Food & Drink

Elevate your tailgate: Recipes for pro-caliber food you can cook in a parking lot

Charred long hots, tomatoes and onions on the grill at Suraya on Monday, Sept. 25, 2018, in Philadelphia, Pa. (Jessica Griffin/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)
Charred long hots, tomatoes and onions on the grill at Suraya on Monday, Sept. 25, 2018, in Philadelphia, Pa. (Jessica Griffin/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)
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PHILADELPHIA — Just because you’re hanging out in a parking lot doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy professional-caliber food while you’re waiting for the game to start. A few of Philly’s chefs recently offered their ideas.

At Suraya, Fishtown’s Lebanese restaurant, chef/owner Nick Kennedy cooks every day over an open bed of coals that could be replicated in a small grill outside the Linc. For a do-it-yourself version of his kafta kebabs, he suggested mixing ground beef with parsley, cumin, and other spices that give it a warm, savory flavor. He recommended forming the kebabs the night before. It helps the meat set better, he said, plus it takes most of the work out of game day.

“Don’t overcomplicate it,” he said. “Otherwise, you won’t be able to enjoy yourself while you’re doing it.”

He accompanied the skewers with onions, tomatoes, and spicy long hot peppers, throwing the onions in their skins right on the coals for eight to 10 minutes until they’re charred black on the outside. Give them another few minutes to rest, then peel off the black layer, and they’re sweet and juicy inside.

Placed close to the fire, the long hots should get a good char after only about four minutes. Kennedy slices the tomatoes in half, adds a sprinkling of salt, and cooks them face-down for four to six minutes, as close to the flame as possible. “You want to get them really charred and hot, so they explode with juices when you eat it,” he said.

The meat cooks in just a few minutes, he said, depending on the size of the skewer, and is ready after a couple more minutes of resting.

Kennedy suggested finishing it all with a little olive oil and sea salt, drizzling it with the runoff juices from the vegetables, and serving it with hummus and pita. Vegetarians can leave out the meat and put the veggies together for a sandwich.

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Jim Burke, the chef at Yards Brewing Co., said the brewery’s popular Philly-style wings can be easily adapted for game day.

The wings are tossed in a buffalo sauce made with garlic, vinegar, jalapenos, and long hots that give it a pale green color as well as a tangy, spicy flavor.

“We basically just asked ourselves, how can we make it more Philly?” Burke said. “Anywhere we could, we wanted to add local traditions.”

Experienced grillmasters might consider cooking the wings entirely over a charcoal grill, starting them on the cooler side of the grill and gradually moving them toward the hottest area. But for a simpler approach, the wings can be prebaked at home in the oven, then finished on the grill for game day. Cook until the skin crisps up and the meat inside is juicy.

Once done, they are tossed with salt and the green sauce, just enough to coat them lightly. The heat in the sauce can be offset by some cool blue cheese dipping sauce.

Sushi chef Jesse Ito of Queen Village’s Royal Sushi & Izakaya recently added a special to his nightly offerings that he said is approachable enough for a tailgater in search of something new. Beef negimaki, or beef and scallion rolls, can be prepared the night before by pounding thin sirloin or another type of steak, slicing it, rolling it up around crunchy scallions and mushrooms, then spearing it on skewers for cooking.

“Anyone can make a hibachi out of a grill,” he said. “And if you can cook a steak, you can cook this.”

Sliced into bite-size rolls, the result is a salty, addictive snack. The vegetables give it crunch, and Ito recommends a drizzling of chicken tare, a Japanese dipping sauce, for a touch of sweetness.

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At DiNic’s in Reading Terminal Market, there’s more than just the famous roast pork sandwich on the menu. But it can be a challenge to get people to try other things, said owner Joe Nicolosi. The pulled pork is best for a tailgating party, he said, because like the best tailgating food, it can be prepped ahead of time, then finished in a slow cooker that lets the flavors deepen for hours.

To get it ready for the slow cooker, he suggested seasoning a boneless pork butt with salt and pepper and stuffing herbs like rosemary, fennel, and garlic into the crevices. He recommended cooking the meat in a 450-degree oven for half an hour — or searing it — then caramelizing onions with fresh garlic and setting it all aside until it’s time to leave. It all goes into the slow cooker with water and perhaps a cup of wine.

When it’s done, Nicolosi advised serving it on a roll from Sarcone’s, layering salty provolone cheese on the bottom so it melts and laying long hots on top — red ones, sweeter than the green. He likes to pour some of the cooking juices on top for extra flavor; chefs with immersion blenders might find the sauce’s thickness improves from some blending as a last step, he said.

“The pork basically needs to be falling apart, no resistance at all when you touch it with a fork,” he said. “You can’t really overcook it — it just gets more tender.”

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