Gulf Coast Cooking

Tailgating to impress: Hamburgers, hot dogs don't cut it anymore

It's that time of the year again when football season arrives and Americans start thinking about their favorite teams and the tailgate parties they'll have before the big game.

Tailgating has changed in recent years and the mundane burgers and hot dogs no longer cut it.

These days, if you want to impress your guests you have to do something special.

One of my favorite pursuits taking a classic Southern dish and presenting it in an unexpected or updated way.

Many of the foods we eat in the South were inspired by necessity, and the most inexpensive foods were combined to make something good. Use the best quality ingredients you can afford and that old standby will become something grand.

See the recipes below for a few good examples.

If you're not up to putting in the hard-spent hours in the kitchen to get your tailgate party in order there are a few options for buying good prepared foods.

If there is a good deli in your neighborhood buy a selection of meats, cheeses, bread and condiments and challenge your guests to make their own Dagwood sandwiches. Pick an interesting prize for the winner, and you might be surprised at the outcome.

I have always been interested in those out of the way, ethnic restaurants and many of them offer some great tailgate ideas. Many Latino grocery stores offer homemade tamales and tacos that would be crowd-pleasers and something quite different.

Some Asian markets offer roasted whole crispy pork, Chinese barbecue, Peking ducks and other roasted specialties. Vietnamese restaurants make killer spring rolls with a peanut dipping sauce that is the perfect finger food and, if you are lucky enough to have a Jamaican restaurant nearby, jerk chicken and oxtail stew are hard to beat.

Try the recipes below to make your tailgate party special.


1 dozen eggs

3 sweet potatoes

4-6 strips smoked bacon

2-4 jalapenos


Red pepper flakes

Fresh ground black pepper

Put the eggs in enough cold water to cover, bring to a boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes, then remove from the stove and let them sit in the hot water.

Bake the sweet potatoes at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes and then turn the oven off (do not open the door) and let them sit for 15 minutes more or until done.

Place the jalapeños in a small pan with just a little oil, cover and roast on top of the stove until well charred and tender, shake the pan often.

Fry the bacon until crispy and drain on a paper towel, then chop.

Remove the eggs from the cooled water, remove the shells under running water and cut in half, separate the egg white from the yolk. Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven and remove the skins. Place the meat of the potato in a large mixing bowl.

Peel the blackened skin from the jalapenos and give them a rough chop.

Combine the sweet potatoes, bacon, jalapeños and mix in enough mayonnaise to make a stiff batter; taste and season as necessary.

Mix the egg yolks with mayonnaise to a thick consistency. Stuff the eggs with the potato mixture and top with the egg yolk topping.


2 pounds peeled shrimp

1 bottle hot sauce

Soft tacos or corn tortillas

1 package pre-cut coleslaw mix

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup rice wine vinegar

1/2 cup sugar


Black pepper

Marinade the shrimp in the hot sauce for several hours (overnight is OK, too). Mix the coleslaw mix, mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, taste and season with black pepper and refrigerate for at least one hour (this should stay cold until served). Drain the shrimp to remove excess hot sauce and sauté very quickly in a hot pan with butter, no more than 1 minute on a side (remember to not overcrowd the pan). Cook in batches, drain the juice from the pan and add more butter as necessary. Place three shrimp in each tortilla and top with the coleslaw, being sure to have more hot sauce on hand for those who like it really spicy. Serve with lots of paper towels.


This recipe is quite a departure from the typical recipe but makes for great finger food.

1/2 pound sharp white cheddar

1/2 pound pepper jack cheese

2 red bell peppers

1 chopped onion

4-6 chopped garlic cloves

Mayonnaise and/or crème fresh

2-3 thick slices of mortadella

1 pinch red pepper flakes

1 loaf crusty French bread cut into 1 inch slices

1/2 cup smoked sausage (optional)

Grill the red bell peppers directly on the stove top if you have a gas range or under the broiler until blackened, remove and put in a brown paper bag until tender. When cool peel the skin off under running water, chop and set aside. Grate the cheeses and set aside. If you are using the sausage chop it and sauté until crispy and then drain. In the same pan sauté the onion for ten minutes, add the garlic and cook for 3 more minutes. Combine the cheese, onion, garlic, optional sausage and mix with the mayonnaise and/or crème fresh to your taste. Remember to season as you go. Cut the mortadella into thick squares and sauté until starting to take on color. Top the slices of bread with the cheese mixture and garnish with a piece of the mortadella.