In Arkansas, the best time of year is football season. While our state teams may not be the best, our local school teams take the gold. The biggest event of the season in Saline County is the Salt Bowl, turning out massive fan crowds of blue and maroon including those who go the extra mile and tailgate.
At this point, it’s tradition: you load up your truck with your coolers, grills, smokers, corn-hole setup and horseshoes, and get ready to party. But it’s not just about the grills and the games. It’s the quality of the food, and the community it creates that will bring your tailgating experience to a new level.
Being the head of a catering company, I’ve grown to realize the importance of food and the experience of being able to share it with friends, family and the community overall. Food brings people together, especially in times of celebration and fun. Cooking together is a tradition that extends across all families, and that tradition can be transferred to places beyond the kitchen as well, including the football stadium. You’re able to put aside fancy foods and high expectations, and replace them with fun times with friends and family.
As a teenager and early adult growing up in Arkansas, tailgating was a common pastime during football season, and while the yard games and music were enjoyable, nothing else made the experience like good food. Grilled burgers and hotdogs, smoked ribs and appetizing finger foods made tailgating worth the long hours supporting our team.
The fun in tailgating is the community, not the idea of selling food or making it only for ourselves. The joys of hanging out with friends and offering free food outweighed any urge to sell or solely indulge. Of course, when you share food with people, you want it to be remembered. There is a little competition, inside your soul, where that comes into play.
Anyone can tailgate, but the fun is coming up with a menu for tailgating that will make everyone around want to be at your tailgate. Sharing food as a community provides a greater sense of unity and celebration within Saline County, and I have had the opportunity to see this through my years of catering, but also through my own experiences of engaging in these traditions.
While the Salt Bowl is an ongoing competition between Benton and Bryant, many often forget the overall goals within the event and how the game, as well as the fundraisers, food drives and donations, support Saline County as a whole. It may be tradition to compete with one another, but in the end, it’s the sustaining of our community that matters most. Local businesses band together to donate food, both for everyone tailgating and the varying organizations that focus on supporting those in need, while many individuals within the community do the same. It is through these actions that we come to realize the importance of community and supporting one another, even during one of the most competitive events of the year. Through the sharing of food, experiences and giving, we are able to maintain a lasting community of success and unity.
What makes a great tailgating party? Anyone can pop up a tent, put out a couple of chairs and throw out some food, but to make it a great party, where all of your neighbors want to come to your tent, go that extra mile. Set up yard games, decorate your area to entice people to stop by, have a photo booth with fun props. All of these things will add to your tailgate, but to really have a great tailgate, it’s all about the food. Don’t just throw out some food on a table, be creative with your food and make your presentation one for the books.
Tailgate food can be anything you want it to be. I like to think about tailgating food as fun, easy to eat, tasty, and things I would not just fix at home all the time. Now, there are some items you just need as staples for any tailgate. Every tailgate has to have chips and dip. Choose a dip or two that you love and make sure you have plenty of chips.
Meats are a must have, but maybe think of different ways to serve them. Instead of doing full size burgers or BBQ sandwiches, think about making sliders. Or prepare smoked sausage links cut in half and put on a skewer, and your ribs cut by the rib or two and sitting in a little cup or food tray with some sauce. All of these things give you your meats, but they will be smaller and easier to eat while visiting and playing games. Not to mention, the presentation will be cute. These days, anything on a stick is cute and yummy.
Now we’ve mentioned some staples like chips & dip and of course the meats, but don’t forget about the “fillers.” Our number one request is stuffed jalapenos. Think about things like potato dishes, mac & cheese ideas, charcuterie on a stick, just little items in addition to the mains that take your spread to the next level. And, don’t forget a sweet or two.
Sample Tailgate Menu:
Charcuterie on a Stick
Buffalo and Garlic Parmesan Wings
Loaded Baby Potatoes
Buffalo Chicken Dip
Hot Spinach Dip