Try These at Your Next Tailgate
Everyone has a go-to meal that fits right into the hearty, crowd-pleasing football food category. Some rely on hot wings and fall comfort-classics like chili and stew, others may boldly roast a whole steer head to make killer barbacoa tacos or light a kerosene-soaked fire for a fish boil. From one-pot feasts to roasted pig and bacon-wrapped crow, here are some of the most delicious (and bizarre) foods I’ve tried on the road that are perfect for tailgating season.
Lechon: Legal Beans, Jersey City, NJ
I love Filipino food. The post-colonial cuisine combines the best of South Asian ingredients with Spanish technique. Although it hasn’t taken hold in this country like Thai and Vietnamese, you can still find phenomenal Filipino food on both coasts. The Cebu-style lechon from Legal Beans in Jersey City is as good as it gets. Stuffed with lemongrass and scallions, rubbed with vinegar and spices, and slow roasted for several hours, this whole hog is ideal tailgating grub for a crowd.
Flaczki: S&D Polish Deli, Pittsburgh, PA
Pittsburgh is an Eastern European immigrant city with a dynamic food scene that’s reinvented itself over the last couple decades. For traditionalists, a stop at S&D Polish Deli is a must. Run by a couple from central Poland, it’s a one-stop shop for everything from Polish shampoo to Warsaw-style head cheese and other fantastic Polish fare. One of their specialties is flaczki, a beef tripe soup that hits the spot on a chilly day.
Burgoo is a true hunter’s chowder that’s legendary in eastern Kentucky. Although a singular recipe doesn’t exist, there are a few things everyone agrees on – it has to have at least three types of meat (think squirrel, turkey and deer) and it’s gotta be cooked on an open fire pit. My Kentucky hunting pal, Tim Farmer, makes a killer version with 5 wild meats, vegetables from his garden including tomatoes, okra and homemade currant jelly. Served with bacon-rich corn bread, this is ideal cool weather comfort food.
Great Lakes White Fish is one of the only species left for commercial fishermen to harvest from Lake Michigan, and it’s perfect for a fish boil. The Two Rivers Fire Department has a long tradition of manning the raging fire at the annual Door County Fish Boil, where the firemen use a hefty amount of kerosene to create a crowd-drawing spectacle. What’s better to feed a a whole community than a fish boil?
Beef Barbacoa: Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX
You’ll find the ultimate tailgating scene at a Houston Texans home game, where the scale of the food matches the enthusiasm of the die-hard fans. The guys from Pitmaker, a local barbecue manufacturing company, know how to throw one hell of a pre-game party, turning Mexican specialties into a tailgating feast. I was lucky enough to sample their beef barbacoa de cabeza…yes, all the meat from a slow-roasted whole steer head… Grab a tortilla, and a mix of cheek and tongue, and you have the makings of one of the best tacos I’ve eaten.
Crow meat has a bad reputation, but when cooked correctly, it reminds me of canvasback duck, some of the sweeter tasting species that we have in the North. After hunting crow in the Ozarks, I helped cook up some bacon-wrapped crow and jalapeno bites. Rolled in brown sugar, dipped in soy sauce and then grilled, this is Arkansas-style game day food. Superb Ozark finger food.
Caldo: Los Islenos Heritage and Cultural Society, Bernard, LA
Traditional Isleno cooking abounds in Bernard, Louisiana, along what I like to call the “third coast.” Caldo is a humble peasant stew with its roots in the Canary Islands. It’s a tender braise, filled with a lots of vegetables and in this case, big knobs of pickled pork. It’s a one-pot-wonder that makes use of whatever you have on hand – beans, cabbage, corn, tomato, sweet potato and turnip greens are all in abundance in this part of the country and Caldo is a great sub for the boring ‘chili in a bread bowl’ friends of yours.
Porchetta: Rustik Rooster Farms, Ionia, IA
On a small farm outside of Waverly, Iowa, my friend Carl Blake has crossbred one of the most delicious pigs in America – he calls his breed an Iowa Swabian Hall in homage to the classic German pig stock. With an ideal balance of intra and inter muscular fat and well marbled muscle meat, this is truly one of the greatest hogs you’ll ever eat. I had the pleasure of tasting Carl’s porchetta, a boneless whole hog, stuffed with sausage, loins and its own organs, all roasted to perfection. Touchdown.
Most people think of Florida and they imagine Disney World and Miami Beach, but if you venture into the heart of the peninsula, you’ll find wonderful folks who take pride in living off the land. This means eating and cooking animals like armadillo. My guides, hunters David Tyburski and Rick Stafford, prepared smoked armadillo, cooked in its own shell and filled with seasonings and vegetables. Believe me, it makes for one unique barbecue. And it’s delicious.
It’s pretty obvious I have a thing for whole animal cooking. And when it comes to ceremonial whole hog feasting, a traditional matanza is solidly at the top of my list. In the community of Los Lunas in New Mexico, for example, everyone gathers together to butcher and cook all parts of the pig, from blood pudding and fried pig skin, to adobado and plowshare-braised red chili ribs. This kind of cooking wouldn’t be out of place outside of an NFL stadium. It’s the best whole hog cookery I know of.
Bigos: Czerw’s Kielbasy, Philadelphia, PA
Bigos is a traditional Polish pork-and-sauerkraut stew that is rich with soulful Eastern European flavors and ingredients. Czerw’s Kielbasy in Philly has one of the best versions I’ve ever tried. These guys are serious about family traditions, using the same kielbasa recipes that grandpa Jan Czerw used back in 1938 when he first opened this smoke house. It’s the perfect meal in a bowl.