Game Day Across America

We asked chefs across the country for their favorite game-day recipes.

Spicy chicken wings, sausage-studded gumbo, tender meatball subs, creamy chips and dip--whether you’re firing up the grill at a tailgate or cheering from your couch, these All-American comfort foods are hearty and delicious enough to keep even the most enthusiastic fan going on game day. We polled some of the country’s best chefs to find out what they and their friends like to nibble and nosh while rooting for the home team. The result: a roster of rib-sticking, casual recipes--every one of which is a total score. --Sarah Karnasiewicz

Jeff McInnis is executive chef at Yardbird in Miami Beach, Florida.

Recipe: Chicken Meatloaf Bites

Because I've spent so much of my career doing high-end dining, when I started Yardbird I was really excited to have fun with comfort food again. One of my specialties is a short rib meatloaf -- it's been on our menu since the beginning and now people demand it, so we can never take it off! Short ribs give a meatloaf richness, but the recipe is so easy you can make it with almost anything--chicken, turkey, pork--certainly not just ground meat. And you can play with ways to serve it too--plain, or on toast points, or over mashed potatoes.

Serve with: Plain ketchup is classic, but it's also really simple to make your own "tomato jam". Just blanche a few tomatoes until their skin wilts. Then peel and chop them and simmer them slowly, for a long time, until they are thick and super concentrated. Along the way you can add onions and garlic and a splash of vinegar or sugar for flavor. But the key is to cook it real slow until it all melts together.

Pro tip: If you want to take a little something extra over to a friend's house with your snacks, you can't go wrong with a bottle of something. But, why not make it bourbon--since everyone else always brings beer!

Elizabeth Falkner was runner-up for 2011's Next Iron Chef and is chef at Krescendo in Brooklyn, New York.

Recipe: Hot Wings, Three Ways

I played professional soccer for years and these wings were just the sort of finger-licking comfort food I always craved after a match. Now I find that I want the same kind of thing after a hard night in the kitchen! Wings are great because they're a really tasty--but also really inexpensive--cut of meat. And the combinations of spices and sauces you can use on them is unending; I couldn't pick just one. Spicy sauce and blue cheese has become a classic for a lot of Americans--but it's easy to take the basic idea and move it into Asian or Moroccan flavors for something a little unexpected.

Serve with: Old fashioned coleslaw--or really any crunchy, crispy salad with a cooling dressing or vinaigrette--is a perfect match. I like to make an Asian-accented coleslaw with hijiki in it. It goes great with the wings with black bean sauce.

Pro tip: A good wing should be crispy, not soggy. Sometimes, instead of dredging the wings in flour and spices and tossing them in a sticky sauce after frying, people use a wet batter, which can can make it hard to get them crispy. Or maybe they don't fry them long enough. It's also important to remember not to cover the wings after they've been fried and are still hot--because that will steam them and make them lose their crunch.

Dale Talde is chef and co-owner of Talde and Pork Slope in Brooklyn, New York.

Recipe: Pork Slope Chili Con Carne

I love chili in all its forms, but the one we serve at Pork Slope is definitely one of my favorites. It's full of pork--obviously--but we don't use beans like an American style chili. Instead it's literally chile con carne: just meat with chiles. It also has a bit of cinnamon in it, which gives it this unique, beautiful aroma--it doesn't make it sweet but it gives that hint to your taste buds, which helps balance out the savoriness of the dish. Ninty percent of taste is smell receptors, so that's a cool way to trick your brain even though there's not a pinch of sugar in there. It's a chili that's no frills, but pure flavor.

Serve with: Chili and cornbread is a match you can't improve on. I like my cornbread a little sweet, but balanced--with some salted honey butter, and maybe some bacon and chile to even it out. I think it should be a bit of everything--a little sweet and a little savory.

Pro tip: When we make chili con carne at the restaurant, we put a gallon of beer in it--and at home, beer is the perfect pairing. I like to use Negro Modelo--some of it goes in the pot, and the rest is for drinking.

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Terrence Gallivan and Seth Seigel-Gardner are chef-owners of The Pass and Provisions in Houston, Texas.

