COOKBOOK REVIEW: Up your tailgate game at home

"Tailgreat: How to Crush it at Tailgating" by John Currence (Ten Speed, $28)

Portable Spreads for Any Occasion: “Tailgreat: How to Crush It at Tailgating” by John Currence (Ten Speed Press, $28)

You don’t have to be a sports fan to understand why tailgate parties are such a big deal, especially here in the gregarious, football-loving South. They are a chance for you and your fellow fans to root for your team before and after the game with epic food spreads and bottomless spiked drinks — what’s not to love?

Nor do you have to be a tailgater to appreciate John Currence’s “Tailgreat: How to Crush It at Tailgating” (Ten Speed Press, $28), whose release falls in the midst of a pandemic that’s bringing beloved rituals such as these to a halt.

This has not, however, stopped me from charging straight to the recipes. Chili and Lime Pasta Salad; Italian Ragu Stuffed Peppers; Mississippi Delta Cucumber and White Onion Salad; and achingly sweet but so-hard-to-stop-eating Buttermilk Chess Bites have all been declared winners by my husband and neighbors who welcome Currence’s “more is more” style of cooking.

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It’s hard to imagine a better host for such a gathering than Currence. Not only is he the James Beard award-winning chef of restaurants I’ve enjoyed on visits to Oxford, Mississippi, but also a regular participant in game day festivities in the Grove — the shady gathering place in the center of the Ole Miss campus that’s become known as “the holy grail of tailgating.”

There in that sea of red and blue tents, he’s figured out the flavors that fire up his own tribe, and will likely have the same effect on yours. He presents them in sports-themed chapters like 11:00 Kickoff (fancy grits, casseroles and other breakfast treats), Bowl Games (chili and noodle dishes), The 19th Hole (cookies and other sweet endings), and The Freaking Refs!!! (pitcher drinks and punches).

Someday in the post-vaccine future, you might want to follow his tips for putting together a nonperishable kit for transport, and making a warming box out of an Igloo cooler.

For now, I’m content planning a menu that will include his Chili and Cheese Frito Pies and Frozen Harvey Wallbangers to serve to a couple friends at a social distance on my patio.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

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