By Kathy K. Martin
Tailgating is a Southern art form that blends family traditions with favorite recipes and plenty of fun memories – even if your team doesn’t win every game. Whether you’re hosting your first tailgate or you’re a tailgating veteran, these tips and tricks from some of the best in Oxford and Starkville help you kick off football season with style and ease.
According to Heidi Miller of TheFrugalGirls.com, an ideal tailgating experience begins with the right location, excellent food, fun entertainment, sturdy tables, and comfortable seating. Some of her must-have items include hand sanitizer, wipes, trash bags, paper towels, and of course plenty of paper napkins and disposable cups, plates, and utensils. When it comes to food and drink, she recommends loading up coolers with many interesting drinks and filling thermoses to keep sweet tea cold and coffee, apple cider, hot cocoa, (or even soup) warm. Finger foods score the most points, so she prefers Buffalo chicken or meatball sliders and football-shaped brownies. For ease of set up, she suggests using a rolling table with a built-in chair rack and handles on the side. She also recommends many more recipes and easy decorations and games on her web site.
Angie Sicurezza, owner of GRIT restaurant and A&N Catering with her chef/husband, Nick Reppond in Taylor, knows plenty about catering tailgating events at Ole Miss. After working for many years with the City Grocery Restaurant Group, the couple now caters mostly large-scale events from their restaurant and the wedding reception space, The Mill at Plein Air, where they are the exclusive caterer. Every year they provide catering for a law firm’s tailgating event for 350 people and do everything from fried chicken, chicken and sausage gumbo, and creole-roasted shrimp with remoulade. “This tailgate is like one of our weddings, but even bigger than most,” she says.
For a typical, smaller-scale tailgate with just a few friends and family, Sicurezza suggests mixing homemade dishes with purchased food to make it easier. She adds a few upscale elements to tailgate favorites such as the popular sliders by adding brisket or smoked beef tenderloin with chimichurri sauce between the small buns. She serves them alongside a smoked sweet potato salad and elote corn dip. “You need to be mindful of foods that need to stay cold like deviled eggs or chicken salad as you plan your menu and set up,” says says. “It’s also smart to consider the time of year and the opponent.”
Cured or smoked meats stay fresh and keep well outside. In cooler months she recommends gumbo or red beans and rice, which works well when playing LSU. She also recommends the fan-favorite of serving miniature corn dogs too, which is another one of those football fan stories that has gone on so long that no one really knows the origins. She also often focuses on a fall theme with miniature pumpkin cheesecakes, apple tartlets or fried apple hand pies.
Ty Thames, chef of three Starkville restaurants (Restaurant Tyler, BIN 612 and The Guest Room), describes football season as magical with its combination of fall colors, smells in the air, and the energy of Starkville. “It really takes on a life of its own with football fans buzzing around town,” he explains.
Thames suggests several choices for tailgate food such as unique dips and fried chicken and pimento cheese pinwheels. Spread pimento cheese evenly along a tortilla and place a piece of fried chicken on top like a pizza topping. Roll up and place toothpicks every inch and a half or so and cut into bite-size pieces. Smoked catfish dip with Mississippi red pepper jelly is another tailgate favorite of his (recipes below). He places his dip on a cheese board and tops with the pepper jelly, while surrounding the dish with chips or his favorite, miniature Wheat Thins crackers.
Thames’ usual game day includes stopping by BIN 612 for a drink and food while watching fans on University Drive make their way to campus. He then also walks to campus and visits a few friends’ tailgates on the way to the stadium. Chef Thames’ pro tailgating suggestions are:
Do the food and supply prep work a day or two ahead of time. Game day is not the time to be running out to get something you’ve forgotten.
Have everyone who is tailgating do a small part to help. Many hands make light work.
Get on site as early as possible. Campus traffic will be hectic, so the sooner you are settled, the better off you will be.
Bess Fisher, an attorney with Mitchell, McNutt & Sams in Oxford, is also a food blogger (Bessie Crocker) and host of a tailgate tent at every home Ole Miss football game. She begins planning in late summer by making a list of home games and their opponents, and then builds a theme around that. “Two years ago, for the Arkansas game I did a “BBQ the Hogs” theme with pulled pork nachos, queso, and accompaniments,” she said. “It was a hit with everyone!”
Fisher doesn’t over plan because weather usually impacts how many people attend the tailgate. She often opts for some kind of protein, one to two dips with chips, and a dessert. Everyone who attends contributes to the menu for a potluck-style affair. “It takes a village,” she says. “I try not to stress about whether there will be enough food because there always is.” She also packs extra dishes and trays in case an impromptu visitor brings something to share too.
In addition to the barbecue theme, Fisher also hosts a birthday party theme in November to celebrate the birthdays of her husband, William, and her father-in-law, Bobby. A friend of hers, Mary Rosenzweig with Thanks For Everything, designed a sticker that said, “William and Bobby love the Rebs” to add another touch of fun.
She relies on tailgate favorites such as French onion dip or Captain Rodney’s dip with potato chips and chicken nuggets served with a variety of sauces. In a pinch she serves Costco frozen nuggets prepared in her air fryer that are a Chick-fil-A replica to stay true to her mantra of working smarter, not harder. As for beverages, she often provides a signature cocktail to compliment her theme. Her bourbon slushes with bourbon-soaked cherries are popular with guests.
