It should be known that Michael Symon's team is, and always will be, the Cleveland Browns. "Don't put the Pittsburgh Steelers," he says over the phone. "It'll cause big problems for me."
So naturally, when we caught up with the chef on the phone to chat about his partnership with Knob Creek Rye, we had to ask about his tailgate tips. And from the sounds of it, his tailgates are pretty epic.
"My feeling is if you're going to tailgate, go big," he says. "And if you can’t go big, just go to someone else’s tailgate."
Symon's version of "going big" is his porchetta, marinated with brown sugar, salt, rosemary, the Knob Creek rye (or any other rye whiskey, we presume), and chiles. "We spit roast it the night before, and closer to the tailgate we finish it out right at the game. It can feed 50 people," he said. "I finish it at my house, wrap it up in foil, put it in my car, and lay it out on our table, and it’s still warm because it’s such a large piece of meat. You could serve it up until game time. It’s all about cheating."
The trick, Symon says, is to do as much at home as possible. Some dishes that travel well (other than porchetta)? "Chili works great, braisers work great," Symon says. Sausages and burgers, while standard, are always a good thing, as long as there are enough.
"[You don't want] a tiny little grill and four hot dogs," Symon says. "The fun of the tailgate is hanging out with a ton of people, really getting geared up for the game, and inviting people into your tailgate and making new friends."
Of course, for some, tailgating season ends as soon as the cold sets in, but for Symon (and friends), the cold is worth it. "My most memorable tailgate party was in '87, when the Browns lost to the Broncos in Cleveland in the AFC championship game. I think it was about 20 below at the stadium with wind chill, so it was pretty awful in that sense," Symon says.
Nevertheless, his family and friends roasted an entire lamb, brought four different types of chilis, and "loaded up on every type of sausage you could possibly fathom," he says. And other than their intense layers of clothing, the group had some grills to keep them warm.
"You ever see where they cut the old barrels and in half and make a grill out of them? Well, we had two giant grill barrels, which not only held the food but kept us all warm," Symon says. "I was only 17 years old so we weren’t enjoying the art of the cocktail there, but the food and friends and family all gathering around and the grill just ripping hot when it was 20 below? That was pretty special."
Symon constantly keeps cooking gear in the back of his truck, just in case. Here are some staples he recommends for your next tailgate:
• Two cast-iron pans
• A small grill, just in case
• A large roll of foil: "You’re going to need it to reheat and keep things warm," Symon says. "Another great use for foil is you can lay it out and put your charcoal so you don’t have to worry about catching things on fire."
• Garbage bags
• Duct tape and a Sharpie: "We make sure we bring duct tape so everyone can label their cups. That way there aren't 4,000 cups floating around the tailgate," Symon says.
• Lump charcoal. Symon recommends using lump charcoal because "once you get the fire going it will burn much hotter and much longer."
Check out some of Symon's tailgating recipes below: