If you've been following along so far, we've discussed the new UCLA Jell-O mold kit and we covered the basics of tailgating at the Rose Bowl last week. This week, we will look at what it will take to make the transition from tailgating newbie to tailgating pro.
Before we get to that, though, I want to thank everyone who commented on last week's article.
Indeed, I want to specifically thank NardBruin for mentioning chairs as an essential. He is right. Not having chairs really makes tailgating a lot more difficult...unless you don't mind sitting on the ground or in your car. It also bears mentioning that all chairs are not created equal. A sturdier chair is well-worth the extra investment because it will last longer and, at least in my book, tends to be more comfortable than those less expensive chairs.
And, another H/T goes out to Flem for recommending that you review the Rose Bowl Tailgating Rules because nothing would suck more than being shut down by the Fun Police. Those rules even contain a diagram on how to set up a canopy.
Speaking of canopies, not all canopies are created equal. The tailgating rules allow for a canopy that does not exceed 10'x10'. A lot of folks will tell you that you can get away with a canopy like this one. But, that would be a mistake.
Sure, that canopy is pretty inexpensive as far as canopies go, but there's a reason for that. If you followed the link, you'll notice that this guy provides 64 square feet of shade. That's because, while the legs are 10'x10' at ground level, the slanted legs mean that you only have 8'x8' of shade due to the slant of the legs.
Instead, I would recommend a canopy like this one or like the one that Bizdady said he had just ordered. These are straight-leg canopies meaning that you will get a full 100 square feet of shade because the legs are straight instead of slanted. The $30 or so more that a straight-leg canopy will cost will be more than worth it at that October night game where you are tailgating in the hot sun all afternoon long.
For the past few years, the trend in tailgating tables has been plastic folding tables. In fact, the table I linked to goes on sale, starting 8/28 for $39.99. (That's right. We're Bruins Nation. Come for the football and stay for the consumer advice!)
Generator, TV and Satellite Dish
For many tailgaters, this is the final frontier. The ultimate tailgating setup. There is no doubt adding a TV with a satellite dish powered by a portable generator is uber-cool and will make other tailgaters jealous of your setup. The downside, of course, is that cost involved with adding this to your setup.
You will, of course, need a generator that's big enough to provide enough juice for your equipment to run for the duration of your tailgate. You'll need the dish itself with a subscription as well as a TV.
The high cost of entry on this equipment is what usually makes these the last pieces added to a tailgating setup.
One alternative to the satellite dish might be a Slingbox combined with a tablet or cell phone connected to the TV. With this option, you connect the Slingbox to your home TV while the tablet or cell phone connects to the TV. You may want to see what kind of upgraded cell reception you get at the Rose Bowl before investing in this option, but, if you already own a Slingbox, you know how it's the most underrated piece of gear in your home theatre. The downside to this is that, if you're not on an unlimited data plan, you could blow through your data cap after 1 or 2 games.
Smoker Box, Wood Chips and Charcoal
So, right about now, you're probably thinking "Those are all well and good, but, JB, I want to get creative with the food I make. What can I pick up to help me with that?" That would be a great question.
And, for that, I strongly recommend a smoker box and wood chips in a flavor of your choice. These will allow you to turn your grill into a smoker and really take your menu to the next level. Personally, apple wood is my preferred choice in wood chips. I like the flavor that it imparts into the meat and it can always be counted on for creating a great smoke ring.
These are probably the most cost-effective ways to enhance your tailgating experience.
Speaking of cost-effective, if you opted for charcoal, now is the time to pick some up. Along with the folding table mentioned above, Home Depot will have 2-packs of Kingsford Charcoal on sale for $10 (reg. price $20) starting on 8/28.
Chimney Starter, Newspaper and Lighter Sticks
If you've opted for charcoal, the first thing you should focus on is getting your first started. Putting up the canopy and setting up the tables and chairs and everything can wait. Get that grill lit!
The simplest way to get it lit is with a chimney starter, but you will need to remember that it is STILL going to take about 30 minutes to get your charcoal to the point that you're ready to start cooking. Along with the chimney starter, you'll also need some newspaper to stuff under the charcoal as well as lighter sticks to get the fire lit.
Silicone Oven Mitts, Grill Cleaning Brush and Non-Stick Spray
BBQ Guru Steven Raichlen's mantra is "Keep it hot, keep it clean and keep it lubricated." These three items are necessary to do just that. After the fire is lit, you don't want to get burned. A good pair of silicone oven mitts will keep your hands from getting burned.
The grill cleaning brush keeps your grill clean of debris from your last tailgate. No one wants last game's meal this week.
Non-stick spray will keep your grill lubricated which is needed to keep food from sticking. My favorite is Weber's Grill N Spray because it is the only non-stick spray I've found which is non-flammable, meaning you can spray it on a hot grill and not singe your eyebrows off.
Cutting Boards and Knives
The last items I want to mention are a cutting board and knives. A good thick wood cutting board will last for years with a little care. I'd try to find one that has a small reservoir around the outside to catch juices coming from your meat. I can't tell you how many times I've had juices go running off my cutting board because the table was on a slight incline. But, you probably shouldn't limit yourself to one. If you think you will need more than one cutting board for something else, be sure to bring it.
There's a lot to be said for good knives. They can make the process of cutting food effortless, but I wouldn't go bringing your expensive knives with you for tailgating. Instead, invest in a cheap set that you don't really care about if one should happen to go missing.
I touched a little on this last time when preparing your menu, but it's worth covering in more detail. In order to properly plan your tailgate, the best way to figure out what time you should arrive at the Rose Bowl is to work backwards from kickoff (or whatever time you want to get inside).
Let's use next week's Memphis game as an example.
We know that kickoff is at 7pm. It will probably take you 30 mins to walk in and get to your seat and 15-30 minutes to pack up depending on how much gear you have and how much experience you have taking it all down. You want to enjoy your food, so estimate an hour to eat and digest. Of course, there's cooking time before that. I will be smoking the tri-tip I keep teasing you about each week. That takes exactly an hour and half and it will take 30 minutes to get the fire ready.
So, that's means I need to arrive at the Rose Bowl around 3pm. Because the people I tailgate with all meet at the Vons on Fair Oaks for convenience, we will need to arrive at the Vons Parking lot, probably around 2:30 to give us some extra time to pick up anything we forgot or didn't realize we needed. Finally, it takes us a good 45 minutes to drive to the Rose Bowl. Meaning that we will need to depart no later than 1:45pm in order to make this all work.
So there you have it, I've just ballparked the exact time I need to leave to make it inside for kickoff. Is it complicated? Hell, yes, but it works!