Tailgating, 101

by Chef Boy Ari

It’s game day, and you’re ready to party. You’ve got beer, ice, potato chips, folding chairs, tunes, and pigskin to toss with your buds. Your T-shirt announces your favorite team.

But perhaps it makes you dimly uneasy that the entire parking lot is full of people a lot like you. Everyone likes the same team, most are drinking Miller or Bud – the McDonalds and Burger King of beers – and the wieners and burgers around every corner are increasingly predictable.

For some, this is good. Schools of fish, for example, and flocks of birds have crafted the art of the herd mentality down to a science. And synchronized swimming is really `85 interesting. And there are the Maoist Chinese, who considered it noble and good to disappear into conformity. I’ll never forget the sight, as I rode the train north from Beijing, of thousands of workers gathered outside the factory, doing synchronized Tai Chi en masse.

At this point, you’re thinking “I’m an American, dammit, an individual. I have freedom of expression!” You want to tower like Shaq above the mediocre majority. You want to rule the tailgate party.
But remember, there are downsides to racing too far ahead of the curve. Unless you’re that rare breed, like Dennis Rodman or George Clinton or Gandhi, and you can get away with redefining the playing field, you will probably need to work within existing conventions, pushing limits rather than shattering them. Say you hit the parking lot clad in a purple feather boa and a gold-plated jockstrap. This could be a problem – even in California.

The same goes with food, a vastly important aspect of tailgate parties. I don’t recommend foofy French fingerfoods, no matter how delectable. Freedom foods might be OK, as long as they don’t seem too fancy or too French. Tailgaters don’t like foods with too many syllables, or foods in strange languages, except Mexican. Fish tacos are fine. Veal scallopini a marsala is out.
Thus, allow me to introduce the leading edge of tailgate cuisine, whose name and ingredients most tailgaters can truly relate to: Beer-Butt Chicken.

Beer-butt chicken is perfect for the tailgate party for several reasons: It utilizes beer, it cooks slowly (allowing chef and friends to drink a few of their own), it leaves room on the grill for faster-cooking treats with which to keep the appetite in check, and when it’s done, an army of bare hands will quickly devour it – no plates necessary. Crispy on the outside and drop-dead moist on the inside, beer-butt chicken is an edible touchdown.

This is originally a rabbit recipe, but rabbit is problematic here for several reasons. Although it’s long been a staple of the rural poor, these days rabbit smacks of fancy foofiness. And rabbit is difficult to obtain, except at fancy foofy stores. Finally, bunny rabbits are cute and fuzzy, and even burly jocks whimper at the thought of eating them.

By substituting chicken, we take advantage of the second most common clich`E9 about rabbit: it tastes like chicken.

It’s unclear whether the title of this recipe owes to the fact that a beer can resembles a cigarette butt, or that the can gets shoved up the chicken’s butt. Fortunately, both interpretations work at the tailgate party.

The night before, prepare the bird as follows: Mix together 1 T paprika, 2 t chili powder, 1 t oregano, 1 t salt, 1 t black pepper, 1/4 t cayenne powder, 1 T garlic powder, 2 T brown sugar. At both openings of the bird, gently pull the skin away from the flesh, slide your hand in, and gently separate the skin from the flesh all around the chicken, including the drumsticks, tearing the skin as little as possible. Then, rub the spice mixture onto the flesh underneath the loose skin. Keep the chicken in a cooler that does not contain any food that will be eaten raw. In the same cooler, store one large chopped onion and one chopped head of garlic, mixed.

On game day, set up your grill. When it’s hot, open a can of beer. Drink half of the beer. Add the chopped garlic and onions to the can.

Place the can upright on the grill. Lower the chicken so the can enters the body cavity. If you want, shove potatoes into the neck opening. Cover, and cook for two hours – or until the wings are fully cooked. If using briquettes, add fresh ones, once or twice.

If you really want to rule the parking lot, you can contact Precision Cut Metal Works. They fabricate a beer-butt cooker welded to a metal plate that’s cut into the design of your choice, such as a football, elk or chicken. This device ensures that the chicken won’t fall over while grilling.

Either way, don’t forget about the beer that remains in the can, mixed with garlic, onions and chicken grease. It makes a great sauce.




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