Joe Cahn just may have the perfect job. The self-proclaimed Commissioner of Tailgating spends his weekends partaking in the pregame scenes at professional and college football games around the country. He mingles with fans; he samples the fare; he studies how to host the perfect tailgate. The Louisiana-born Cahn once owned the New Orleans School of Cooking. Since selling the school in 1995, he’s traveled some 800,000 miles to more than 600 games. He’s been to every stadium in the National Football League and to many college stadiums too, including our very own Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge and Cajun Field in Lafayette.
You can keep up with the Commish and his travels by checking out his website. He spoke with us about tailgating tips and what makes Louisiana tailgates so unique.
Cahn's Take on Tailgating: “Tailgating is what I refer to as the new community social or the last great American neighborhood. It is where people get together, especially now that it’s growing and, I think, because there’s no place to talk with other people. We’re doing everything on the computer; we’re Facebooking and saying, ‘I want to be your friend.’ In Louisiana if you want to be my friend, feed me! What do ya’ got? Give me some of that crawfish over there. Give me a Ruston peach. Give me something that tastes good.”
On Louisiana Tailgating: “When you walk around Louisiana, you don’t have to have an invitation to go to the party. We always bring more than we need and cook more than we need. Number one: We’re used to cooking in big pots. Number two: We don’t know if we’re going to see friends we haven’t seen in a while or see friends we didn’t even know we had. We’re fortunate in Louisiana because in cold weather climates, tailgating and grilling stops with winter. We’re blessed with good weather. We’re used to basically partying year-round. Football season is just another reason to party.”
Menu Matters: “I know we can cook anything in a parking lot that we can cook at home, but to me the simpler you keep it, the better your experience is going to be. A hot dog with friends is better than a five-course meal with people you don’t like. Take a simple hot dog, a lowly hot dog that the kids love. Take a paring knife and score the name of whom you’re going to give the hot dog to. It personalizes the hot dog. It’s a simple thing to do, but it’s one of the greatest crowd pleasers I’ve ever seen.
“You shouldn’t be serving a plate with a fork and a knife. Serve something you can eat with one hand. If I’m doing hamburgers, I’m going to cut them up into quarters and toothpick them. It’s easier to serve. When I serve even a hot dog I’ll cut it into thirds. Instead of one kind of mustard, I’ll have four or five different mustards. I’ll serve three or four different salsas that people can try. It’s almost like having a taste test. We can try a lot of different things and get opinions that we’re not going to get at home.”
Tips from the Commish:
- “The teams have a game plan; we have to have a game plan. There’s a group in San Francisco I always admire that has a tailgating training camp. The people get together, go out to a venue and spend the weekend. They plan their menus and then assign the responsibilities.”
- “If you have a group, split up the responsibilities. Make sure the responsibilities are not only about bringing food and setting up, but also about breaking down and cleaning up.”
- “Be prepared. Have your non-perishables—plates, forks, spoons, everything you’re going to use—in a see-through plastic container. You won’t have to go searching for things.”
- “Have a checklist. At number one, at the top of the list, you should have tickets.”
- “Do all of your prep work at home. Don’t bring out a knife and cutting board. Cut everything, prep it at home, and put it in plastic bags.”
- “Know that food safety is very important, especially at the beginning of the season when you’re doing potato salads and things that can spoil. You’re leaving them out; it’s hot, it’s sunny and then people come after the game, they have a little to drink and go in to the potato salad. Learn how to throw things away for safety.”
- “Always bring extra aluminum foil or [containers] you can carry home or give away for people to take if there is leftover food.”
- “A simple first-aid kit and fire extinguisher are very important [to have at your tailgate].”
- “Show your colors. Most of the time people just put up a table. I found that a twin sheet in your team’s color fits exactly over a 6-foot table. You put it over it, it’s not going to blow away, and it’s a beautiful backdrop.”
- “Even for people who don’t like football, go to a tailgate. Get there early and park in a way so that when the game starts you can drive away. But tailgating is the best free cooking lesson in this country. Walk around with a note pad and just talk to people. How are you grilling that? How are you doing that? Did you marinate that? You will get more tips. Even if you don’t ever go into a game, you will start going to the tailgate because it is the community social.”
- “Clean up after yourself. Bring industrial garbage bags. Don’t bring these cheap trash bags. Get commercial ones. Pack extra ones. And try to recycle. Separate cans and plastic.”