Posted October 16, 2004 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Sauce News

Tailgating Rules

Chef-worthy cuisine from custom truck turn this pre-game ritual into paved paradise

Extra trash can for the keg? Check.
Panthers-blue extension cords for the stereo? Check.
Tricked-out party truck that growls like a panther? Check.
Web site, official sponsor and local-landmark status? Check, check and check.

Huh. It must be here somewhere …

Tailgaiting Photo

Isn’t a tailgate called a tailgate because of food? In the beginning, you dropped the back gate of your truck or station wagon at a football game so you had a place to spread lunch.
Without food, it’s not a tailgate. It’s a parking space.
Here in the middle of football season, we wanted to see what serious tailgaters eat. People who’ve been at it since the Panthers strolled into town in 1996. People who do it with style.
We went after the Panthers Tailgate guys.
You know these guys. Anyone who gets anywhere near Bank of America Stadium on a game day knows these guys: They park the “Mobile Tailgating Vehicle” — a customized Lance truck — at the Firestone at South Tryon and Stonewall. They hang banners from local bars, blast music and attract mobs of people.
A founding member was a chef. Oh, yeah — these are the guys.


Kickoff against the Falcons isn’t until 4 p.m., but who’s counting? Before 10:30 a.m., the big lot between South Tryon, Stonewall, Church and First streets is an asphalt smorgasbord:Trays of Jell-O shots being filled, grills beginning to smoke, coolers ready to unload.
At 10:31, the Panthers Tailgate truck growls and pulls into the space beside the Firestone sign. Matt Hudson, Scott Montgomery and Ed “Shake” Pepper — yes, he has ID to prove it — get to work.
They lower the back of the truck to form a platform, clamp speakers to the outside and unload essentials. Keg, trash cans, a beer cooler shaped like a giant Budweiser can. Two propane tanks, 2 gallons of vegetable oil, a football-shaped chip and dip tray.

Looks promising.

Pepper hangs a Hooters banner between the legs of the Firestone sign. They used to hang a sign from the Graduate in exchange for a free keg. When that deal dried up, they lined up Hooters: A banner in exchange for 200 chicken wings.
“Anything for free food,” Montgomery says.
The inside of the truck has all the comforts of home, if home is a frat house: a bar and bar stools, a built-in couch with built-in cup holders, black cabinet doors with football handles. There are two neon beer signs, a small TV bolted up in one corner, and autographed pictures of John Kasay, Michael Bates, Anthony Johnson and Muhsin Muhammed.

There’s even a built-in public-address system.
“We always joke that the reason we made the truck so nice is if one of us gets divorced because of it, we’ll have someplace to stay,” says Hudson.

Beyond burgers

The tailgate started in the back of Scott Montgomery’s Explorer in 1996. Montgomery was friends with a chef, Paul Norton, so the parties took off. Hudson joined in 1997, after he married Montgomery’s sister.

When the tailgate grew, they moved up to an old bread truck they could drive to games from Albemarle. Parked at Tryon and Stonewall, the truck became a familiar sight. When it died last year, they stepped up to a bigger, better truck.
With Norton to do the cooking, they had started a tradition of providing food and beer in exchange for donations. Friends started stopping by. Lots of friends. More than 200 for this year’s “Monday Night Football” game.
“We’ve gotten in so deep, we couldn’t stop if we wanted to,” says Hudson.
When Norton moved to Mississippi this year, he left his recipes with Hudson, who now does the cooking. Today’s theme, for the Falcons, is Tabasco chicken.

Sounds promising.

Elsewhere outside the stadium

By noon, the big parking lot is smoking. At Stonewall and Church streets, Joe Ryan and his friends parked an enormous Pace Arrow RV on Saturday night and spent eight hours slow-cooking a whole pig.In the middle of the lot, Dexter Peeler is deep-frying a turkey and cooking ribs for 20 people who are coming after church.
There’s hardly a table in sight with less than six bags of chips. There are dip trays and shrimp trays, tubs of homemade cookies, football-size cheese balls rolled in chipped beef.
Meanwhile, at the Panthers Tailgate truck, there are two bags of chips, unopened, and beer. Almost everyone who arrives is carrying a plastic shopping bag. With beer.

Oh, there’s more, of course. There’s chalk, to write anti-Falcon slogans on the sidewalk. There’s duct tape, to tape down a Falcons shirt so Panthers fans can walk on it.
There are even hand-stamps, so official guests can use the rest room inside Firestone.
Good thing. Somebody else has arrived. With more beer.

Ingredients of fun

At Church and Stonewall, more than a hundred people are crowded around the pig cooker and a small grill at Joe Ryan’s tailgate site. Tom O’Brien, wearing a tall chef’s hat, is serving barbecue while somebody else is cooking brats.
Ryan and about 10 friends start planning their tailgates before the season starts. They map out what to serve at which home game. At least once a year, they rent an RV and go all out.
At the Panthers Tailgate truck, the crowd has grown to about 35 people. Still, the only food in sight has been kids passing out sample packs of peanuts.

Finally, about 12:30, four buckets of wings from Hooters arrive. Shortly after that, Hudson hooks up the propane tanks and begins to heat water for frozen corn.
About 1 p.m., he moves the corn to the grill to stay warm, then puts a pot of oil on the fire.

