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Super Bowl XLVIII tailgating: Tips for a spread without the flame

It may be the greatest loss in Super Bowl history.

Ever since Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans, which took place just five months after the 9/11 attacks and was designated a National Special Security Event by the Department of Homeland Security, football fans attending the big game have had their stadium tailgating options severely limited. No open flames. No charcoal grills. No use of propane or other gas tanks. No taking up multiple parking spaces to lay out a spread that could feed the 53-man rosters of both the Giants and Jets.

For some, it means no more fun and no more tradition on what has always been one of the biggest food days in the country — Super Bowl Sunday. And for those who take the day’s food just as seriously as the game, it means a whole lot more.

“You’re losing the smell of smoke in the air, you’re losing the visual power of seeing a big piece of meat cooking over an open flame,” says chef Bradford Thompson, whose tailgate parties prior to Giants games at MetLife Stadium have become legendary. “I think that’s a loss because as a chef, your visual, your smell… people start showing up that you don’t know, they come over… ‘What are you guys doing?’ They see smoke, they smell something different. So there’s an anticipation, sitting in the cold parking lot drinking a beer, waiting for the pork to be done or waiting for the steak to come off. The anticipation builds.

“Seeing people manipulate a fire, and turning the meat and seasoning it and waiting for it to rest and slicing it — there’s a lot of drama in that, and you lose that. And there is just the primal activity of eating a meal that’s cooked over a fire in a parking lot. It’s just a guy thing. It’s a communal thing. It feels different. You’re not at home eating a steak. You’re in a parking lot, eating with your fingers, sitting on a milk crate maybe. It’s just an experience that rounds out the day of eating and watching football. It’s part of the whole experience.”

Those days may be over but fans lucky enough to be going to Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium next Sunday can still enjoy a pregame filled with food and fun. When the NFL’s Super Bowl tailgating guidelines were reported last month, it was widely assumed that the activity was being banned altogether. Not so.

Ticket holders are still allowed to sit outside their cars and eat, as long as they do so within the boundaries of a single spot. Most importantly, cooking outside the stadium is still “fine,” according to league spokesperson Brian McCarthy, as long as it’s done without the use of the aforementioned banned items.

So how can one cook a traditional tailgate meal without the use of fire, charcoal or gas? The Daily News wanted to come up with a plan for those who may want to give it a shot, so we consulted with Thompson — who trained under renowned chef Daniel Boulud and now serves as, among other things, a chef consultant — as well as Roger Gonzalez, the camping and survival department head at Campmor, a massive outdoor equipment retailer in Paramus, N.J.

One of Bradford Thompson's tips is to make a soup to stay warm.

Provided by Bradford Thompson & 16F/D2 Big Blue Tailgatin’ Crew

One of Bradford Thompson’s tips is to make a soup to stay warm.


Before we get into the details, here are two of the biggest keys that both experts advised: Keep things simple and do as much work as possible before heading to the stadium.

Sounds like a game plan for a Super Bowl champion!


Gonzalez scratched his head a bit when told of the bans on fire, charcoal and gas. But he knew exactly where to turn when he found out that equipment that runs off electricity is perfectly fine.

Broil King Griddle - $  100.99

Broil King Griddle – $ 100.99


Heading toward the back of the store, passing some pretty impressive gas and charcoal grills along the way, Gonzalez recommended the Coleman 40-quart Powerchill Hot/Cold Thermoelectric Cooler. Notice the word ‘hot’ in the name. While we’re guessing it’s most often used by football fans to keep certain beverages cold, it can also keep a pre-cooked meal hot.

It plugs into a traditional outlet so a simple, inexpensive 110-volt adapter allows it to be plugged into a car’s power source (some newer cars even have regular outlets built into them). Those less daring would be able to cook their tailgate meal at home and transport it to MetLife in this. It has five racks in it and can be stood up like a shelf or placed on its back like a tub.

“This would be something that you can put a few pans of food in, stack ‘em up in there,” Gonzalez says. “It’s not gonna cook something but if it’s hot it’ll keep it hot. So think of it kind of like the bag that the pizza guy uses, but on steroids because it can plug into your car. Cook your stuff at home, plug it in, let it get warmed up while you’re packing up your stuff, put your trays in there and it’s gonna maintain that temperature.”

Want to keep your pre-cooked food hot but don’t want to shell out about $ 130 for this? Gonzalez points out that while traditional coolers are most commonly used for that — cooling — they can also easily keep food warm. He says to fill one up with hot water to heat the inside and then poor the water out before putting your trays of food in. Then, keep the lid tightly sealed and let the heat coming off the hot food do the rest of the work. Another trick is to place a hot microwaveable heat pack on top of the food before closing the lid.

