How To Throw A Tailgate Party

How to shut out the competition when it comes to game-day cooking

John Currence knows a thing or two about tailgating.

The Oxford, Mississippi, superchef runs a tailgate catering business, acts as a consulting chef for the University of Mississippi stadium concessions and, perhaps most importantly, is a tried-and-true Ole Miss fan—the school that's home to the consistently number one-ranked tailgate.

A New Orleans native, Currence was born and raised as an LSU supporter and went to school in Tar Heel territory, but he's an Ole Miss diehard. "I know what side my bread is buttered on," he says. Which is why you'll find him out in the Grove—the iconic U of M tailgating area—with the rest of the loyalists.

But serious tailgating is not for procrastinators. Game-day spectators claim spots for their tents starting as early as Friday morning, as tailgate HQs magically materialize overnight in preparation for the festivities, which can start as early as 7 a.m.

And no 12-hour day of pure sports adrenaline would be complete without the proper fuel. Enter Currence's recent book, Big Bad Breakfast, also the name of his breakfast joint. Depending on your morning affinities, a meal at the local favorite might mean ordering chorizo migas, a breakfast croque-monsieur with pit-smoked ham or slow-simmered pork posole (see the recipe).

A mug of Currence's soul-sticking stew is just what the doctor ordered on those chilly game-day mornings, a huge upgrade from vapid crudités platters and store-bought cookie cakes. Traditional posole calls for fresh hominy and boiling a pig's head for stock, but when resources are limited canned hominy more than does the trick, and no one will fault you for using just a hefty pork shoulder.

Now that your menu is set, here are five tips for scoring a touchdown with your spread before the game even begins.

1. One and Done

To cook for a tailgate is to cook for a crowd—there's no way around it. Large-format dishes (like one-pot posole) are your friend, as they make both prep and transportation much easier.

2. Earn Your Keep

Can't tell a first down from a touchdown? Take the helm when it comes to the cooking, and you'll be the life of the party. "I'm not the most social animal in the world," Currence admits, "so active cooking gives me something to do."

3. Heat of the Moment

You might see those Bunsen-fueled chafing trays at fancier tailgates, which can be used to reheat premade food, but for this dish, it pays to go the slow cooker route. The flavor gets better as it sits and stays just the right temperature no matter which inning quarter.

4. Stock Up

Currence is a whiskey guy, and, sure, it's a given to go hard on the beer, but there's no shame in throwing a bottle of Champagne and some OJ in the cooler for a few mimosas—this is breakfast after all. You'll also want to have plenty of ice-cold water on hand. Remember: You're in it for the long haul.

5. Keep It Simple

"It's gotten so challenging to get out and set up a tailgate now that you naturally want to simplify it," Currence says. But that doesn't mean limiting yourself to soggy chicken tenders. For Currence, there's only one food he won't allow at a tailgate, and that's cottage cheese. ("I don't think cottage cheese belongs anywhere. It's kind of an abomination," he says.) Pick foods you enjoy and that keep and pair well with your favorite brew, and go for it.