Recipe: Grilled Radicchio and Spicy Italian Sausage Pizza

Grilled pizzas are perfect for tailgates; you can prep all the ingredients ahead of time and just throw them in containers. As long as you have a grill, you can have pizzas in minutes that are completely customizable--just add whatever you want on top of them. For winter, some of our favorite toppings are thinly sliced cured meats, like soppressata or proscuitto and hearty greens like kale and swiss chard. Or thinly shaved yukon gold potatoes sprinkled with rosemary and olive oil are a really delicious, unexpected topping, too. The secret with the dough is to just make sure the grill is hot enough before you place the dough on it--if it is, it shouldn't stick at all.

Serve with:
We likes salads that are studies in contrasts. When you're tailgating, it's nice to have something refreshing, with a variation of textures and temperatures--and of course, as much beer as possible, like a good winter stout or something with a little body.

Pro tip: While you're waiting for the grill to get hot, don't waste all that heat--use that time to roast veggies for your salad. Peppers or eggplant are always good, and in the winter it's nice to throw in some squash too,. Acorn squash is great: just slice it really thin, drizzle it with honey or maple syrup, and let it carmelize slowly.

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Levon Wallace is executive chef of Proof On Main in Louisville, Kentucky.

Recipe: Boiled Peanut Hummus with Country Bacon and Feta Cheese

I've bounced around a lot up and down the east coast from Cape Cod to Florida, and this dip--which is one of my favorites--was inspired by all the boiled peanut vendors that I'd always come across on the side of the road down South in the lowcountry. If you've never had a boiled peanut before it might sound weird, but the flavor profile really isn't that different from a chickpea--it has the creamy earthiness of a bean. That's why they really lend themselves to hummus. When you're making the dip, you need to make sure to use raw, not roasted peanuts--but otherwise, just treat them like you would any bean: simmer them in salted water until they're tender and then have at it!

Serve with: Crisp, very thinly sliced olive toasts drizzled with olive oil and parmesan really reaffirm the Mediterranean flavors of the dip, but still with a southern twist. I really like the kalamata bread that La Brea makes, though you could also go with grilled pita or lavash instead. It really boils down to preference. A malty brown ale is also a great pairing--it really plays off the richness and tang from lemon and feta.

Pro tip:
If you're having friends over to graze and you want to go all out, make your own crackers. It could be as simple as a flatbread cracker dough sprinkled with caraway, fennel, and any seed blend for a little crunch. A basic cracker like that is uncomplicated to make and always fun.

Chris Hastings is the owner and executive chef at Hot & Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Alabama.

Recipe: Chicken and Conecuh County Sausage Gumbo

Birmingham is big football country and both our sons are at the University of Alabama, so we do quite a bit of tailgating. Over the years we’ve made a bunch of gumbos, but this has become our go-to. The recipe has got a lot of components and you can always tweak it to suit your tastes--but the way we make it is a true, classic gumbo with okra, seafood, and meat. Often we make our own sausages, but when we don't, we like to use Conecuh sausage because it has such a good smoky flavor the fat content gives the gumbo richness and flavor. It travels well, only uses one pot, and it keeps you warm and free to enjoy the company. What more could you ask for at a tailgate?

Serve with:
Beer, beer, and more beer is pretty much the rule. We have a bunch of good local breweries down here. The guys at Back Forty Beer Company do some nice things--their Truck Stop honey brown ale is one of my favorites.

Pro tip: At this time of year, citrus is at its very best. A bitter salad of frisee or endives with oranges or grapefruit or kumquat with pecorino is a great contrast to the one-dimentional richness of gumbo. It brightens everything up.

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Brad Farmerie is executive chef of Saxon + Parole and PUBLIC in New York City.

Recipe:
New Zealand Venison Sliders with Tomato Chile Jam
Roasted Butternut Squash Salad and Kale Summer Rolls with Feta Cheese and Avocado Green Goddess Dressing

In the Northeast, venison season overlaps with football season, and I love to blend a little ground venison with beef and a little seasoning to make "game" sliders as a fun game-day party food. They're perfect because they're so small that they don't feel like a big commitment — even people who aren’t sure about venison won't be afraid to try them. (And usually they end up going back for two or three more!) And you don't need be a hunter to make them — farmed New Zealand venison is super-lean and flavorful and available all year 'round. I pop the sliders on the grill and then into potato buns with a smear of super-easy tomato jam — just a mix of tomatoes, ginger, vinegar and fish sauce. It's like grownup ketchup.

