The 10 Best Tailgate Food and Drink Pairings

Which came first: tailgating or tailgating food? It’s all so chicken or egg. Sometime after man discovered fire, he discovered that chicken wings cooked with that flame sure taste great, especially alongside a mug of top-shelf primordial suds. And now, to make your weekends even more flavorful, we’ve corralled several experts to sort out superior pairings, along with helpful tips for taking the dishes up a notch. First one to try them all in one day… had better not be driving home.

Italian Subs with Allagash Dubbel “Boldly malty flavors from the dark Belgian style ale sing with the sandwich bread while contrasting against the tang of the red hots, raw onion and dressing,” says Greg Engert, the beer director at Washington D.C. eateries Birch & Barley and ChurchKey. “Meanwhile, there are aromas of plum fruit and clove dovetail with the flavors of the Capicola ham and Genoa salami.” TIP: Cash crunch? Replace the Italian sub with a simple Subway Cold Cut Trio and splurge on the ale, which will subtly strengthen your sandwich’s flavor.

Spice-Rubbed Baby Back Ribs with Sam Adams Octoberfest

“I love our slow-cooked baby back ribs that fall off the bone and have a little bit of kick, smoke and just enough sweetness to them,” says Scott Pajak, chef de cuisine at Lagasse’s Stadium in Las Vegas. “They’re always a touchdown, especially with a crisp Sam Adams Oktoberfest lager.”TIP: When you make your own BBQ ribs, wrap them tighter to prevent dryness. The ideal fit should be somewhere between a jacket and a woman’s corset. With the rub, don’t worry about overflavoring. You will need more spices, ketchup and brown sugar due to the size, and remember that flavor easily escapes during the long process.

Hot Dogs with a Beer Cocktail or Dale's Pale Ale

“What’s better or more iconic than the old fashioned hot dog?” asks Skyler Golden, chef de cuisine at the Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas. At the 1886 Café & Bakery, he pays homage to UT with the Longhorn Dog. “My favorite pairing is the Capitol Cure, an original ‘hop-tail’ at the Driskill bar. It starts with ginger infused Texas rum and yuzu juice, and then it’s topped off with Texas lager.” At home core, order some Williams-Sonoma yuzu and lemon juice, grate fresh ginger root directly onto the rum and finish with your favorite hearty beer. Or, in a pinch, Engert recommends Dale’s Pale Ale.TIP: The Longhorn Dog is a quarter-pound Niman Ranch sausage topped with onions caramelized in Texas’ famous Shiner Bock beer, Springdale Farms jalapeños and Redneck Cheddar cheese. You can order the sausage online, and it’s so worth it.

Sausage with Abita Jockamo IPA

“An ice-cold Abita Jockamo IPA in a chilled glass is the perfect amount of hoppiness to stand up to the bold, spicy flavors of andouille and boudin sausages,” declares David Slater, chef de cuisine at Emeril’s Restaurant in New Orleans. The surprise to Emeril’s Homemade Andouille and Boudin Sausages recipe is the whole grain mustard, his own Worcestershire sauce, beer-braised onions and Southern style cooked greens. TIP: To bring NOLA into your lunch menu, you can make your own Cajun sausages with this recipe by Food Network’s Sandra Lee, using sausages from Cajun Grocer and a bottle of Emeril’s Worcestershire sauce.

Brownies with Southern Tier Imperial Pumking

“For the sweet tooth, break out some delicious Pumking, perhaps the most complete pumpkin ale around,” says Engert. “This dessert in a glass adds whipped cream and sugar cookie nuances to the standard pumpkin pie character, and sipping this brew with a dense brownie adds even more.” TIP: To create unique chocolate brownies rather than your staple Betty Crockers, try a different dry chocolate mix, like dry chocolate Milo powder, Nestle Quik dry shake mix or hidden gourmet chocolate pieces crunched between the batter, provided by Las Vegas’ Ethel M Chocolates.

Mexican-style Corn with a Margarita

At the Driskill, walking outside the hotel’s vicinity inspires Golden: “Here in Austin, street food is part of the culture. It seems like at every street corner or empty parking lot, there is a gathering of food trucks and street vendors selling foods from around the world. For me, grilled Mexican street corn is one of those must-haves, especially if I have a well-made margarita.” TIP: Fancy your own big Tex-Mex corn? To do it like the Driskill, make yours with the Mexican cheese known as Queso Fresco fully melted down, plenty of fresh cilantro, organic Texas sweet potatoes and jalapeño cornbread. And if you’re man enough to ignore the jeers, treat yourself to a strawberry marg.

Cheeseburgers with Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA

Engert even thinks a hamburger could turn wild with the right ale: “Bold hop bitterness slices into the juicy meat, adding herbal hop nuance for seasoning, while the slightly caramelized malt backbone compliments the grilling of the burger, as well as the sweet, gooey cheese.” TIP: Try going across the pond for British cheddar with your burger to complement the authentic pub feel. A thick slice of it with caramelized onions is perfect for a flavor that won’t require as many sideshow attractions to taste good.

Potato Salad with Victory Prima Pils

“Creamy mayo-based salads demand a beer with brightness, and Prima Pils brings just enough clean hop character to cut into the richness without overwhelming,” notes Engert. “Balanced bready notes and floral aromatics link up with the sweet-herbed qualities of the salads as well.” TIP: For a twist, try your ale with homemade Ensalada Rusa, or “Russian salad,” a potato salad dish ironically from Argentina.

Spicy Asian Tacos with Tequila

“In Austin, you can find tacos filled with everything from chorizo, eggs and potatoes to Korean bulgogi and sambal chili paste,” says Golden. “I find that a shot… or two… of Reposado tequila is the perfect match to a spicy Asian taco. TIP: To perfect your Korean bulgolgi, visit a local Chinatown or Korean grocery store for the best meat cut. Season the taco with an authentic sauce from the import store. Don’t fear mixing Korean with Tex-Mex favorites like sour cream and Mexican cheeses. You won’t know what works best until you try everything.

Buffalo Wings with Sierra Nevada Kellerweis

“This Hefeweizen has the perfect wheat-driven effervescence to temper the spice of the wings, while the bright fruit and clove aromatics provide the perfect ranch-like counterpoint to the buffalo sauce,” Engert explains. TIP: Emeril’s Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas takes buffalo wings up a notch with his Creole-glazed Turkey wings. The restaurant’s chef de cuisine, Ronnie Rainwater, breaks it down: “For our game day menu, we’re serving up the Creole glazed turkey wings with bleu cheese foam and shaved carrots and celery. We confit the turkey wings first and then fry them. This dish is a take on the traditional chicken wing, but with a much larger flavor that takes the game into overdrive.”


This article was originally published on, owned by Defy Media. Defy Media closed the website in January 2019. I am thankful for my time spent with my interview subjects and the editorial staff. To keep the articles alive, I have republished everything on my website.