Hot/Cold Thermoelectric Cooler - $  134.99

Hot/Cold Thermoelectric Cooler – $ 134.99


For the more adventurous tailgaters, Gonzalez and Thompson both highly recommend electric skillets and pancake griddles. Both can be used to either cook a meal from scratch or keep a meal warm, depending on the temperature setting. “You think more pancakes when you think that but that’s gonna be a nice, hot, flat surface,” says Gonzalez.

Croc pots — which we’ve made some pretty tasty pulled pork in — will also come in handy for this monumental event. One word of warning from Gonzalez when it comes to keeping these appliances powered up in the parking lot: “Things that have a heating element in them do draw a considerable amount of electricity.” So either keep the car running or start it up periodically to ease the burden on the battery.


The hot/cold cooler means you can make virtually any hot meal at home and transport it to the stadium. But those looking for something closer to the traditional game-day tailgating experience will want to cook on-site. Thompson has tons of experience here because not only is he a professional chef, but he’s also a loyal fan of the Giants who’s been partying in the parking lot since 1998.

Car Power Inverter - $  18.78

Car Power Inverter – $ 18.78


He started out with some food industry buddies cooking — believe it or not — hot dogs on game days. Now he’s host of what has to be one of the most elaborate tailgate parties in the league, utilizing multiple grills, an open fire pit, a deep fryer, a generator, a wind shield and a shopping cart to make hot pretzels in.

“It’s insanity,” he admits.

Next week will have to be more tame than that but Thompson is confident a delicious meal can be made while following the NFL’s strict rules.

He is a big believer in starting it all off with some soup, which may in fact be the way to go for the NFL’s first cold-weather Super Bowl. When temperatures drop during the season, Thompson brings along some pump pot coffee dispensers filled with simple broths that can be poured into cups or bowls filled with pre-cooked vegetables or dumplings.

CrockPot - $  39.99

CrockPot – $ 39.99


“You can be creative with that,” Thompson says. “You can do minestrone, you can do Asian broth and dumplings. You can do tomato soup and make grill cheese on the griddle. I think soup is a necessity, to start everyone off with something warm or hot and it warms them up inside and gets everyone hungry.”

Here’s where things have to get scaled back a bit. While Thompson usually has large amounts of uncooked meats — beef, pork, chicken — delivered to his parties in a refrigerated truck, he recommends picking up a few bags of shredded barbecued meat to stuff inside quesadillas.

Mixed with some shredded cheese and pre-cooked vegetables, quesadillas fall in line with the meals that provide “carbohydrates and proteins and things that are dense and filling” that Thompson recommends for an outdoor occasion like this.

More expert advice from Thompson: Don’t be afraid to use a heavy hand when it comes to spices, including chilis. Adding more flavor is a way to compensate for a lack of heat.

Grilling at MetLife Stadium for the Super Bowl won't be the same as for a regular-season game.

Andrew Theodorakis/New York Daily News

Grilling at MetLife Stadium for the Super Bowl won’t be the same as for a regular-season game.


“Over-season a little bit and add spices to it and that will help your pallet warm up and it warms you up from the inside and it tastes better,” Thompson says. “Quesadillas are always very popular and you can be really creative with them. They cook nicely on those pancake griddles. A little bit of spray and you have cheese and meat and vegetables inside and you can make those all day long and serve them with guacamole and salsa and different dipping sauces and you can fill people up with them.”

The electric skillet will come in handy for heating up either barbecued chicken or pulled pork, says Thompson. The meat tends to caramelize in them, adding even more texture and bringing out the flavors.
An even simpler option is making a nice pulled pork the day before the game and bringing it to the stadium in a croc pot that can be plugged in. Warm up the buns on the griddle and serve it with some cold coleslaw.

“If you were able to do soup and a quesadilla and pulled pork, it’s a pretty good menu, and you supplement it with a chopped vegetable salad, hummus, guacamole, different stuff like that,” says Thompson, who founded Bellyfull Consulting and uses his culinary skills to help several charitable foundations.

Two other uses for the croc pot that Thompson recommends: Fill it with some rice and then throw some well-seasoned shrimp on the griddle before serving them together. Or, make chili ahead of time and use the croc pot to keep it hot.

Tailgating without the use of fire, charcoal or gas may sound kind of bland, but take it from a pro like Thompson — it doesn’t have to be.

“I’ve actually done a lot of catering off of pancake griddles and those plug-in skillets,” he says. “For a small group, you have to do some cooking ahead of time but it works fairly well. For a group of six to eight people, yes, you can do it.

“You’re not doing a whole shell steak or a baby pig or a roasted chicken,” Thompson says, “but it can be done.”


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