PITTSBURGH – Football fans love to throw large and small tailgates before games. Whether a modest spread of chips, dip and chicken wings from the trunk or a hosted smorgasbord feast, the goal is the same: have fun and cheer on the home team.
The energy of a tailgate is so great that it is often the setting for other important celebrations, such as the bachelorette party that Dave Brandon of Georgetown, Beaver County gave to his cousin Daniel Mackall at the Steelers’ pre-season game against the Detroit Lions on May 8, 21. Organized at the last minute, it offered a simple menu of Grilled Bratwurst, Chicken, and Prawns from Costco with plenty of Miller Lite beer to rinse off.
“It’s a fun time. I love entertaining and cooking, ”said Brandon, director of Western Beaver Junior / Senior High School in Industry.
A few places further down in the parking lot, Lamont Copeland, who comes from the North Side, made himself relatively comfortable with a preseason menu with hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken on a stick. His menu contrasted sharply with the grilled shrimp, steaks, and crab legs that Somerset’s Marissa Corradini was enjoying.
“It’s my first time [tailgating]so I really wanted to experience it, ”she says.
Then there are people like Johnny Dusch, who goes to his pre-game parties with such vigor that you could call him a hatchback fanatic.
The Greenfield-based volunteer dive coach at the University of Pittsburgh, where he was an eminent diver from 1984-87, has been throwing tailgates since the late 1980s, when the Steelers were still playing at Three Rivers Stadium. It wasn’t until 2009 that he figured out how to do it right after encountering a University of Pittsburgh tail rattle partying from the back of a Winnebago.
“He showed me how to do it with class,” he says.
Shower then bought a retired 1980s ambulance and turned it into a Pittsburgh-style mobile liftgate unit. Upgrades included a 20-inch flat-screen TV and an on-board toilet in the cabin. The vehicle, with a custom paint job as a tribute to the Steel City sports teams, quickly became an integral part of the Steelers and Pitt Panthers tailgates at Red Lot # 6 near PNC Park.
It has such a wow factor that it was featured on the NFL Network and in Fan N’ATion by KDKA TV. The cast of “Rock of Ages” also visited when the show was in town a few years ago. In 2011, the Mobile Tailgating Unit earned him a spot as a Steeler representative in the Tailgating Hall of Fame, an organization of world-class tailgating from around the country.
Anyone can create a pretty fine tailgate spread with a few good recipes. We offer these that are easy to prepare, taste good and can be easily transported from the kitchen to the parking lot.
Who doesn’t love crunching a taco and not worrying about it falling apart in your hand? This simple salad has all the flavors of a hard-shell beef taco but can be eaten with a fork.
“We love it because it’s easy to toss on a plate with Doritos or eat alone,” says Jandrokovic, whose husband Phil has been making it for every Steelers tailgate since he took over his father’s tickets five years ago. “We take it with us in a crockpot so that it is easy to transport.”
If you like your tacos a little spicier, just add salsa or hot sauce. Other optional toppings include diced avocado, chopped coriander, sour cream, or corn. I made the taco seasoning from scratch, but there’s no shame in using a prepackaged mix.
For taco seasoning
2 teaspoons of chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
For the salad
1 pound of lean ground beef
3/4 cup of water
1 head of iceberg or romaine lettuce, chopped
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup sliced black olives
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1 15-ounce can of pinto or black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup of grated cheddar cheese
1 cup of Catalina or French dressing, bottled or homemade
2 cups tortilla chips or Doritos, crushed
To make the taco seasoning mix: Measure out all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Mix well. Season to taste and adjust the salt or spices as desired.
In a large pan, cook the beef over medium heat for 6-8 minutes or until it is no longer pink and crumbles. Drain and stir in taco seasoning and water; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer without the lid for 4-6 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly.
In a large bowl, mix the lettuce with the tomatoes, olives, spring onions, beans and cheese. Top with beef mixture and chopped chips; Drizzle with dressing and mix.
– Philip Jandrokovic, Brighton Heights
BUFFALO CHICKEN EMPANDAS
If there’s one at a hatchback, someone brings Buffalo Chicken Dip. Some do it with canned chicken (um!) But I wouldn’t dream of it; My favorite is shredded fried chicken.
For a handy twist on this old favorite, I poured the dip into a chilled pie crust to create an empanada-like treat. I also put in a bit of chopped cilantro and a pickled jalapeno for a little more zip, with blue cheese dressing for dipping. (If you’re not a fan of blue cheese, replace the ranch.) I used two rounds of batter per empanada, but you can cut out the circles a little larger and fold them over to make it easier.
