Cooking tailgate food can be challenging for the best cooks.

– You’re cooking in a parking lot from the back of your car or truck.
– You’re probably cooking for more people that you usually do.
– The wind is blowing, the air is cold.
– Your grill is tiny because it has to fit in your car.
– You’ve already got a good beer buzz on.

I’ve done all these things, both for friends and family as well as catering events. One particular corporate celebration that I was hired for had me grilling for 150 people before a football game. (I did NOT have a good beer buzz that day). It’s difficult for the best cooks to create something delicious and appetizing under those tough conditions and a potential football food disaster for less experienced tailgaters.

I do my best to avoid as much actual cooking at the event as possible to limit the hazards and distractions of cooking in a parking lot.

1) Bring a HOT cooler – My caterer’s best secret is how to keep food hot during transport. This is crucial to all off-site caterers who prepare food in a central kitchen and then bring it to location. Certainly, I’ll have a cold cooler with me to bring the salads and cold cuts, but what if you wanted to bring HOT dishes that need to stay hot until eaten? Whenever I’m responsible for the tailgate food, I bring a cold cooler filled with the food items I want to keep cold, along with beverages that must stay frosty as well.

And there is a way to keep food hot without an open flame

This way, when I serve my famous New York Attitude Filet Mignon Chili, it doesn’t need to be made quickly on-site. I can take the hours necessary to develop all the flavors in my chili at home and bring it HOT to the game. That’s my second idea…

2) Bring hot food with you – It’s a lot of pressure to prepare food on-site considering the hindrances I mentioned above. Plus, not everything has to be grilled! If you are to cook everything in the parking lot, make sure you know the 10 steps for grilling properly. However, a good variety of flavors and textures make for a better tailgate party.

3) Forget the grill altogether – If you’ve been following my videos over the past six years, you know how I feel about outdoor grilling. It’s the great male excuse. If you’re trying to learn to cook, and were to cook a steak on your indoor stove top to a black char, it would be unacceptable. However, if you cook a steak outdoors, on a barbeque grill, and it’s charred black, it’s “nicely blackened”. Burnt is burnt, indoors or out. I don’t know why men think it’s easier to cook outdoors than indoors. I believe the exact opposite.

I’d rather saute any day. Whether at home, indoors, or in the parking lot preparing my football food for the tailgate party, the direct heat of a saute pan is easier to control and gives me greater options than a barbeque grill can.

Bringing a portable camper stove and saute pan for your tailgate foods gives much greater variety in cooking. You can heat a saute pan more evenly, apply fats and compound flavors better than a barbeque grill, and deglaze the pan with liquids to make pan sauces. Your tailgate party saute will have more moisture and flavor than the 2 hour old grilled hot dog.

Ultimately, I’ll give you the same advice I always gave mothers-of-the-bride who wanted to cook for their daughter’s wedding. I’d ask them, “don’t you want to be a guest at the party and not the caterer?” If you’re cooking tailgate food this Fall, don’t spend the entire time poking hot dogs with a fork and gashing hamburgers to see if they’re done. Make it easy on yourself and follow the ideas above for a unique and fun tailgate party that you can enjoy as well as those you’ve cooked for.