Food photographer Taylor Mathis has spent the last three football seasons right in the thick of all the rivalry and school spirit, but he's only been to one game. Instead of watching college athletes toss around the pigskin, Mathis joins tailgaters in eating pig skin. And gumbo. And ribs. And just about anything else you can imagine cooking out of a tricked out trailer during a tailgate. Mathis has tried it all.
He started a food blog in 2010 and shortly thereafter decided to set off on a tailgating tour and write about it. The result of visiting tailgates at 35 college games over the course of three years is The Southern Tailgating Cookbook: A Game-Day Guide for Lovers of Food, Football, and the South. On Tuesday, September 17, Mathis will be at Brazos Bookstore at 7 p.m. to sign copies of the cookbook and do a few readings.
We caught up with Mathis to ask a few questions about the process of attending so many tailgates and gathering recipes for everything from a seafood boil with fresh crabs from Lake Pontchartrain at LSU to deep fried cookie dough from the Texas State Fair.
Mathis' mother, Sally James, is a recipe developer with a background in catering, so the two worked together to create and photograph the perfect dishes for the cookbook. James took the information and photos that Mathis brought to her from tailgates across the country and tested recipes in her backyard using resources similar to what one might have at a tailgate.
In the cookbook, Mathis notes that tailgaters often like to use local ingredients to further display their hometown pride. Fishermen will bring in fresh catches to grill or put in a seafood boil, and hunters like to display their skills with a spread of local meat. Mathis was also interested in the way local cuisine changes from state to state and school to school, even though he stuck to the south the entire time.
"One thing I learned through this tour of 35 schools is it doesn't matter the size of the school," Mathis says. "As long as you have passionate fans, there's going to be good tailgaiting. Size doesn't matter."
The cookbook also includes sections on tailgate traditions like game-day greetings and southern game day attire. He notes that fans wearing bow ties or sundresses with high heels is something you only see here in the South.
Though tailgaters generally dress in school colors, they're able to set themselves apart from the crowd with some of the insane rigs they use to cook up delicious meals away from the kitchen.
"There are people who have custom trailers with a kitchen built on top of them," Mathis says. "There was an LSU guy who made a smoker and grill out of a keg. There are people with the huge black smokers that almost look like submarines, and one guy painted it like a spaceship. And then you open it up, and there's a pork butt."
Mathis maintains that he doesn't have a favorite tailgating spot ("I can't choose just one!"), but he does have a list of the top five things he suggests people do at colleges throughout the south.
- Take a boat ride to the game in Tennessee. You can tailgate on a boat, and because you're on a boat in the river, there's no traffic. And it's gorgeous in the fall.
- See the Texas/Oklahoma game. It's really cool 'cause it's on the grounds of the state fair in Texas. And the passion between those two schools is really cool to see.
- Go see a tent city, whether it be The Grove at Ole Miss or the Quad at Alabama. As soon as the space opens, people with tents come sprinting in. Some tent cities cover more than 10 acres.
- At the University of Kentucky in the fall they also have horse races. Any night game is at 7 p.m., so you can tailgate for the horse races, which are around 1 p.m., and then keep tailgating for the football game.
- If you like Cajun food, go to LSU. A game day there involves giant vats of gumbo and jambalaya and sometimes alligator meat.
Mathis hasn't yet been to a Texans tailgate because he tends to stick to college games, but he says he does appreciate the atmosphere surrounding tailgating in Texas.
"I love Texas!" Mathis says. "The state fair is a lot of fun. You can get anything on a stick! Definitely if you like beef, there's a lot of that. When I'm in Texas, I love getting brisket and Tex Mex when I'm tailgating."
Though Mathis will be passing through our fair city two days after the first home game of the season against the Titans, we hope he'll return some time and check out tailgating Houston-style. We've got some chicken-fried pork ribs with your name on them, Taylor!
Check out a sample recipe for deep fried cookie dough from the Texas State Fair on the next page.
From bacon to butter, if it can be battered, it will be deep-fried and served at the state fair. Texas and Oklahoma fans might disagree about which team to cheer for, but I saw both sides enjoying fried desserts before kickoff of the Red River Rivalry. Of all the fried foods, my favorite is fried cookie dough. This eggless cookie dough is ideal for eating unbaked. Making the dough and rolling it into balls ahead of time will allow you to quickly fry it up on-site. There's a bit of technique you'll need to develop to coat the dough fully in the wash and dredge, so I recommend trying this recipe out at home before taking it to your tailgate.
Makes 8 servings
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
- 1/4 cup chocolate chips
- 1 cup milk
- 1 egg
- 1 1/4 cups self-rising flour
- 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
- Peanut oil for frying
- Confectioners' sugar and chocolate syrup for garnish
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Make the dough the night before the tailgate. In a small bowl, mix together the flour and salt. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars. While mixing, add the vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon of the oil. Continue mixing the dough while slowly adding the flour mixture. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Mix in the chocolate chips. Remove the dough from the bowl and form into 8 evenly sized balls. Store in a sealable container and refrigerate overnight. In a separate sealable container, add the milk and egg and refrigerate overnight. In an additional sealable container, add the flour and confectioners' sugar. Transport the refrigerated containers in a cooler to your tailgate.
When you're ready to fry the cookie dough, stir the milk mixture, then dip the cookie dough in it. Roll it in the flour mixture, dip it back into the milk mixture, and then roll it in the flour mixture again. Repeat this process a total of 3 times, until a thick coating has formed around the dough. Make sure the dough is entirely coated.
Fill a Dutch oven 2/3 of the way full with oil and heat over a propane burner to 365°. Fry the battered balls of cookie dough for 1 1/2-2 minutes until golden brown on the outside. Remove from the oil and drain on paper bags. Serve the Deep-Fried Cookie Dough with confectioners' sugar and your favorite chocolate syrup.
From The Southern Tailgating Cookbook: A Game-day Guide for Lovers of Food, Football and the South by Taylor Mathis. Text and photographs copyright © 2013 by Jeffrey Taylor Mathis. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press.