Tailgating at Miller Park
It’s not just beer and brats
There isn’t a city in the country that tailgates with the unrelenting loyalty and passion of Milwaukee and its Brewers fans. Devoted parishioners of the almighty Church of Baseball regard tailgating as a rite of passage, where the uninitiated are prohibited from calling Milwaukee home until they have knelt before a tailgate at Miller Park.
With a high-profile gig sharing tailgating tips during Brewers and Bucks broadcasts on Fox Sports Net, chef Jerry Garcia has gained the notoriety of a televangelist. His celebrity has made it nearly impossible for him to walk across the parking lot to catch a game at Miller Park without stopping for the proud tailgate chefs who flock to him with their food in hand. Garcia is currently filming new episodes for the start of the Brewers’ season. This year Garcia and the executive chef of Johnsonville Brats will be hitting the road for the Brewers’ away-games to shoot some live tailgating shows, complete with grilling contests. Garcia took a breather from Hotel Metro’s bustling kitchen, where he works as head chef, to dispense some tailgating tips to Shepherd Express readers.
Why do you think tailgating is so popular?
Number one is the nostalgia of being at a baseball game and having fun with your friends. And what better way to do it than with food? The beauty of grilling, especially in a tailgate atmosphere, is that the grill is universal—you can use it to bake, smoke, roast, braise and grill food. It’s an open flame, which makes it really versatile. People are realizing that they don’t have to do burgers and steaks all the time.
What are some of your favorite foods to cook at a tailgate party?
I like to do steak kabobs and fresh fish on the grill. I like to take salmon, grill it off and then wrap it in foil and bake it the rest of the way, which keeps the fish from drying out. Basically when you put the cover on the grill, it has the qualities of an oven. Same thing with braising; you can get a lamb shank, grill it off and then put it in a pan with liquid and cover it with foil. You put the cover on the grill and let it roast for hours. If you do it over charcoal, you get a really nice smoked flavor.
Do you prefer one style of grill to another?
A lot of people are using gas grills these days. They’re easier to transport, you don’t have to cool them down as long, you don’t have to worry about ashes and coal and they’re much cheaper in the long run. Gas and charcoal differ a little bit in that charcoal gives it a smokier flavor; though people are starting to supplement gas grills with wood chips, like mesquite. I’ve also started to see a lot of people using camp grills that have a little butane flame and a little rack.
How do you suggest people prepare for a tailgate party?
First of all, plan out what you’re going to be cooking. Figure out how many people are with you and always prepare more. Write it down and do the shopping from there. Always think about what steps you can avoid doing at the ballpark and prepare everything you can ahead of time. The last thing you want to do is food preparation, which involves a lot of time, when you’re drinking beer. If the game’s at 1 p.m., I would suggest getting there at 9 a.m. The earlier the better, what with traffic, meeting up with friends, setting up your area, getting the grill going, grilling the food, having a good time, then breaking everything down and putting it in your car. You have to remember that food is just one part of the day. It’s another implement to add to the experience of going to a baseball game.