Rae Lynn was so busy making the most of the dog days of summer that she almost missed the start of the college football season. I said almost. Yes, I missed sitting in the stands, but I saw several games on TV. And watching LSU and TCU battle it out in the Cowboy Classic—while eating shrimp à New Orleans’ Pasquale Manale’s—inspired some fresh ideas about tailgate food.

Georgia Bulldogs Tailgating by Peter ZimmermanTailgating food often revolves around the predictable: burgers, brats, chips, dips and a choice of beer, beer or beer to drink. But that’s for tailgaters who want to warm the bench. If you want your tailgate party to score big and win fans, you need to step up your game.   

One way to make your football tailgate food a standout is to take your cue from the local food movement sweeping the country. What cuisine reflects your region and your team’s traditions?   

Choose a delicious main dish native to your area—burritos in Arizona, bison burgers in Montana—then add a full menu of complementary dishes. 
Texas State Tailgating Food
For example, Wisconsin Badgers grill up bratburgers. (Yes, those are burgers made entirely of brats.) And Nebraska Cornhuskers always serve corn on the cob.   

Swizzle Trick: In addition to thinking locally, choose foods that fit your school colors too. That may require some extra creativity for blue food, but remember: You’re doing it for the team!   

Given that Rae Lynn hails from Nashville, I’m going to focus on the South to show you how it’s done. Here are some mouth-watering tailgating recipes and ideas that will give you bragging rights for weeks to come.   

Florida Gators: Go Gators! 

The Orange and Blue play in The Swamp, which is often hot and sticky and always 
presided over by Albert the Alligator. ‘nuff said. 
Tailgating Florida Cuban Sandwich
Outside The Swamp, tailgaters—or is that tailgators?—arrive hours if not days ahead of time to stake out the perfect spot. 
And once they’re in place, they can rev up their celebrations with seafood and Cuban dishes. 

Florida Gators Tailgating Picnic Basket
Main dish: Cuban sandwich (kept warm  in a Gators  insulated picnic basket) or conch fritters pierced with Gator food picks 
Soup: Chilled avocado soup or warm jambalaya
Breads: Pan cubano sliced on a Gators cutting board 
Side salad: Avocado and orange salad 
Dessert: Key lime squares 
Drink: Screwdrivers or mimosas or anything with orange juice or—what else?—Gatorade 
Special touch: Bacon-wrapped shrimp (‘cuz either you like bacon or you’re wrong)  

Georgia Bulldogs football: Go Dawgs! 

Brunswick Georgia Bulldogs Tailgating
When Georgia is on your mind, so are peaches, peanuts and pecans. Yum! Makes Rae Lynn want to head right down to Sanford Stadium to cheer for the Red and Black. And my pups can help me prep for the kickoff chant: “Goooooo … Dawgs! Sic ‘Em! Woof! Woof! Woof!” 

Main dish: Pork chops or go whole hog—roast a pig while wearing your Georgia Bulldogs apron 
Breads: Cornbread with lots of Georgia lunch napkins to catch every crumb 
Dessert: Peanut brittle, pecan pie or peach cobbler 
Drinks:  Coca-Cola (which ought to be the Georgia state drink), peach mojitos, bourbon and peach sweet tea and peach bellinis 
Special touch: Vidalia onion rings   

Alabama Crimson Tide football:  Roll Tide! 

Bama continues a football legacy and Nick Saban intends to keep it that way. But the 1930 team set the bar high: Its “Red Elephant” linemen allowed only 13 points all season. Of course, Saban can claim the 2009, 2011 and 2012 BCS and AP National Championships—and he’s not done yet. So what makes for a winning spread for a red-and-white checked tablecloth? 

Tailgating Alabama Crimson TideMain dish: Pulled pork BBQ served up on a Tide ceramic platter 
Breads: Cornbread sliced on a ‘bama cutting board 
Side salad: Cole slaw or fried green tomatoes 
Dessert: Fried peach or apple pie 
Drink: Bloody Marys (think Crimson!), Alabama slammers or Mountain Dew 
Special touch: Grits with butter and cream   

Louisiana State Tigers:  Geaux Tigers! 

Baton Rouge lies between the foodie mecca of New Orleans and the Cajun capital of Lafayette. So Tigers’ fans can boast some of the most tempting tailgating food anywhere. Muffuletta LSU Tailgating FoodDon’t worry: You won’t have to share with Mike, the Bengal-Siberian tiger mix who earns his living as the team’s mascot. 

Main dish: Muffuletta or etoufée served on a Tigers’ stadium platter 
Soup: Gumbo of any kind—seafood, chicken and sausage or okra and filé 
LSU Stadium Cake TailgatingBreads: A crusty baguette served on Tigers’ luncheon napkins 
Side salad: Louisiana sunburst salad or sweet potato salad 
Dessert: Bread pudding squares, beignets or pralines 
Drink: The original Hurricane, the St. Charles G&T (gin and tonic, silly) or Café Brûlot  
Special touch:  A stadium cake   

Tennessee Vols football: Go Vols! 

Tailgate Tennessee Vols BoatsOnly two schools in the country can boast tailgaters in boats and Tennessee is one of them. (Comment below if you know the other!) Celebrate with a tailgate that honors Knoxville’s river tradition and the foods the state grows in abundance, include every kind of squash. 

Breads: Hush puppies served on a Tennessee ceramic stadium platter 
Grilled Prawns Tennessee TailgatingSide salad: Tennessee caviar (no fish eggs in this one!) with tortilla chips 
Dessert: Pumpkin cupcakes in stunning Orange and White 
Drinks: Sweet tea, Tennessee Tea or anything with Tennessee Whiskey 
Special touch: Hoe cakes (aka fried cornmeal flatbread) with a mess o’ greens   

OK, Rae Lynn has covered a few schools in the South, but what about the rest? What’s your favorite tailgate food for football games at the best school in the country—yours? Drop us a line and let us know how you fuel up for big games!

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