In these neighborhoods, all the residents are friendly, sociable characters. They freely walk through their neighbors’ back yards because there are no privacy fences or vicious guard dogs. Neighbors happily offer food and drink to one another since there’s always enough to go around for anyone who stops by. The topic of conversation is not how much money their neighbors make or how they voted in the last election, but the love and passion they share for their “city.”
These are no fantasy burgs. They exist in parking lots, outside stadiums and at concert venues and racetracks across the country throughout the year. These are tailgates, and Joe Cahn, the self-proclaimed “Commissioner of Tailgating,” presides over them.
Now, the man who has traveled more than 500,000 miles to 123 colleges to explore the whirlwind world of tailgate parties is hosting a tasty new half-hour series on TLC, “Tailgate Takedown,” to find the country’s best tailgaters.
The show, which began airing on TLC this month and is scheduled to return before Super Bowl Sunday, stops at a different tailgate venue each week. Three teams of local tailgaters face off against one another in a spirited cooking competition. The teams of two have three hours to stir, chop and grill, creating their signature spreads. The prize? “Bragging rights” and $1,000.
Celebrity judges evaluate the teams and their creations on three factors: Taste, Presentation and what the show calls “Tailgate-ese,” the best representation of tailgating food and the tailgating spirit.
Cahn – who travels the country in his 2005 40-foot, Class A Country Coach with 175,000 miles on it – parked his rig long enough to talk with MotorHome magazine recently.
Cahn calls tailgates “the reception before the banquet,” in which people get up, walk around, and meet and chat with people while nibbling finger foods. Although “the Commissioner” is not one of the judges on “Tailgate Takedown,” he samples every competitor’s meal.
“I’m the professional eater,” Cahn says of his role on the show. “I stay out of shape year-round.”
But he does get his exercise. As each team is busy preparing their meals, Cahn strolls through the lot, chatting with other tailgaters, sampling their food and getting a peek inside their recreational vehicles. “It’s the new socialization of America,” Cahn says of tailgating.
When selecting contestants, the show looks for friendly people “with an interesting menu and a twist on an old product,” Cahn says. One example of such an entrée is a hamburger with bleu cheese on a bun made with tortillas.
“Tailgate Takedown” isn’t just an entertainment show. Since cooking is the centerpiece of the program, handy “Tailgating Tips” are presented. A recent show offered: “For a juicier bite, use beef sausage with pork casings.” And: “For better flavored ribs, soak hickory chips in water.”
On one recent show in Southern California, where hometown college rivals USC and UCLA were to face off, one team’s menu consisted of: “So-Cal Sausage With Trojan Slaw, Pac-10 Poppers and Deep Fried Sponge Cake.” No details were spared. The slaw contained cabbage as well as red and yellow bell peppers to represent the colors of USC.
Cahn discounts the portrayal of tailgaters as a bunch of guys drinking beer and eating brats. “I think what’s happening is tailgating crosses all spectrums now. They’re male and female, young and old. It crosses all demographics.”
So, too, has the tailgating fare been diverse. Among the most unusual meals he’s tried are grilled lion and bear; and Scrapple (browned pork parts with cornmeal baked in a loaf pan) topped with chocolate sauce. He admits his dislike for this dish.
Cahn, former spokesman for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), started RVing in 1996.
He spent that year visiting every stadium in the NFL in a 1996 Holiday Rambler. He put 225,000 miles on that vehicle, and later traveled in a Monaco and a Safari before purchasing his current RV, the Country Coach. Over 14 years, Cahn says, he has attended 500 tailgating events.
At a Dallas Cowboys tailgate recently, Cahn said he met a man who had just bought an RV for his family for the sole purpose of tailgating. Cahn said he urged the man: “Whatever you do, use it and don’t wait. Use it on the weekends. Go to a state park. Go to a campground, even if it’s only 10 miles away.”
Some people tell Cahn they buy an RV to use on special occasions. “Life is a special occasion,” he’ll tell them.
With college football season over, Cahn says “Tailgating Takedown” will next travel to NASCAR in February. There, he will no doubt find more creative food and make more new friends.
“In the parking lot, even the lowly hot dog on the grill tastes great. When you’re with friends, everything tastes great,” Cahn says, adding “You make friendships that last a lifetime.”