10 Unique Tailgate Food Traditions from Across the Country
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When the typical burgers and dogs just won't do, these NFL and collegiate teams have a few fans who know how to host a tailgate to remember. "Tailgating is the original Facebook, but when you like somebody in the parking lot, you get food," laughs Joe Cahn, who has been to more than 1,000 tailgates in 20 years and is the self-proclaimed commissioner of tailgating. "And the menu is unique everywhere you go."
Here are 10 teams across the country with inventive, tasty traditions that give fans full bellies and hometown pride — and extra excitement for the big game.
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Forget the deep-dish pizza and the Chicago-style hot dogs. Real tailgaters at Soldier Field — like Tim Shanley, who runs Da Bus, an actual converted bus that feeds up to 400 fans — know that the party isn't complete without a Chicago beef sandwich. "We put an interesting 'spin' on the sandwich," says Shanley, acting coy before explaining that they buy an 800-pound cow and throw it on a custom rotisserie. Let's repeat that: an 800-pound cow on a spit.
We set it up in the lot the night before, so when the crowds arrive, they walk up to a cow, all cooked and spinning slowly and effortlessly," he says. Shanley serves the (thinly sliced) beef dipped in au jus on French bread with giardiniera.
Photography courtesy of Tim Shanley/Tailgating for Hunger
Penn State Nittany Lions
Dessert might just be more important than the main course at Penn State. Grilled stickies (think sticky buns cut into strips and turned into a buttery, sugary loaf) originated at nearby Ye Olde College Diner more than 80 years ago and almost always appear at tailgates. The diner sells boxes by the caseload to hungry fans every weekend. Rooting for the home team from afar? You can also buy stickies here and have them shipped right to your mailbox.
Photography courtesy of Ye Old College Diner
Kansas City Chiefs
You can't go to Kansas City and not have barbecue, so of course it's a pregame staple for Chiefs fans. The tailgate scene is so epic even the players know what to expect: "The fans are going to be up there before we even have to report to the stadium," says safety Eric Berry. "The whole parking lot is going to be smoked out with barbecue smoke. That gets the juices flowing before we even step out on the field."
Photography courtesy of Kansas City Chiefs
New Orleans Saints
You'll find plenty of seafood (oysters, shrimp and fish) in the parking lots around the Mercedes-Benz Superdome — and just as much gumbo and jambalaya. "The traditional and most-popular way to cook jambalaya is in a big cast-iron kettle," says Scott Sparks, who uses a 15-gallon pot for his dishes. "If you can't have fun here, then you should just stay home!"
Photography courtesy of Scott Sparks
Florida State Seminoles
FSU's biggest rival is the University of Florida Gators. So when the two teams go head-to-head, tailgaters appropriately serve up fried gator tail. "The idea came from the rivalry and our true hatred of all things gator," half jokes Daniel Grant, who has been tailgating at FSU for more than 26 years. What does gator tail taste like? Tough chicken, according to Grant.
Photography courtesy of humanskin/iStock
University of Washington Huskies
Husky fans don't tailgate — they sailgate. Yes, in actual boats. Husky Stadium sits on Lake Washington, which means people can actually party on dinghies or yachts (there's even a shuttle to get you from boat to stadium). And grilled salmon is the food of choice, according to Jeff Bechthold, director of athletic communications at the school. "Around here, that means grilling it skin-side down on an alder or cedar plank, or in a foil pack with butter, sliced onions, sliced lemons and a package of dry Italian dressing seasoning," he says.
Photography courtesy of the University of Washington
Auburn University Tigers
Fans know it's not an end-of-the-season home game unless Mary Ann and Lester Stoll are up in the Hayfields roasting a 200-pound whole hog on a custom-built rotisserie. "My husband and I got married 45 years ago, and we had a pig roast the day after our wedding to celebrate," Mary Ann says. "When we moved here from Indiana, we just thought it'd be a nice tradition to start." That was 20 years ago, and now students, faculty and fans look forward to the "Stollgate" all season.
Photography courtesy of Ryan Molt
New England Patriots
Some fans may argue that clam chowder is New England's signature dish. But according to Clayton Witham, who has been throwing tailgate parties since 1993, it's really lobster. He's a lobster fisherman, so he'll bring up to 150 pounds of the stuff to steam onsite before a game. "No matter where I am in the world, when I tell people I'm from Maine, they tell me they like Maine lobster," he says. "It doesn't get more iconic than that."
Photography courtesy of Henry Lederer/Getty
University of Wisconsin-Madison Badgers
"When you're tailgating, you do brats," says Wisconsin alum Brian Kane. "You boil them in beer and then grill them." Of course, the people who don't want to fire up their own grills head to State Street Brats, which can see up to 3,000 customers on game day. The red brat is the most popular — a pork and beef blend that's butterflied, grilled face-down and served on a soft bun. "It's a culinary delight," Kane says.
Photography courtesy of State Street Brats
Although technically a specialty of Santa Maria, Calif., (which is 250 miles from the Raiders stadium), tri tips make a regular appearance at Oakland tailgates. The meat is a low-maintenance, triangular muscle cut from the bottom sirloin of a steer — and fans go nuts for it. "I use sangria soy marinade, which consists of sangria, soy sauce, chili powder, onion and garlic," says religious tailgater Kirk Brousard. "Guy Fieri said this dish is so spot-on he would eat it out of a hubcap!"
Photography courtesy of Kirk Brousard