On the Road with the Commissioner of Tailgating
December 27, 2011
15 years ago, Joe Cahn left his New Orleans based cooking school business behind to hit the road and experience everything that the world of tailgating has to offer.
Since then, the self-proclaimed Commissioner of Tailgating and founder of Tailgating.com has traveled countless miles from stadium to stadium and has amassed a wealth of tailgating stories and advice, some of which he shares with the Grilling.com community today.
So where did this wild tailgating journey begin?
I first hit the road in September 1996, traveling to the Metrodome in Minneapolis. This was the first game at which tailgating was allowed at the stadium. During that first year I went to every NFL stadium and have since tailgated at over 800 venues and have traveled over 800,000 miles.
When did you first decide to turn your love of tailgating in to a full time job?
It didn’t begin as a full time job; it sort of evolved over time. In the beginning I wanted to see if I could live in a motor home, travel the country meeting new people, and possibly create a TV series about the people and food I encountered along the way in the spirit of Charles Kuralt’s “On the Road.” Sixteen years later and I’m very fortunate to have some great sponsors that allow me to do what I love including the American Aluminum Association which is not only a great partner, but a great cause educating people about safety in the parking lots as well as the benefits of recycling.
So you’ve been to every pro football stadium, over 125 college stadiums and 20 NASCAR tracks. Is there a favorite among them all?
Wherever I am at the time! Big, small, high school, college, pro…I love them all. When it comes to grilling, though, I would say Houston. The Texans have space, they have big, innovative rigs, and people are doing proper low and slow brisket by starting it at home and finishing it at the stadium. But it’s not only the people with professional rigs who make a showing; it’s the people doing it themselves who are so impressive, making smokers and grills out of whatever they can get their hands on.
So having perfected the art of tailgating, perhaps you could share a few words of advice for those looking to step up their parking lot game?
Whether grilling at home or before the game, I always recommend keeping it simple. For whatever reason we all try to go overboard when we are entertaining, creating too many complicated dishes that we aren’t very familiar or comfortable with. The result is that the cook spends all of his time preparing and no time enjoying his or her friends and family. Keep it simple. Also, always have a designated griller, someone who doesn’t have a drink in his or her hand so we don’t end up with a bunch of burnt food!
Any advice when it comes to the food itself?
The real key to tailgate entertaining is what I call “reception food.” People don’t want to be sitting on a folding chair trying to slice a steak on your lap on a paper plate and with a plastic knife. Think bite sized. Instead of serving full sausages, cut them in to slices and serve with toothpicks. Instead of ¼ pound burgers, serve sliders. Kebobs work well because they are portable and easy to eat as are ribs because of the built-in handle! Treat your tailgating event as the reception before the banquet.
And some advice for the first time tailgater?
Again, keep it simple. My suggestion is to bring a couple of sandwiches, maybe pick up a couple of pre-made dishes from the market, and spend your time walking around experiencing what tailgating is all about. Also, a checklist is a must. And the number one thing on every tailgater’s checklist should be “tickets.” Nothing is worse than having a great time at the tailgate then realizing that you can’t get in to the actual game!
At Grilling.com we talk a lot about regional flavors, cooking techniques and specialty dishes. What are some of the local favorites you have encountered on the road?
Well you always have the standards – the hot dogs, sausages, hamburgers and ribs – but then you get people who are more adventurous and want to have fun with it. I’ve had brisket in Dallas, grits in Atlanta, brats in Green Bay, smoked salmon in Seattle, muffalettas in New Orleans, wings in Buffalo, lobster in New England and so on. Themes are also very big among tailgaters, whether it’s a certain cuisine such as Italian or Southern, or creating a menu that plays to the color scheme and regional tastes of the day’s opponent.
Finally, we have heard some great things about your tailgater jambalaya and are grateful that you have provided the recipe for our readers. Why’d you decide on this as your signature dish?
Jambalaya is the perfect tailgating food. It’s an easy to do, one pot meal that can be started at home, wrapped in a blanket, and be ready to eat at the stadium three hours later. It feeds a whole lot of people, it’s easy to serve (again, keeping it simple) and there’s very little cleanup!
Thanks again for your insight, Joe, and we hope to hear more about your journeys very soon at Grilling.com!
- Clint Cantwell, Grilling.com Editor