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Tailgating isn't just about scoring points by showing up with an awesome spread—though it might look that way to your friends. As they say, the best offense is a good defense, and you'll want to have your food safety plan in place before you show up with tubs of dip and mountains of hot dogs. These answers to your frequently asked tailgate questions will put you on the path to victory.
How do I get all this food from my house to the tailgate lot?
Containment and insulation are key when transporting both cooked food and grill-ready ingredients to your tailgate. Marinate chicken wings, brats, and other meats in zip-top bags, and pack in ice-filled coolers. Pre-form hamburger patties at home (where you can wash your hands), then layer between sheets of waxed paper before sealing in a zip-top bag. Keep all cold foods well-wrapped in ice-filled coolers until the moment you're ready to serve them.
For hot foods, the opposite applies—you want to keep everything above 140 degrees F for safe serving. Wrap casserole dishes in foil and transport in insulated containers, or bring the food in towel-wrapped Dutch ovens or ceramic Crock Pot inserts (ceramic and cast iron retain heat longer than aluminum or glass). Dutch ovens are also grill-safe for reheating. Don't have one? Transfer the food to disposable foil pans and reheat on the grill if necessary.
Bring latex gloves (you'll find them in the pharmacy section of your local megamart) for handling raw meat—it's much easier to toss a few pairs of gloves than to keep reaching for the hand sanitizer.
Oh, and bring a fire extinguisher, because you never know.
How will I know when these juicy sausages are cooked through?
Slicing into a sausage halfway through grilling and losing all those tasty juices? Party foul! A digital probe thermometer is easy to pack—many models are no larger than a ballpoint pen—and will make sure you're cooking everything to perfection. The FDA recommends cooking all burgers and pork products (sausage, ribs, brats, etc.) to 160 degrees F, and all chicken to 165 degrees F. Pre-moistened towelettes let you clean the thermometer between uses to prevent any transfer of bacteria.
How long can these chicken wings and potato salad stay on the buffet table?
Unless you're in for a marathon tailgate session, you're probably in the clear on timing. For perishable foods—like potato salad, pasta salad, your favorite French onion dip, hoagies, and anything you'd store in the fridge, as well as any hot foods—the USDA gives you a window of 2 hours to eat it all, or 1 hour if the temperature's over 90 degrees.
Foods that can be stored at room temperature, like chips and pre-baked cookies, can be left out of the coolers without a problem—though those chocolate chips might not make it through the afternoon.
How do I manage the grill situation when the tailgate's over?
You won't be able to do the dishes on site, but you can make the eventual task easier. Bring a sealable plastic bin filled with cool soapy water to soak any sauce-smeared serving plates and utensils while you're at the game. If you have a propane grill, disconnect the propane tank and leave it outside the vehicle until you return—never leave it inside your car. If you've been grilling with charcoal, close all the grill vents to make sure the coals are completely burned down. Fill the ash pan with water, and dispose of cool ashes in a metal container—never paper or plastic.