The new football season has at least this much in common with the just-concluded Olympic games: Both signaled their start with fire — at Beijing with the lighting of a giant cauldron, here, in a thousand parking lots with the flame of countless grills.
Food and sport are married in America like nowhere else, and nothing shows off that relationship so well as the tailgate parties that surround stadiums coast-to-coast this time of year.
Many of those fiery feasts are fueled, in more ways than one, by beer.
Perhaps in no other environment is beer so frequently used as a cooking ingredient as it is within hearing distance of stadium PA announcers. Of course, gameday chefs and diners may wind up drinking a few brews, too.
The National Beer Wholesalers Association offers at its Web site, http://www.nbwa.org, a number of recipes that involve beer as part of batters, marinades, glazes and sauces. They include, just to get you drooling, porter-glazed grilled sausages, pork skewers with pilsner and spices, stout-marinated sirloin steaks, even a sweet-and-sour potato salad made with bock.
Of course, some of these concoctions can get a little complicated to carry off miles from the comfort of one's kitchen, using the back end of a Chevy step-side as a countertop. Tailgate food is best when kept simple.
And it really doesn't get any easier than two old standbys, classic centerpieces of the moveable football feast: beer-can chicken and beer-bath bratwurst.
The brats can't be beat for flavor or simplicity. Grill the sausages over medium heat for five to 10 minutes, then add them to a stockpot or skillet (you'll need a side burner or extra grill space) filled with already-boiling beer and sliced onions and peppers. Cook another 20 minutes, then serve 'em on yeasty rolls with spicy mustard.
The first step in making beer-can chicken is my favorite: drink half a beer. Next, choose a dry seasoning for your bird and dump a tablespoon or so of it in the can. Then coat the outside of a whole fryer with your seasoning. Carefully insert the can, open-end-up, into the bird's nether regions, then carefully arrange your chicken on the grill, standing upright.
A little bit of extra technology can make the process easier: packing rubber gloves in your tailgate kit makes it much less disgusting to apply the dry rub on-site; a simple wire rack available for about $5 just about anywhere helps to hold the bird upright and the can in place on the grill; a nifty device called the Poultry Pal ($14.95 at beercanchicken.com) holds the bird up even better, helps keep it from burning, and allows you to use your favorite brew, even if it's bottled.
Cook your chicken over low to medium heat until done. That normally takes at least a couple hours, so unless you get the timing right you could miss the kickoff.
Then again, the chicken should be so juicy and tender, you might not really care.