Tailgating in the Grove at Ole Miss is a place for friendship and fellowship, says Fisher, and can be accomplished with just a few snacks and drinks. “Many opponents have beaten Ole Miss in football, but very few tailgates beat a Saturday in the Grove,” she says. “Hotty Toddy to that!”
Everything Fisher has learned about tailgating is a combination of party hosting tips from her mom and Grove tips she inherited from her mother-in-law, Catherine Fisher, the original host of the tent:
Don’t overcomplicate it. Be a relaxed host by arriving early, setting out the spread, and popping open a drink to be ready to greet guests.
Always bring one more pack each of beer and bottled water than you think you will need.
Use recipes like make-ahead dips to stay true to tip number one.
Pack tailgating essentials in large plastic storage containers and just restock the plates, plastic utensils, napkins, and other items from game to game. Include many plastic grocery bags to place all dishes into after the tailgate to make clean up easier later.
Whether big or small, homemade or catered, tailgating in Mississippi is always a win – regardless of the outcome of the game.
Enjoy this selection of tried-and-true large batch tailgating recipes!
MS Red Hot Pepper Jelly
Yield: 5 pints Ingredients:
2 bottles (24oz) Mississippi Red Pepper Sauce
4 cups water, divided
2 cups white vinegar
7 cups granulated sugar
5 individual powdered gelatin packets
Combine all ingredients except for the gelatin and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan and bring to a full rolling boil, stirring occasionally to make sure sugar doesn’t stick to the bottom.
Thoroughly mix the gelatin in the cup of room temperature water.
Once the mixture is boiling steadily, add the gelatin mixture. Stir for one minute, then remove from heat.
Transfer hot liquid into sterilized pint jars and put in the refrigerator overnight.
Party Size Pimiento Cheese
Yield: 2 quarts
8 oz. garlic, roasted
1 cup capers
3 oz. jalapeno peppers
24 oz. cream cheese (4 bricks)
2 cups mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon onion powder
1 Tablespoon celery seed
24 oz. Edam cheese (shredded)
24 oz. cheddar cheese (shredded)
2 cans (28 oz. each) pimientos (drained very well)
Combine the 8 sauce ingredients (everything except pimientos and shredded cheese) in a food processor and blend until smooth.
Tip the cheeses and pimientos into a mixing bowl; add the sauce and mix well. If the mixture is too wet, add more shredded cheese until it reaches desired consistency.
Mississippi Smoked Catfish Dip Yield: 1 Quart Ingredients:
1 lb. smoked Mississippi catfish, skinned and boned
16 oz. cream cheese (2 bricks)
2/3 c sour cream
2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
Half a red onion
2 oz. roasted garlic
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 Tablespoon Mississippi Red Pepper Sauce
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon red pepper
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon bay seasoning
Juice and zest of 1 large lemon
Combine all ingredients in food processor and blend, serve immediately, or refrigerate overnight.
Spicy Red Cabbage Slaw
Yield: 25 servings
2½ cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups creole mustard
¾ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 Tablespoon Creole seasoning
2 Tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1 head of finely shredded red cabbage
1 head of finely shredded green cabbage
4 peeled and shredded carrots
2 minced yellow onions
2 diced red bell peppers
2 diced green bell peppers
Combine vinegar, mustard, salt & pepper, cayenne, and Creole seasoning; mix well.
Add cabbage, carrots, onions, and bell peppers; mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and store in fridge.
Sweet Potato Salad
Yield: 20 servings
5 (3-4 lbs.) peeled sweet potatoes, cut into ½ inch cubes
6 large whole eggs
¼ cup whole grain mustard
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 Tablespoons minced yellow onion
3 large minced green onions (white and green parts) ~5 tablespoons
½ cup chopped red and green bell pepper
1 cup mayo
1-2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 ½ teaspoon Creole seasoning
1 teaspoon finely ground white or black pepper
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon paprika
Place potatoes in large pot; add cold water to cover. Boil potatoes until tender (not mushy), about 15 minutes.
In a large saucepan, combine whole eggs and enough cool water to cover the eggs by 1 inch. Bring the eggs to a boil over high heat. The moment the water reaches a boil, reduce heat to medium-high heat and simmer for another 10 minutes. Pour off the hot water and fill the pot with cool water to stop the eggs from cooking. Set aside at room temperature to cool, then refrigerate.
Drain the potatoes in a colander; ensure all of the excess water has been drained (about 5 minutes). Transfer potatoes into large mixing bowl. Add the mustard and cayenne pepper and mix with a large fork, carefully avoiding mashing the potatoes. Remove the shells from the boiled eggs, and place into the bowl with potatoes. Refrigerate potatoes and eggs until thoroughly chilled (about 30 minutes).
In another bowl combine the yellow onion, 2 Tablespoons of the green onion, the bell peppers, 2/3 cups of the mayo, and half of the Worcestershire.
Remove eggs and potatoes from fridge. Remove 5 of the eggs and set aside. Cut eggs in small cubes, return to bowl, and gradually stir in the mayonnaise mixture until blended. Add the Creole seasoning, pepper and chopped eggs; stir gently. Fold in the remaining 1/3 cup mayo, remaining green onion, and Worcestershire sauce.
Smooth the top of the salad with spatula and slice remaining egg for garnish on top, along with parsley and paprika.
Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.