Chef Alex Guarnaschelli’s Tips for Hosting a Stress-free Tailgate

Chef Alex Guarnaschelli's Tailgating Tips
 Neilson Barnard / Getty Images

So it’s only the second quarter and your team is already down by two touchdowns—and counting. Things aren’t looking good from the get-go, and your stress levels have skyrocketed from zero to 100 in a matter of just two interceptions.

With enough happening on the field to get you fired up, the last thing you want to worry about is your tailgate. Between the food, the drinks, and keeping your old college roommate Dave from tossing back one too many, there’s plenty to keep you occupied—especially if you’re hosting. But throwing a game-day get-together, whether it’s in the stadium parking lot or your living room, doesn’t have to be an anxiety-inducing nightmare—if you know how to stock your kitchen and properly meal-prep.

Here to show you a thing or two about throwing down the ultimate tailgate spread is Alex Guaranschelli. She’s not only the executive chef of NYC restaurant Butter, an Iron Chef, and a Chopped judge, but also a life-long New York Giants fan with what we might describe as a healthy, uh, sense of competition against the New England Patriots. Regardless of your team allegiance—sorry, Bostonians—she’s still a damn good source of information in our book.

This year, Guarnaschelli, along with a slew of other notable chefs, worked with Taste of the NFL (a nonprofit organization that raises awareness and money for hunger relief and encourages fans to donate to their favorite NFL team’s local food bank through their Kick Hunger Challenge) to bring you a batch of mouthwatering tailgate dishes and pro-level secrets for getting through game day stress-free.

Here are a few of chef Guarnaschelli’s tips and tricks for hosting the ultimate tailgate.

1. Make certain things ahead of time

You don’t want to be overwhelmed with a long to-do list when you have people over, so Guarnaschelli recommends to “definitely marinate and slow cook” dishes like ribs or chicken wings “to just reheat and/or glaze at the game”. But when deciding what to make ahead of time, be sure to choose “things that marinate well and improve when made in advance,” like a potato salad or pickled cucumbers.

2. Invest in the right equipment

There are just three (actually very simple) things that Guarnaschelli always has on hand at her tailgate: “A grill, an obscenely big cooler, and a fun beverage holder for mixing large batches of drinks.” Yes, it really is as simple as that.

3. Stock your fridge (or cooler) with a variety of drinks, including a nonalcoholic option

During the game, Guarnaschelli usually finds herself drinking white wine or lemonade (it’s always important to have at least one option—besides water—for anyone not drinking booze), but she always makes sure to “buy different beers for friends” and have it stocked in the fridge or cooler.

4. It’s not all about the meat

At most tailgates, “there’s always so much meat,” so it’s the vegetables that make Guarnaschelli happy. For a quick veggie dish, try whipping up her grilled tomato salad or these cauliflower steaks with white beans.

5. Lighten up recipes with these simple swaps

It’s no secret that plenty of tailgating food can wreak havoc on a fit physique, but with a few clever swaps you can turn a classic, calorie-packed indulgence into a guilt-free staple. For potato salad, Guarnaschelli recommends substituting “roasted root vegetables for potatoes and lemon, and olive oil for the mayonnaise”. For something like a rib glaze, you can “use beet juice reduced in the sauce in place of the sugar”. And for a classic like macaroni salad, she suggests using “gluten-free pasta and light homemade mayonnaise“.