That collective “Huzzah!” you heard over the weekend was the nation’s response to the return of football season. American’s love them some pigskin: College and professional football poll as the favorite sport of 46 percent of the country. With all due respect to Major League Baseball, the NFL lays a much more credible claim to being America’s pastime.
As with any good American activity, football all but requires significant consumption of food and drink. Yet that poses something of quandary for the coffee lover. Sure, that hot cup of mud might make sense in the early hours of your tailgate festivities, especially if your team has a Noon kickoff. Beyond that, you’ll probably need a little inspiration to combine your love of coffee with your love of football and tailgating.
Fear not. Keeping in mind football’s status as the nation’s most popular sport, here are some ideas to put coffee into your football tailgate recipes, inspired by different regions of the country.
Bourbon and Coffee
Coffee’s flavor profile generally works one of two ways in food: either as a complement (think of a robust blend paired with a sweet dessert), or as an enhancer (matching flavor notes with like flavors in other foods or drinks). For the latter, try to find food and drink that pair well with a coffee blend that’s bold, smoky, and savory. Fortunately, these flavor notes typify most of the bourbons found on liquor store shelves.
In case you hadn’t noticed, bourbon is making a resurgence. It’s always been a big deal in Kentucky, of course, but the last couple of years has seen its popularity skyrocket nationwide. Chances are, any tailgate worth its salt will have a bottle of the stuff on hand.
When you hear of combining bourbon and coffee, your mind probably goes to Irish coffee, typically made with whiskey. But there’s a beverage served at one of San Diego’s most popular breakfast joints, Snooze, that gives the traditional Irish coffee a refreshing twist while using America’s hottest spirit.
It’s called the Kentucky Coffee, and at Snooze it’s a blend of iced espresso, simple syrup (made of equal parts sugar and water, brought to a boil, then allowed to come down to room temperature), bourbon (Snooze uses Breckenridge), and fresh mint. You’ll want to play with the recipe to your own tastes; usually, the right proportions in a 12-ounce glass are a shot of bourbon, 1.5 shots of simple syrup, and iced espresso or coffee to fill. Add a couple of muddled mint leaves and allow them to add flavor to the glass.
This one may require a little night-before prep, but it’s an incredibly refreshing way to kick off your tailgate.
Coffee and Beef
Speaking of prep, you would do well to plan for the blessed marriage of coffee and red meat. Using coffee grounds as a seasoning for steaks or burgers gives them a surprising depth of flavor and richness, and will set your spread apart from the other guys who are using the store-bought “gourmet burger” seasoning from a bottle.
Mind you, we’re not talking about slapping some coffee grounds on a New York strip and firing up the grill. Rather, coffee can be a wonderful addition to spice rubs with other ingredients that play up its smoky, rich, sometimes spicy flavor notes. Most rubs of this variety feature things like paprika, cayenne or chipotle, and dry mustard. If you’re looking for inspiration, celebrity chef Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in Las Vegas features a coffee-rubbed filet mignon that is good enough to make you forget any rough day at the tables. (Random Las Vegas-football tie-in: more than $119 million was wagered on the Super Bowl in 2014, a record.) For a more accessible version of a coffee rub, check out Flay’s ribeye rub recipe. It would also make a tasty seasoning to apply to burgers before hitting the grill.
Others suggest marinating your steaks in coffee. If you do, remember there’s a window in which to stay with coffee marinades. Any more than 24 hours with a slightly bitter coffee in the marinade, and the flavor could overpower your end product. Better to stay within a 6 to 10-hour window.
Coffee and Chocolate
You probably saw this one coming. For tailgate desserts, or desserts in general, there’s no topping the combination of coffee and chocolate. Coffee and chocolate have a longstanding relationship, and it’s partially owed to science: Our noses pick up a compound in the aroma of brewing coffee that is the same chemical compound we smell in chocolate (methyl furan). Thus, the natural connection that is enhanced when our tastebuds experience what our olfactory senses have already hinted.
But onto the food. There are very few ways you can go wrong here, but we recommend sticking to a classic brownie recipe with finely ground espresso mixed into the batter. (Epicurious provides some inspiration here.) The reasons? For one, brownies are remarkably weather-resistant: you don’t have to worry about a hot day in the South turning your buttercream frosting into a digestion time bomb. (And honestly, most coffee-meets-dessert recipes involving putting coffee into a cream of some kind.) Nor is there a concern that your cold dessert will be unappealing to guests in late November in the Northeast. In addition, you’re playing on an already-existing flavor profile combination that is sure to be a crowd pleaser. Whereas coffee and red meat may be a surprise to the tongue, coffee and chocolate has a comforting familiarity.
Of course, the coffee fanatic will find a way to pair their favorite beverage with just about anything. No harm in showing up to that tailgate with a tumbler full of java (with or without an adult mix-in). Just know that your game doesn’t have to stop there.