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Honk if you (heart) Tailgating

Tales and recipes from the Parking Lot Gourmet

Tailgating in Texas is not just a casual, snacks-for-friends-only affair: These cooks often feed hundreds of fans. (Photo by Paul S. Howell)

By Robb Walsh

In the parking lot of Houston’s Reliant Stadium, a few hours before the Houston Texans played the Carolina Panthers, I witnessed a scene that forever changed my attitude about tailgating. My Sunday excursion to the stadium fell under the umbrella of “research” for my book The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook, and I hoped to find a few extra recipes that afternoon.

I expected to encounter some fanatical football fans drinking beer and ask them what they were cooking for lunch. What I actually discovered in the stadium parking lot that day looked like Woodstock on wheels with Weber grills. Just outside the stadium’s main gate, I climbed a ladder bolted on the side of a repurposed school bus to an observation deck on top so I could gain some sense of what I was in for. From that vantage point atop the bus, I was amazed to see thousands of smoky fires in all directions. And I could make out more white plumes rising from remote parking lots where other tailgaters were cooking, more than a mile away.

Houston Texans officials estimate that 30,000 people tailgate before the average home game. In a recent survey, 52 percent of Texans fans said they ate in the parking lot before the game. When the Texans play Monday Night Football at home, the crowd swells and the cooking gets even more serious. That’s when the turduckens and the whole hogs show up.

Why do these people do all this work? What’s the point of the elaborate rituals associated with tailgating? Rabid tailgaters will tell you it’s to create fan camaraderie and support the football team. But these motives hardly explain the massive undertaking that tailgating in Texas has become.

Grapefruit Chicken Fajitas

Makes 6 chicken fajita tacos

Sal Ramirez sat behind his pickup truck grilling chicken. He had marinated two boneless, skinless chicken breasts in red grapefruit juice and seasoned them with paprika and lemon pepper.

“You baste the chicken with more grapefruit juice while it’s on the grill,” he said as he demonstrated his technique. There were more grapefruit sections ready to garnish the finished chicken, which he served in slices over salad greens. “The grapefruit comes from a tree in my backyard,” Ramirez told me. He looked to be in his late sixties or early seventies, and he said he used the skinless chicken because he was watching his cholesterol.

  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 T. Mexican oregano powder
  • juice of 2 Texas Red grapefruits
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • Four 7-oz. chicken breasts, boneless,
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 warm flour tortillas
  • Texas Red Grapefruit Salsa (recipe follows)

Pound the chicken breasts flat between two sheets of plastic wrap. Combine the garlic, Mexican oregano, juice from one grapefruit, and olive oil in a mixing bowl. Add the chicken breasts to the mixture and marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Discard the marinade.

Heat the grill. Season the breasts with salt and pepper and grill over hot coals for 2 minutes on each side. Move the chicken to a cooler part of the grill. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes basting with the juice from the 2nd grapefruit until cooked through. Heat the tortillas on the grill, turning often. Transfer the chicken breasts to a cutting board and slice them into long strips. Place the chicken strips on a serving platter. Bring to the table (or tailgate) with the warm tortillas, grapefruit salsa, and other condiments such as chopped lettuce or black olives. Invite your guests to make their own fajita tacos.

Texas Red Grapefruit Salsa

Makes 2 cups

Try this tangy salsa on grilled chicken or fish.

  • 2 Texas Red grapefruits
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped fine
  • 1 c. diced green, red, and yellow bell pepper
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
  • 3 T. chopped red onion
  • 1 T. chopped fresh cilantro
  • Salt to taste

Remove the skin, seeds, and membrane from the grapefruit and dice the sections.  Combine with the other ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. Allow to mellow for half an hour in the refrigerator for the flavors to combine.

From the October 2010 issue.

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