While I’ve made this dip countless times with Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, I discovered Hank Sauce “Cilanktro” this spring in Sea Isle, New Jersey, and became a fan. It contains coriander along with hot peppers and garlic.
3 cups of shredded roast chicken
6 ounces (3/4 pack) cream cheese, soft
6 ounces of shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup blue cheese crumble, optional
1/3 cup blue cheese or ranch dressing
1/3 cup hot sauce or more to taste
2 packets of chilled cake batter
Chopped coriander and pickled jalapenos
1 egg beaten with a little water for washing
Blue cheese or ranch dressing for dipping
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
In a large bowl, mix the shredded chicken, cream cheese, cheddar and blue cheese, blue cheese dressing and hot sauce together. If it’s not cheeky (or spicy) enough, add a little more hot sauce.
Roll out a sheet of pastry on a lightly floured surface. Using a floured 3 inch round cookie cutter placed halfway on the edge of the pastry, cut the dough into circles or, if you want to get really creative, 10 x 3 inch soccer ball shapes. Repeat the process with the remaining dough, cool the leftovers and roll them up again as needed.
Transfer half of the cutouts to greased baking sheets. Place a spoonful (about 2 teaspoons) of chicken mixture in the center of each chicken and flatten it with your finger, making sure to leave space around the edges.
Top with a little chopped coriander and a pickled jalapeno. Brush the edges of the pastry with egg. Cover with the remaining cutouts and close the edges with a fork. If you’re using soccer ball shapes, cut slits in the tops to resemble soccer laces. Brush the tops with egg detergent.
Bake for 8-12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the pan and serve hot or allow to cool to room temperature. Serve with ranch or blue cheese dressing for dipping.
Makes about 3 dozen empanadas.
– Gretchen McKay, Post-Gazette
BLACK AND GOLD BROWNIES
Every party needs some kind of dessert, and brownies go well with a hatchback. These get the black and gold treatment with yellow M & Ms. They’re a hassle to sort out of the bag, but they add a colorful touch to the home team. I added chopped pecans, but you can use walnuts or almonds.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Generous pinch of salt
1 ounce semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 cup of packaged brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup pecans or walnuts, roughly chopped or more to taste
1/4 to 1/3 cup gold or yellow M & Ms
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Butter 8 x 8 inch baking pan. Line the bottom with parchment or wax paper and leave an overhang on two sides. Butter paper; Set the pan aside. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt together.
Place butter and semi-sweet chocolate in a microwaveable bowl and microwave until smooth, stirring occasionally, for 10 seconds. Stir in cocoa powder and oil. Add sugar, eggs, vanilla and flour mixture; stir to combine well. Stir in M & Ms and pecans if used, then use a spatula to add the batter to the pan.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs (or earlier to make sure they’re soft). Let cool completely before cutting into squares.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days. These can also be frozen well.
Makes 16 brownies.
– Adapted from marthastewart.com
PINEAPPLE JALAPENO MARGARITAS
A season opener calls for a really great cocktail. This pineapple jalapeno margarita offers a perfect balance of sweetness and spiciness and is especially useful for a crowd.
For pineapple jalapeno syrup
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1/2 cup of sugar
1 jalapeno, sliced
9 ounces Cointreau (or any other orange liquor you prefer)
12 ounces lime juice
8 ounces of water
750 ml bottle of tequila (I like the peppery notes of white tequila)
Prepare the pineapple jalapeno syrup.
Put the juice and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Not cook. Remove from heat and add sliced jalapeno. Let it steep for 10 minutes, longer for more heat. Cool to room temperature.
Combine 3 ounces of pineapple jalapeno syrup with Cointreau, lime juice, water, and tequila in a container (enough for 57 ounces) and stir to blend. If time permits, cool the ingredients. Since you are not shaking the cocktail, there is no dilution, so adding water is important to keep the cocktails balanced.
Grab a red solo mug – it’s for a tailgate, after all! – Top up with ice, garnish with a lime wedge and enjoy!
Makes about 15 4-ounce cocktails.
– RaeLynn Gigler
Beaver County’s Dave Brandon grills prawns on a tailgate that is part of a bachelorette party at a Pittsburgh Steelers preseason game against the Detroit Lions on Saturday, August 21, 2021 in the North Shore neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
Taco salad is easy to prepare, easy to transport, and avoids the clutter of a handheld taco.
Buffalo chicken empanadas have all of the flavor of the popular dip but are hand held for easy snacking.
Dense and rich, these black and gold brownies with M & Ms and pecans are a sweet finish to your Pittsburgh Steelers tailgate.