Tailgate parties – even upscale ones – are really picnics on wheels. They’re usually associated with sporting events, where parking lots become filled with aromatic smoke from portable barbecue grills. But you don’t need a game to tailgate – you just need the urge.

Tailgate parties – even upscale ones – are really picnics on wheels. They’re usually associated with sporting events, where parking lots become filled with aromatic smoke from portable barbecue grills. But you don’t need a game to tailgate – you just need the urge. 


With a little practice, tailgaters are so smooth they can make their parties seem impromptu. If you’re a veteran, you know the do-ahead dishes and the shortcuts. The grill practically jumps into the SUV or RV on command, and the cooler scoots out of its storage spot when you whistle.


You probably also have your own favorite recipes, but we’ve worked out a few upscale dishes that should fit into your plans.


 


RECIPES


High-Scoring Steak


4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar


¾ cup peanut oil


2 tablespoons soy sauce


3 tablespoons chopped onion


2 cloves garlic, chopped


4 steaks, 1-lb. each (use your favorite cuts and marinate as necessary)


Salt and black pepper


2 tablespoons cream cheese, divided into quarters


The night before your party: Mix balsamic vinegar, peanut oil, soy sauce, onion and garlic in a large sealable refrigerator bag. Add steaks, close bag and place in a glass dish in the refrigerator. Turn bag occasionally to make sure marinade reaches all meat surfaces.


If your steaks are very tender cuts, marinate for only a couple of hours; less tender meat can stay in this mixture overnight.


On the day of the party: Remove the steaks from the marinade. Wrap them in plastic wrap and place in your cooler.


Prepare to barbecue: Light coals. Make a hot area of a double layer of coals on one side, and a medium hot area with a single layer on the other. (If you have a gas grill, use high and medium settings.) The coals are ready when you can hold your hand over the hot side for 2 to 3 seconds, and over the medium side for 5 to 6 seconds. Oil the grill.


Salt and pepper the steaks on both sides. Set meat on the hot side to start. Using tongs, rotate meat to get crosshatch grill marks. Turn the meat over and repeat rotation. To finish cooking, move steaks to medium heat. 


When are steaks done? Make a loose fist; press the area just beneath your thumb. Now press your steak. If the firmness is approximately the same, the meat is in the “rare” range. If you prefer your meat well-done, cook it until it’s about as firm as the flesh beneath your thumb when you make a hard fist.


Remove meat to a platter. In the center of each steak, cut a shallow pocket about ¾ inch long. Into each pocket, insert ½ tablespoon cream cheese. Serves 4 adults.


Trophy Green Beans


20 ounces fresh green beans, washed and trimmed


2 tablespoons soy sauce


2 tablespoons peanut oil


3 tablespoons raw bacon, chopped fine


Salt and pepper to taste


The night before your party: Line a roasting pan with aluminum foil. Set your oven at 400 degrees. Toss beans with soy sauce and peanut oil, and place beans in roasting pan. Sprinkle raw bacon over beans. Roast for about 15 minutes. Stir beans and bacon, and continue cooking until bacon is cooked and beans are tender, about 5 to 10 more minutes. Remove from oven, let cool and store in the refrigerator.


On the day of the party: Transport beans in your cooler. When steaks go on the grill, place beans in a metal pan alongside them to reheat. Serves 4.


Prize Fruit Salad


¾ cup papaya balls


¾ cup mango cubes


1 cup pineapple chunks


1 cup mandarin orange sections


6 tablespoons macadamia nuts


4 tablespoons sour cream


4 large iceberg lettuce leaves (optional) to use as serving cups


The night before the party: Combine papaya, mango, pineapple, mandarin oranges and macadamia nuts. Gently stir in sour cream. Cover and refrigerate.


On the day of the party: Transport salad in your cooler. Set lettuce leaves in four small bowls and scoop salad into each one. Serves 4.


Sinful Angel Food Cake


24 large ripe strawberries, leaves removed, berries washed and sliced


1½ tablespoons granulated sugar


7 ounces semisweet chocolate, such as Callebaut or Valrhona, chopped


1 cup heavy whipping cream


7-inch angel food cake


The night before the party: Place sliced strawberries in a glass or stainless steel mixing bowl. Stir in sugar. Cover and refrigerate overnight.


On the day of the party: Make ganache. Place chopped chocolate in small stainless steel mixing bowl. Bring cream to a low boil. Pour it over the chocolate; let mixture sit until chocolate melts. Beat with a hand mixer until completely smooth. Let cool. Place in a container and pack, unrefrigerated, with your party food.


To serve, use a serrated knife to slice angel food cake. Drizzle ganache onto each dessert plate; lay a wedge of cake on the chocolate, then spoon a bit more ganache on top and ladle on strawberries. (Leftovers – if there are any – can be brought home and refrigerated. The ganache will firm up when chilled.) Serves 8.


 


SIDEBAR: Tips to make your party sparkle


Keep the group to an enjoyable size and mix of different people. If you like big parties, invite a crowd and set up a convoy. But remember: This is an election year, so take care with your invitation list or be prepared to referee in case conversations become heated.


Adults only or kids, too? Grown-ups might choose to include alcohol on their menu, so have each car choose a designated driver before the drinking starts. If you’ve invited the grandchildren, it’ll give their parents a day off, but be sure everyone knows the pickup and drop-off times. And remember to ask for sweaters, spare underwear, favorite games and medicines for allergies or asthma.


Lists make life easier. You might have to cop to being a perfectionist or a list freak, but your party will be the one with plenty of sunblock, extra-large garbage bags, spare batteries, enough Band-Aids and bug repellent.


Divide duties to conquer frustration. If one person plans the menu, does the shopping and packs the food, someone else should gather the grill, charcoal, utensils, deck chairs, and other equipment. You might enjoy a TV set, a videocamera and, depending on where you plan to party, maybe badminton or croquet. Do as many chores and as much packing as possible the night before so your party day can be stress-free and fun from the beginning.