication, to get there 17 hours before kickoff.”
Mathis saw dedication writ large during his gridiron-infused culinary tour of 35 college stadiums — from a Halloween game at the University of Kentucky with mummy-shaped apple slices floating in cider, to a University of Washington crowd hosting a Midwestern fish fry with Great Lakes fish sent by their University of Michigan pals.
“One of my favorite things was seeing how creative people could get with themes,” says the 28-year-old University of Wisconsin at Madison graduate.
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Mathis devoted a chapter of his book to an “eat your competition” theme. (Beer can chicken when your rivals are birds; a mutton dish when Rams are the opposition; souped up hot dogs when you’re facing a team of Bulldogs.)
Regardless of your theme — or the number of tailgates under your belt — let the food take center stage, he suggests.
“Go for quality over quantity,” Mathis says. “Pick one or two great dishes and do them well.”
Because once you walk into that stadium, greatness is up for grabs.
“You can’t control how your team performs on the field,” he says. “All you can do is throw the best pregame celebration possible.”