We’re just over 48 hours from the 2014 spring game and football fans in the bluegrass should all be about to burst at the seams. Quarterback competitions, wide-open offenses, vicious defenses and other storylines will probably gather most of the headlines for the next week or so, but I’m here today to talk about something equally s important.
Now many of you may be saying “I know full and damn well how to tailgate” and the truth is that many of you are right. However, some folks may not be sure exactly how to go about their pre-game party on Saturday, so I’m here to help guide you to a great time.
LOCATION IS EVERYTHING
The spring game’s first-come, first-served policy on parking at the stadium offers a unique opportunity for folks to get a prime spot without those pricey and difficult to obtain parking passes, So rather than posting up in your usual spot that may be miles from the stadium in some cases, you can potentially get one of those prime pieces of game day real estate at absolutely no cost for one of the most exciting spectacles of the offseason. The exact location for you might vary though. Some will prefer a spot with plenty of grass for tent set-ups and such, and others will prefer a spot with plenty of blacktop to set up their grill right at their vehicle. Neither is wrong or right, but remember that the closer to the stadium you get, the more neighbors you’re likely to have. If privacy is what you’re looking for and some extra leg room means something to you, focus on setting up in front of the stadium towards Nicholasville Rd/Limestone or behind the stadium towards the baseball diamonds. If you want a party with lots of other fans around, scope out a spot in the shadows of the stadium where the masses are likely to be located.
GRILLING FOR SUCCESS
If there’s one tool every tailgater needs, it’s a solid cooking device. Many will bring simple charcoal grills for easy transportation and set up, but cooking on a charcoal grill does take some skill and it can be more time consuming than other options. Propane grills tend to be easier to use but are often bigger and require more extravagant set-ups than other options. The smoker is always a winner at tailgates but this season brings a new obstacle. With tailgating opening up at 8:00 AM and the game kicking off at 3:00 PM, many traditional smokers won’t have an ideal amount of time to get that pork shoulder as tender as you’d want it and many smokers can be a pain to load and unload due to weight. While everyone loves fried food and few things can top fresh-out-the-basket French fries, skip the deep fryers due to no power outlets being available and the dangers of hot grease sitting right in the way of errant footballs being tossed. Whatever option you choose, all are likely to provide an awesome meal for your party with the right food choices and attention.
THE MEAT OF THE MATTER
We’re not in California here, so take your hippie soy burgers and feed them to your dog. Tailgating is about meat, and real meat that used to be alive, not ground up beans and vegetables processed into a burger-like substance. Your real issue will be deciding between the tailgating staples and something a little more interesting. Burgers and hot dogs have been at tailgates since the very beginning, and for good reason. They’re almost universally liked and preparation and transportation are as simple as it gets. A solid pulled pork option will rarely disappoint your crew and it really isn’t difficult to prepare. Grilled chicken and fish can be great options as well, but chicken does take a while longer to cook and fish can fall apart, so venture there only if you’re experienced with these options.
Sides are as hotly debated between tailgaters as politics are amongst regular folks. Baked beans are always a safe bet and a sizeable bag of potato chips will rarely disappoint. With that said, that’s about where the universally accepted sides stop. Some of the most popular sides tend to be cold salads like pasta and potato salad or cole slaw. These options are cheap, and can be easily prepared or even pre-bought at your local grocery store. I like them about as much as I like terrorism. It’s time to stop thinking “cheap and easy” when it comes to sides people. You’ll likely already have a grill or smoker of some type, so grab some fresh veggies and some skewers and make some kabobs. A couple of fresh ears of corn can be grilled right next to your meat for another side that’s sure to please. This is the spring game, so take some pride in what you bring.
APPETIZE THE PEOPLE
The most commonly omitted feature at a tailgate is the appetizers, and it could be one of the most important. Setting up takes some energy and you may have several hours until lunch time, so make sure you have some snacks on hand. Chips and dip, vegetables and ranch, crackers and beer cheese, etc will all work and none of these options take even a little preparation.
