3 tailgating tips from NYC's top chefs

Being charged with overseeing the food at a tailgate is a daunting task. The beer is flowing, adrenaline is ...

Posted: Dec 1, 2018 10:27 AM
Updated: Dec 1, 2018 10:27 AM

Being charged with overseeing the food at a tailgate is a daunting task. The beer is flowing, adrenaline is pumping as people get excited about the game and things may even get a little rowdy.

Meanwhile, you are responsible for reining them all in and filling their bellies with food.

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Luckily for you, some of New York City's top chefs and pitmasters were on hand at the New York City Wine and Food Festival (NYCWFF) to dole out some handy tips to make sure that your tailgate goes smoothly:

Tip #1: Get everything ready early

"One of the problems I often think with tailgates is that you get overambitious and people are waiting too long for food," says Ash Fulk, head of culinary operations for Hill Country, one of the oldest barbecue restaurants in New York City. "You don't want them to wait too long, and you want to get them fed because they're drinking beers and getting ready for that Chargers game."

Fulk is not alone in this thinking. Leland Avellino, chef at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, doesn't want his guests waiting around to eat, so he makes sure to do as much prep work in advance as he can.

"Whenever I'm in charge of a tailgate, I'm going to have my food and have my stuff ready before I get to the site," says Avellino. "I'm not going to do anything but finishing, serving and enjoying my time with my guests. I'm not going to be doing too much cooking. That's part of what any tailgate is about: being ready. It's about having your cooking done and showing up and showing off to your guests."

Tip #2: Don't be afraid to take things up a notch

Like any good backyard barbecue, burgers are a quintessential part of any tailgate. Burgers cook fairly quick, so you can easily grill, plate and serve a large group in no time. Of course, if you really want to impress your guests, you can take things up a notch and make a fancy burger that can still be made fairly quickly.

Competing at the NYCWFF Burger Bash, Mark Rosati is undeniably a force in the burger world. As the culinary director for Shake Shack, you could argue that he's one of the most important figures in the world when it comes to burgers.

"When I think of tailgating, I actually think of sausage and peppers," says Rosati. "So, maybe I'm doing a riff on sausage and peppers on a burger. Get some sausage and onions in the pan, get the fat rendered and onions caramelized, throw the peppers in there, add a little bit of tomato sauce and vinegar, and make it like a fine ragu to put on top of the burger.

"Now, thinking this through, maybe you put some fresh mozzarella melted on top of the burger, and then once that ragu goes on top, I'd probably hit it with some parmesan shavings and a little bit of olive oil. I still want to be true to a hamburger, but I think you can do a version of sausage and peppers on top that's saucy that's like the icing on the cake."

For those of you not feeling a burger, Fulk has two other easy options. "For me, I like bringing lamb out to tailgates," Fulk says. "I think lamb grills out fast, it's delicious and it's a little different than your classic tailgate items. Skirt steak is also one of my personal favorites. You marinate it, throw it in a Ziploc bag, total ghetto style, and it cooks real fast."

Tip #3: Don't skimp on the sides and veggies

Of course, you can't have a tailgate without some sides and vegetables to balance out all of that protein. This is where some simple roasted vegetables come in handy.

"Get a pile of grilled vegetables on a plate, toss on some balsamic vinegar on that, a squeeze of lemon and some olive oil, and you get this heightened tailgating experience," says Fulk.

"The irony for me is meat is the normal star of the show, but I like all of the sides, fixings and vegetables," says Hugh Mangum, founder of Mighty Quinn's Barbecue in New York.

"Roast some vegetables, of course, but make sure you have a great slaw and innovate a little bit. Maybe do some slaws with some new flavors: soy sauce, fish sauce and brighten everything up with a lot of acids like citrus to match with the fats and to pair well with your beer."

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