It’s easy to spot Sherry and Robert Little’s tailgating spot. It’s the one flying two flags. One is a giant black and white pirate flag, with the interlocking BU atop a pair of crossbones. The other has the words “You’ve Gotta Believe” handpainted on a bedsheet, and those flags have been part of their tailgating experience for more than 40 years.
“We tailgated at Floyd Casey [Stadium] for a long time,” Sherry said, and then they made the move to McLane Stadium when it opened in 2014. Their tailgating spot is across the inlet from the stadium. Their group includes anywhere from 20 to 40 people, depending on the game.
The Little’s group has been going on for so long that grandchildren of the original folks are now coming to games.
“We still tailgate with people who went to college with us,” she said. “We have four children, and we also tailgate with our sons and their friends. It’s become a very intergenerational tailgate group. We all brought our children to tailgate, and now they’re bringing their children.”
Sherry Little said she was an education major at Baylor and taught “back in the day, long ago,” at what was then called Midway Junior High School, where Walgreens is located now. She is currently the financial administrator for First United Methodist Church of Sherman. Robert was a political science major who went on to Baylor Law School. He’s an attorney with JPMorgan Chase, and he and Sherry are co-owners of the Old Iron Post restaurant on the square in Sherman.
And even though the Littles co-own a restaurant, they don’t cook on Baylor game days.
“We are a very atypical tailgate group. We don’t cook,” Sherry said. “We keep it very simple. We will have chips and dip and stuff like that. We’ll have stuffed jalapenos, or people will bring something off the shelf at the grocery store. One time a year we’ll have Dubl-R burgers. Perry Weaver [the owner of Dubl-R] is one of our group.”
On the other end of the cooking spectrum among tailgaters is Paula Parish, who, like the Littles, has been enjoying pregame parties for years. She tries to prepare something quirky for each game, depending on the opponent. She’ll serve Bevo Burgers prior to the game against Texas or will fry up a big batch of frog legs before Baylor takes on TCU.
“I don’t do traditional tailgate,” Parish said. “I’m a widow. I don’t want to stand over a hot barbecue.”
Parish’s husband, John T. Parish, died 12 years ago. He was a finance major at Baylor and worked for J-Hawk Corp. Paula studied elementary education, and she and John married shortly after graduation.
“I got my MRS Degree, and I was very happy. He was my provider,” she said.
Parish tends to go all out on game days. At her creekside tailgate spot at McLane, she tries to replicate the gameday atmosphere of The Grove, the tailgating area at Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi, which has been called the “Holy Grail of tailgating sites” by Sporting News magazine. At some games Parish has hundreds of people come into her tent to sample food.
“The first game at the new stadium, I had 500 attend,” she said. “I ran out of food and drink three hours before the game started, and I was only open two hours before that.”
Parish said she is scaling back this season and will only prepare food for a hundred or so, but that will include frying 200 pieces of chicken, which she said is “hands down” her favorite tailgate food.
While Parish didn’t share her actual recipe for fried chicken, she did say the secret to good fried bird is to soak it overnight in brine water. “That gets the flavor out of the bone marrow,” she said.
(There was a recipe for fried chicken tenders in this space in the March 2016 issue, and it suggested soaking chicken in buttermilk for a few hours. The soaking tip can be used for chicken tenders or a cut-up chicken as well. That recipe can be found at wacoan.com.)
For the ideal tailgating experience, serve foods that can be eaten without utensils, such as fried chicken, ribs, burgers, sandwiches and the like. Keep the cold stuff cold, using ice and icepacks in ice chests. Avoid mayonnaise-based foods, like potato salad, that can quickly become unsafe to eat after sitting outside for a while. (Baylor’s first two home games in September begin at 6:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., so you’ll probably experience hot weather during your pregame gathering.)
Here are several mostly utensil-free dishes for your next tailgate party. The bacon caramel corn can be made so it’s child-friendly, or you can make an adults-only version, which will quickly disappear by the hand — or hands — full.
