In the wee hours of Saturday morning, fully equipped RVs, trucks hauling grills, and family SUVs will converge on the parking lot at the University of Kentucky's Commonwealth Stadium to begin the fall ritual of tailgating.
Kickoff for the Wildcats' game against Central Michigan is at noon, so the menus might feature more breakfast items, but no matter what the lineup is, tailgating is about visiting with friends and sharing food. Parking-lot chefs have mastered the craft of cooking outdoors in the fall, when the weather might feature sweltering heat, chilling rain or freezing temperatures. Those who don't cook on-site pull elaborate dishes from coolers and portable refrigerators.
It's been months since die-hard fans have packed their pop-up tents and picnic baskets and coolers. Here are some reminders from Jayna Oakley and Kelli Oakley, authors of Kentucky TALEgating: Stories With Sauce and Kentucky Talegating II: More Stories With Sauce.
Kelli Oakley is the cook of the two. "Tailgating is all about the cooking, sharing and just breaking bread with people," she said. "It's all about the experience and enjoying friends, old and new, year after year. Oh yeah, and the game's not too bad either."
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Jayna Oakley, the organizer of the duo, says, "Tailgating is all about the food, but it's also about being prepared. Some people think you can just get up, grab a cooler, throw some food in a bag and take off to find your favorite spot in the parking lot.
"But it's best to be prepared for everything: the changing weather, those tailgaters who are there to eat with everyone else, and the grill. I know some people say that's too much to worry about, but if you're the kind of tailgater who brings it all, most likely you will have the most visitors, too."
Kelli Oakley said that for her it's always about "cooking for the masses."
"I love cooking for lots of people, and what better place to do just that than in a parking lot with thousands of people?" she said. "As a cook, you always want to plan on fixing something that will feed lots of people because that's the best part about tailgating: all the people stopping by. And, of course, you plan according to the weather. If it's hot, you throw some burgers on the grill. If it's cooler weather, you bring out the chili."
The Kentucky TALEgating books are available at bookstores or at Oakleypress.net. (To buy books for fund-raisers and quantity discounts, call Jayna Oakley at (859) 963-1369.)
Here are some more tailgating tips from Tailgating.com.
■ Buy freezer bags for storage. Freezer bags' plastic is generally thicker than that of storage bags. They are incredibly versatile and do a great job when you want to keep food cold on the way to the tailgate.
■ Line a portable grill with heavy-duty aluminum foil for easy cleanup and disposal of spent charcoal.
■ Freeze bottled water. The day of the game, pop it into the cooler. If it's hot out, you can take it out as it melts, and you'll have plenty of cold water. The frozen bottles also can keep things cool, and the bottles make good ice packs.
■ Make your burgers in advance, and make sure they are no thicker than 3/4 inch. Thick burgers can take a long time to cook. Freeze the patties between sheets of wax paper. When you have the grill going, put the patties on, still frozen, and cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side.
■ Make a laminated checklist. As you pack for the game, simply check items on with a dry-erase marker. When you're done, wipe it off and you'll be ready for the next game.
■ Buy large storage bins to keep your tailgating gear and equipment organized. It's easy in and easy out all season long.
Here are two recipes from Kentucky TALEgating.
1 can (8 ounces) water chestnuts
1 package (10 ounces) frozen spinach
1 medium onion, chopped fine, or 1 envelope Lipton onion cup of soup mix
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream
1 pack (1-ounce) Knorr vegetable soup mix
Chop water chestnuts in blender. Drain spinach very dry and chop in blender, uncooked. Combine all ingredients and mix well. Chill for 1 hour before serving. Dip is green and is good with raw veggies or chips.
2 pounds ground beef
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon hot sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ cup light mayonnaise
¼ cup relish
¼ cup creamy French dressing
1 teaspoon sugar
1⁄3 teaspoon pepper
In mixing bowl, combine ground beef, Dijon mustard, hot sauce, garlic, salt and pepper. Form into 10 patties. Grill over hot coals 4 to 6 minutes a side. Meanwhile, combine sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Dress burgers with your favorite condiments and spread with the special sauce.