If you just can’t bring a grill or you just don’t have the time to cook, restaurants like Zaxby’s, KFC, Sonny’s and Chik-Fil-A offer party platters that will work in a pinch. While these are unlikely to have the “love” cooked into them that your own culinary creations would have, they’re also unlikely to have the “crap I burnt that” cooked into them either. You are very unlikely to be judged by other tailgaters if you choose this option, but it could happen, so be ok with it.
DON’T BOOZE YOUR HEAD
The easiest thing to get worked up about is the alcohol. Beer or liquor? Keg or bottles? Wine or… just kidding. Save yourself the hassle of worrying about it and bring a little of everything you like. Aluminum cans trump breakable glass bottles when it comes to beer and kegs are probably not worth the work you’ll have to put into them. Remember that this is Kentucky, so bourbon is always an excellent option, but leave the tequila at home because this isn’t Cancun and you’re not on spring break. Whatever you choose to do, make sure to keep it classy as no one wants a sloppy drunk at their tailgate. If you’re reading this thinking “I wonder if I was that guy last year?” then you probably were.
This is really open to interpretation and generation. Your group’s general age should factor into this decision heavily and make sure to choose wisely to avoid the possible boredom that can occur from hours in the sun. Tailgate toss/corn hole are always great options and appeal to folks of all ages. Horse shoes is probably reserved for tailgates sponsored by the AARP, so avoid that one unless you remember Jimmy Carter’s presidency vividly. A football for tossing is a must, and a deck of cards can usually entertain wide varieties of fans with games from Go Fish to poker appealing well to different demographics. If you’re feeling a little wild, a simple table and some ping pong balls can start up a beer pong tourney but remember to keep it together as there IS a game to go to.
DON’T FORGET THE CAT WALK
It may seem like a trivial event at what is essentially a practice, but this is no ordinary practice and the cat walk has bigger imprecations than just high-fiveing your favorite player on their way in. Recruits will be present and many of them will get their first true glimpse at the passion Kentucky fans have for their team here. The Cat Walk at the 2013 spring game was important enough to be used as a recruiting pitch by the coaching staff, so take 15-20 minutes and make your way over to take part.
Location: I suggest something within about 100 yards of the stadium with some grass nearby. It makes the event a little more memorable and you should have enough room to comfortably set up. Be there no later than 12:00 Noon.
Grill: Keep it simple and go with charcoal. Benefits of the other options can be quickly outweighed by the packing and transportation hurdles.
Meat: Hamburgers and Hotdogs have been at tailgates for a hundred years for a reason. Stick with high quality hot dogs like Nathan’s or Hebrew National though.
Sides: Corn on the cobb, baked beans, and potato chips should be strongly considered. While that’s a lot of carbs, you’ve got to wait until September for another game, so take the stairs next week ad you’ll be fine. Throw in some green beans to make your mom happy if you must.
Appetizers: It’s Kentucky, so beer cheese should probably be your first choice. I prefer Dad’s favorites, which is locally made and can be found at any Lexington area liquor barn. You’re probably going there anyway.
Booze: I’m not a beer snob, but I do prefer something more complex than your typical bud light and the like while I also like to support local businesses. Try a six-pack of West 6th beer if you’re feeling daring. It’s made in Lexington, comes in cans, and packs a punch. If you want some truly awesome beer options, check out Country Boy Brewery and grab a couple of growlers of your favorite brew. I would suggest picking this up a day or two ahead of time though, as they don’t open until noon on Saturday and the place is likely to be crowded with tailgaters like yourself filling up. For bourbon, just go with Woodford. Everyone likes it, it’s easily obtainable at any spirit shop, and it’s smooth. Don’t get cute here and get something off the wall. Champagne is absolutely appropriate for drinking prior to 11;00 AM.
I hope this guide helps you have an awesome tailgate and I want to personally thank you if you’re attending the 2014 spring game. Have a great time and Go Big Blue!