Tailgate Sausage Sandwich
- 1 pound beef sausage (or sausage of choice), in casing
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced in half
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup rice vinegar, white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 baguettes or other loaf of long bread
- Sliced cheese, your choice
- Chimichurri sauce (recipe follows)
Using a skewer or fork, poke a few holes in the sausages and set aside. Cook the sausage as desired, either in a hot skillet for 20-30 minutes or on a grill.
In a saucepan, bring 3 cups of water to boil. Place the onion and garlic in a fine mesh sieve and set over the sink. Once the water has come to a full boil, slowly pour the water over the onions and garlic. Stir the onion mixture to make sure the hot water touches all of the onions and softens them. Let the onion and garlic sit over the sink to drain.
Add the sugar, salt, vinegar and oil to a mixing bowl. Stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Once the onion mixture has drained completely, add it to the vinegar mixture and toss to combine. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes or longer.
When ready to assemble the sandwich, cut the sausage in half lengthwise. Slice the bread lengthwise and lightly toast.
Place chimichurri sauce, to taste, on the bread, and spread it evenly. Add the sausage and top with more chimichurri, onions and cheese. Slice sandwich in half and serve immediately. Or wrap in plastic and refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes about 6-8 servings.
- 1 cup parsley, packed
- 1 cup cilantro, packed
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
- 2/3 cup olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the parsley, cilantro, vinegar, oregano, garlic and crushed red pepper. Pulse several times.
With the food processor still running, slowly add the olive oil to make a sauce. Puree until almost smooth. Remove the sauce from the food processor bowl, season with salt and pepper and set aside. Makes about 2 cups of sauce.
- 1 large round Italian loaf, ciabatta or focaccia bread
- 1 cup black and green olive spread (recipes follows)
- 1/3 pound salami
- 1/3 pound ham
- 1/3 pound provolone
Slice the loaf in half, horizontally, and scoop out some of the inside of the bread.
Spread a thin layer of olive spread on the bottom of the bread. Lay on the salami, ham and provolone.
Spread on more olive spread as thick as you desire. Place the top of the bread back on the sandwich. Cut into slices and serve. Makes 1 large sandwich.
Black and Green Olive Spread
- 1 cup niçoise olives, pitted, or black olives
- 1 cup small green olives of choice, pitted
- 1/4 cup dried tomatoes, drained
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 anchovy fillet, or 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/4 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
- 1/4 cup olive oil
In a food processor, combine all the ingredients except the olive oil. Pulse until coarsely chopped and well-blended. Continue to process, slowly adding the olive oil.
Refrigerate in a covered container until ready to use to make the muffuletta. Makes about 1 cup.
- 1 medium cantaloupe, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 small watermelon, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1/2 medium cucumber, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces (or matchsticks)
- 1/2 jicama, cut into matchsticks
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Zest and juice of 1 orange
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup queso fresco
Place the cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumber and jicama in a large bowl and toss to combine.
In a small bowl, place the oil, orange juice and zest; add the salt, pepper and vanilla. Whisk together. Pour over the cantaloupe mixture and stir to combine.
Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Sprinkle with queso fresco just prior to serving. Makes 4-6 servings.
- 3 bags microwave popcorn
- 1 pound bacon
- 8 ounces butter
- 3/4 cup light brown corn syrup
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2-3 tablespoons bourbon (optional)
Pop popcorn according to package directions. Pour popped corn into a large foil pan and pick out any unpopped kernels.
Fry bacon and crumble. Add crumbled bacon to the popped corn and stir to evenly distribute.
Heat oven to 250 F.
Place the butter, brown sugar and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil and let boil for 5 minutes until temperature reaches 230-240 F.
Remove from heat and add the vanilla, baking soda and bourbon, if using. It will bubble up but continue to stir until it is a creamy, slightly thick consistency.
Pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn mixture and stir, evenly coating the popcorn.
Place the popcorn in the oven and bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
While the popcorn is baking, line a large workspace with wax paper. When the popcorn is done, pour it out onto the wax paper and allow it to cool. Break up any large pieces. Stored in an airtight container, this treat will last for several days.