By Joe Kukura
The tires aren’t the only things smoking at a NASCAR race.
The barbecue grills, pits and meat smokers of the 100,000 race fans on hand form a rib cook-off and BBQ party that would be the envy of any major food festival. The parking lot, campgrounds and RV sections at any NASCAR event are food festivals in and of themselves, offering an endless tailgate scene with tens of thousands of makeshift kitchens, pop-up mess halls and weekend-warrior BBQ pit bosses.
And they are all trying to outdo each other.
The ethics of NASCAR tailgate parties is not to whip out a quick and easy sandwich, it’s to prepare the most sumptuous BBQ spread possible and impress your guests. If you’re not an experienced tailgater with a horizontal smoker already hitched to the back of your truck, let’s go over some NASCAR BBQ tips to help a beginner-level tailgater BBQ like a pro.
To smoke or to grill?
That really is the question, and many tailgaters will be embracing one, if not both, of these methods for cooking meat. For a novice griller, a simple BBQ grill like a Hibachi or a charcoal grill is a better way to get started. Charcoal grills are the easiest method, though some grillers will get ambitious and hook up a propane or gas grill. Gas grills require some knowledge of how to connect a propane tank, but you’ll be cooking a whole lot more quickly with a gas grill. Either way, you’ll be eating your meat sooner with a grill as opposed to a smoker.
Smoking meat is more a labor of love, an effort-intensive process requiring specialized equipment and hours of preparation. The slow-cooking effort pays off with meat that is far more flavorful and tender. Meat smokers often use wood chips as opposed to charcoal briquettes or gas, and those who smoke meat will always have elaborate theories on which types of wood smoke best for their meat. That said, there are some pretty ingenious methods of building a homemade smoker for your tailgate party, and you can smoke meat using a charcoal grill. Just be ready for a minimum of a four-hour commitment.
Traditional NASCAR BBQ dishes
So what’s cooking now that you’ve decided how to cook your meat? There’s more than just meat on the menu at a traditional NASCAR tailgate BBQ. Potato salads, baked beans, specialty coleslaw and a slew of easy tailgate side dishes can round out the non-meat menu offerings at your NASCAR extravaganza.
Meanwhile on the meat front, you can’t go wrong with the traditional tailgate standby items like grilled burgers, hot dogs and hot links, beef sirloins and steaks, and, of course, the granddaddy of all BBQ meat offerings, BBQ pork and ribs on your tailgate menu.
Not your traditional NASCAR BBQ dishes
Take your tailgate for a walk on the wild side with menu items you won’t find at neighboring tailgate parties. The website Alan’s Kitchen has an unbeatable list of NASCAR tailgate recipes and menu ideas that are wildly inventive but still perfect for refueling your belly. Even with a limited tailgating kitchen, you can still whip up nachos and appetizers, some devilish deviled egg recipes, tacos, burritos and fajitas, or even some gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that will go over like gangbusters at a tailgate.
Breakfast is often the forgotten meal in a marathon NASCAR tailgate weekend. Alan’s Kitchen also serves up a long list of tailgate breakfast dishes that are easy to slap together and contains a delicious variety of breakfast sandwiches, burritos and waffle-wiches.
It’s good to know the track’s policies in terms of what kind of tailgating gear you’re allowed to bring. The website Pit Crew Barbeque has a detailed list of each NASCAR track’s tailgating policies (including Dover’s) so you can check which items are allowed and what forms of camping are permitted. The list also has some gems of information, like the fact that Dover International Speedway has a luxury hotel and casino right next to the track!
NASCAR and BBQ are two of the greatest acronyms in the English language, and they go together perfectly. Make sure your tailgate party lives up to the high standards set by the diehard NASCAR fans and make the effort to ensure that a BBQ at NASCAR is a pit stop to remember.
Now that you have the skills to grill, bring them to the track when NASCAR returns to Dover International Speedway October 2 to 4. Visit www.doverspeedway.com for discounted ticket packages.