73°
UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Tailgate nation: How to have fun while creating gourmet pre-game meals

A+charcoal+grill+can+impart+great+flavors+onto+wings
A charcoal grill can impart great flavors onto wings

It’s 7:32 on a Sunday morning and you’re awake—for some reason—and alone. You’re filling up your truck with booze and raw meat and you’re about to set off for a drive to a football game that doesn’t start for five-and-a-half hours. Some friends say you’re crazy. But your fandom and hunger rests for no one.
Sound familiar? If it does then you’re probably a dedicated tailgater, and you’re not alone. As football reaches new heights in popularity every year, so does the practice of arriving at games comically early and dining in a desolate parking lot with your sports-crazed friends. What started out as just a simple meal of hot dogs and beer has taken a turn towards the gourmet. Different proteins have crashed the party—and vodka tonics and even the occasional appletini are making an appearance.
Fran Burke, a Senior Account Executive at All Pro Tailgates, a company that puts on the biggest tailgate parties in New England, has noticed the trend.
“It’s gotten more extravagant, with people trying to outdo what they did the last time. It’s gone from hot dogs and burgers and cold beer to lobsters, and chili contests, and bars opening up,” Burke said.
“Everyone’s trying to outdo themselves and make the meals even better.”
Burke, whose company caters mainly to corporate clients, mentioned how the menus for his parties change from week to week, and can include dishes ranging from scallops to lasagna to haddock.
“We try to be diverse,” Burke said. “Like when the Broncos come to town, we get ribs. We change it up. Now we have a seafood raw bar. We want to make everyone comfortable and make sure they enjoy themselves.”
But what’s a young tailgater, who wants to take his craft to the next level, to do? There are definitely some great answers to be found in “The Big Flavor Grill,” by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby.
For their ninth book-collaboration, the duo set out to “move grilling into the 21st century” and they’ve done just that by eliminating marinades and long prep times from the equation entirely, which has made their recipes both innovative and accessible.
Marinating is the time-honored way to infuse flavor into grilled meats, but it requires long periods of prep time and even longer periods of food sitting in the fridge before it can be cooked. By creating what they call “razzle dazzles”—post-marinades containing flavorful combinations of ingredients that meats are tossed in right after they come off the grill—Schlesinger and Willoughby have found a way to get flavor into food in a fraction of the time.
“There’s a lot of people out there that try to make cooking complex and confusing,” said Schlesinger. “We just wanted another voice out there saying that it was simple and easy.”
“People tend to make cooking overly complicated and we were just trying to simplify it.”
The post-marinades do just that. In the book, Schlesinger and Willoughby say that they got the idea to use the technique from tropical regions, especially Costa Rica, where they co-own a house. Some notably great flavor combinations include mustard, steak sauce, and horseradish (meant to go on steak tips) as well as mangoes, chipotle, and lime (for pork skewers).
“Having these fresh, raw flavors combined at the last minute is more to my liking as opposed to, say, a tomato sauce that you cook for five hours, which is more of a European way of doing things,” Schlesinger said.
Schlesinger had quite a few technical tips for anyone that might be new to the grill, which can be a fairly daunting appliance. His biggest tip was to build a “two level fire,” which means putting the hot coals to one side or the other, or turning off half of the burners if you’re using gas. This gives the cook much more flexibility to allow foods to cook at different temperatures.
“If you had an oven that was always set to 500 degrees, that would be hard to cook with.”
Schlesinger added, “Same thing if you had a burner that was always set to low. At different times in the cooking process, you need different temperatures.”
Schlesinger has been able to gain this sort of know-how over the course of a long career as a restaurateur. The Virginia native is perhaps best known for founding the East Coast Grill in Cambridge. After an extremely successful twenty-six years at the Grill, Schlesinger walked away in 2012 to focus on his cookbook work.
“The Big Flavor Grill” is structured in a way that gives even the least experienced cooks a good grasp on the fundamentals. It is arranged not just by protein, but by the specific cut of meat. There is a section on pork chops, a separate section of ribs, and another on pork skewers.
“What we wanted to do is kind of turn you on to, say, chicken thighs. The hard part is learning how to cook a chicken thigh, and once you’ve mastered that we added five different ways to prepare that dish.”
“I think [the structure of the book] is purposely straightforward and purposely easy and purposefully trying to produce flavors as efficiently as possible,” Schlesinger added.
When it came to the undisputed king of tailgate cuisine—the chicken wing—Schlesinger emphasized that getting the basics right was critical.
“You need fresh ingredients, quality wings, and you have to cook them properly,” Schlesinger said.
“Telling when something is done is very important, so we always encourage people to cut in to whatever they’re cooking and double check to make sure it’s done properly.”
“It may seem self-evident in cooking but if you use good food and cook it correctly, you’re way ahead of the game.”
If you’re looking to start your tailgating career off with a bang, you need to remember that simplicity conquers all, and that the grill is supposed to be a place for fun. Fewer ingredients does not mean a lower-quality meal and usually a good combination of flavors is all you need, and feel free to experiment.
“You have fire, and guys like to grill. It’s easy, outdoors, and you can drink a lot of beers while you’re doing it,” Schlesinger said.
“It’s definitely not just hot dogs anymore,” added Burke.
“The Big Flavor Grill” can be purchased on Amazon
For more information on All Pro Patriots Tailgate Parties, go to patriotstailgate.com