Serve with:
I'm all for uncomplicated drinks that make an impression. Serving sparkling wine always makes any party more festive and it doesn't need to be fancy. I usually add a syrup or a fresh garnish to make it more of a cocktail — in winter you can't go wrong with a splash of pomegranate molasses and a few pretty pomegranate seeds.

Pro tip: Instead of a salad, I like to serve simple veggie summer rolls — really, they're like a salad as finger food. They are a vehicle that Americans don't use very much, but you can put almost anything inside them and they are really easy to make. All the prep can be done the day before and then you can just assemble them at the last minute. For fall and winter, fill them with a little kale, some Cotija cheese and a slice of roasted squash with salt and pepper and a little aleppo chile. It's a perfect combination.

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Max and Eli Sussman are chefs at Roberta's and Mile End in Brooklyn, New York and the authors of "This is a Cookbook: Recipes For Real Life"

Recipes:
Grilled Meatball Sandwich
Popcorn variations

Who doesn't like a meatball sandwich? This is one of our favorites because it's so easy and comes out looking and tasting great every time. Instead of the classic Italian sandwich with red sauce, we swap in pesto for a little freshness and color--it's oozy and hearty and warm and the flavor is awesome. But it's also a simple enough recipe that you could totally improvise with it; if you're not a huge ricotta fan, you can leave that out and use melted provolone or pepper jack or swiss instead. And it scales up really well, so it's the perfect thing to make for a crowd. Just make sure to have a bunch of napkins handy!

Serve with: It's a pretty filling sandwich, so it's nice to pair it with something more delicate for a little contrast. Some great light winter sides are a warm corn soup or a salad of roasted root vegetables. Or for some coolness and crunch, you can't go wrong with cabbage slaw.

Pro Tip: Seasoned popcorn is our secret snacking weapon--it's the perfect treat to bring to a party because there are so many ways to make it and it's so inexpensive and easy to throw together. Max and I never ate a lot of it until I had a roommate who was obsessed with popcorn--that's when we realized it could be such an incredible delivery device for flavor. You can make it sweet, savory, spicy--just keep experimenting.

Game-Day Recipes from Chefs Across America

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Chefs' Game-Day Favorites

Spicy chicken wings, sausage-studded gumbo, tender meatball subs, creamy chips and dip — whether you’re firing up the grill at a tailgate or cheering from your couch, these All-American comfort foods are hearty and delicious enough to keep even the most enthusiastic fan going on game day. We polled some of the country’s best chefs to find out what they and their friends like to nibble and nosh while rooting for the home team. The result: a roster of rib-sticking, casual recipes — every one of which is a total score. --Sarah Karnasiewicz

Texas: Terrence Gallivan and Seth Seigel-Gardner

"Grilled pizzas are perfect for tailgates. You can prep all the ingredients ahead of time and just throw them in containers and as long as you have a grill, you can have pizzas in minutes that are completely customizable — just add whatever you want on top of them. The secret with the dough is to make sure the grill is hot enough before you place dough on it — if it is, it shouldn't stick at all."

Kentucky: Levon Wallace

"I've bounced around a lot up and down the East Coast from Cape Cod to Florida, and this dip — which is one of my favorites — was inspired by all the boiled peanut vendors that I'd always come across on the side of the road down South in the low country. If you've never had a boiled peanut before it might sound weird, but the flavor profile really isn't that different from a chickpea — it has the creamy earthiness of a bean."

New York City: Brad Farmerie

"In the Northeast, venison season overlaps with football season, and I love to blend a little ground venison with beef and a little seasoning to make 'game' sliders as a fun game-day party food. They're perfect because they're so small that they don't feel like a big commitment — even people who aren’t sure about venison won't be afraid to try them. And you don't need be a hunter to make them — farmed New Zealand venison is super-lean and flavorful and available all year round."

New York City: Max and Eli Sussman

"Who doesn't like a meatball sandwich? This is one of our favorites because it's so easy and comes out looking and tasting great every time. Instead of the classic Italian sandwich with red sauce, we swap in pesto for a little freshness and color — it's oozy and hearty and warm and the flavor is awesome. But it's also a simple enough recipe that you could totally improvise with it. If you're not a huge ricotta fan you can leave that out or use melted provolone or pepper jack or Swiss instead."

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