At last: Tabasco chicken. Tabasco chicken is white meat cut into strips and marinated overnight in Texas Pete (don’t ask) seasoned with a little garlic, salt and pepper.
Dumping a bag of chicken breader in a disposable aluminum pan, Hudson puts on rubber gloves and tosses in red strips of chicken.

Using a fry basket, he drops the chicken strips in hot oil until they’re golden brown. A couple of pans of Tabasco chicken, a little frozen corn, a single plate of 7-Layer Dip, a small box of brownies and a chocolate cake.
OK, it’s a tailgate. And Tabasco chicken, we have to say, is a pretty good tailgate dish: Hot, crispy and very salty. Just the thing to have with beer.

Inside the truck, Shake Pepper is leaning on the bar. He moved to Charlotte from Kansas City, “the tailgate capital.” He thinks this tailgate is one of the best.

So what does it take to be a great tailgate?

“The least ingredient is the food,” he says. “It takes great friends and great planning. Great food, that’s just the topper.
“It’s not what you do. It’s coming together with your friends.”


Makes about 1 1/2 cups. Brats may be the perfect tailgate food, because you can cook them in advance, then finish them off on a grill. This topping, from “Steven Raichlen’s BBQ USA” (Workman, 2003), will liven them up.

1 tablespoon butter
3 cloves garlic, peeled and gently crushed with the side of a knife
1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns
1 (12-ounce) bottle dark beer
4 ounces Gorgonzola or another blue cheese, crumbled
1 cup prepared coarse-ground mustard

MELT the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until very fragrant but not brown, about 3 minutes. Add peppercorns and beer, bring to a boil and boil until reduced by half. Stir in Gorgonzola and cook until melted, whisking to mix.
REMOVE from heat and cool slightly, then whisk in mustard. Transfer to a jar and cool to room temperature, then refrigerate, covered, for up to a week.


Serves 20. From “The Lady & Sons, Too,” by Paula Deen (Random House, 2000).

3 ripe avocados, peeled and mashed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Pinch of garlic salt
Dash of hot sauce
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
1 (1 1/4-ounce) package taco seasoning
4 (9-ounce) cans bean dip
1 (16-ounce) jar picante sauce or drained salsa
1 cup chopped onion or green onions
3 tomatoes, chopped
1 (6-ounce) can pitted black olives, drained
Sliced jalapeno peppers (optional)
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated
Tortilla chips

STIR together avocado, lemon juice, garlic salt and hot sauce. Set aside.
MIX sour cream, mayonnaise and taco seasoning. Set aside.
LAYER the bean dip, avocado mixture, sour cream mixture, picante sauce, onions, tomatoes, olives and jalapeno peppers to taste in a wide, shallow bowl. Top with both cheeses. Serve with tortilla chips.


Makes 16. From “A Gracious Plenty,” by John T. Edge, a collection of recipes from community cookbooks. This one originally came from the Junior League of Jackson, Miss., where tailgating is taken very seriously.

8 hard-cooked eggs, peeled
1/2 cup finely chopped purple onion
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill or 2 tablespoons dried
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

SLICE the eggs in half lengthwise and remove the yolks. Mash the yolks with a fork until smooth. Blend in remaining ingredients. Spoon into egg white halves.
COVER well and chill.


Serves a small crowd. Adapted from Will Lisk, Matt Hudson and Paul Norton.

4 pounds boneless chicken breasts
1 quart Texas Pete
Garlic powder to taste
2-pound bag chicken breader, such as House Autrey Mills
Cayenne pepper, salt and pepper to taste

CUT chicken into strips. Place in large resealable bags. Combine hot sauce with garlic powder and salt and pepper to taste. Pour into bags with chicken and refrigerate overnight.
HEAT 2 gallons vegetable or peanut oil in a deep fryer.
EMPTY chicken breader into a large aluminum pan. Add cayenne, salt and pepper to taste. Wearing rubber gloves, drop chicken strips into breader and toss to coat. Drop into hot oil and cook until crispy and golden.
REMOVE from oil with a slotted spoon or use a fryer basket. Place in a large aluminum pan lined with paper towels. Serve.


The Internet is a great source for tips on tailgating.

www.pantherstailgate.com. The official site of the guys in the truck. No recipes, but lots of pictures of the new truck being built.

www.tailgating.com. Site of Joe Cahn, the self-proclaimed “Commissioner of Tailgating,” with recipes, pictures of tailgates, from around the nation, and message boards.


Joe Cahn, the self-proclaimed “Commissioner of Tailgating,” travels the country every year visiting football cities. He has several ideas for making the event a success.
1. Plan your menu and do the prep work a day or two before the game. Keep the menu simple and include prepared food in disposable containers.
2. Make a checklist. Include paper plates, napkins and towels, disposable forks and cups, trash bags, water and damp towels in resealable plastic bags.
3. Dress in team colors.
4. Plan to arrive three to four hours early and stay one to two hours after the game.
5. Find a good place to park. Parking next to a grassy area or at the end of a parking row gives more room to tailgate.
6. Fly a flag on a very high pole so friends can find you.
7. Decorate your site with team items. Team pennants, team flags, team jerseys.
8. Meet your parking neighbors. Share food. Swap recipes.
9. Aim for food to be ready 1 1/2 hours before the game. That leaves time to eat, clean up and extinguish grills.
10. Leave your parking area clean.

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog