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Tailgaters' Checklist And The Best Tailgating Grill Ever

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I'm a big football fan -- an undersized high school linebacker who even did spring training with the University of Florida as "Paper Gator" when I was sports editor of the campus paper (click the link to read about my dubious record at the Swamp). I'm the guy who knows enough about the game to scream at the coaches from deep in the end zone bleachers, as if they'll hear and heed me.

My playing career is long behind me so now I have gotten serious about tailgating. I love nothing more than going to Bears games in the snow. Getting there early enough to cook a hearty meal and down a few adult beverages.

For the tailgate party (or for the balcony, beach, back country hike, cattle drive, Winnebago trip or on your yacht party) you need a portable grill. When shopping for a portable, the same rules apply as when you are shopping for other grills (click the link for a guide to buying grills). You need to consider price, temperature control, ease of cleanup, ability to smoke foods, high heat, durability, safety, and of course, size and weight.

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Many of the small units don't have lids. Try to get one with a cover for the best temperature control and to prevent burning thicker meats. Try to get enough surface area so you can push the coals to one side for indirect cooking, and to prevent burning.

At home I prefer charcoal or wood pellets for fuel, but when I'm out and about I usually look for convenience; because a small bottle of propane will last a long time -- and it's a heckuva lot lighter than charcoal -- my favorite small portable is a lightweight Weber 1520 Gas Go-Anywhere Gas Grill. There are many options, from throwaways to tried-and-true Hibachis to some pretty snazzy rigs. Click here to see a list of a lot of small and portable grills. Click here to see many portable grills on Amazon.com all at once.

GoGalley: The Best Portable Rig Ever

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Tailgating and game checklist

Here's my checklist for a football tailgater. Feel free to copy and paste it and print it.

Start planning early. Check the rules on the place you plan to park. Some lots do not permit tailgating, some do not allow charcoal grills, some do not allow adult beverages, some do not allow glass bottles and some do not allow trailers.

Do as much prep in advance as possible. For example, if you plan to make omelets for breakfast, break and mix the eggs, add the herbs and whatever else was going in and pour them in a jar; then all you need to do is pour them into the hot pan with butter.

Save and clean empty milk jugs and freeze water in them. The frozen bottles can keep food cold and can be used for drinking.

It is especially important that you pay close attention to food safety when you are away from refrigeration and running hot water. Read my page about food safety. Remember to keep food below 40°F or above 150°F.

Buy an empty spray bottle at the drug store and fill it with a dilute solution of household bleach. USDA recommends a solution of one tablespoon of 5 percent unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Bleach is a powerful sanitizer. That's why they put it in swimming pools. After washing cutting boards, knives, meat grinders, counters, etc., it's a good idea to sanitize with bleach. Flood surfaces with the bleach solution and allow it to stand for several minutes. Rinse with clear water and air or pat dry with clean paper towels.

Arrive early so there is no rush, and stay after. Let the crowds fight their way out. Relax. Have some snacks and a beverage.

  • Aprons
  • BBQ sauce, hot sauce
  • Bear paws
  • Binoculars
  • Bleach solution in spray bottle
  • Boom box and pocket radio
  • Bottle and can openers
  • Buns
  • Camera
  • Chairs
  • Condiments: mustard, ketchup, relish, onions, tomatoes, pickles, peppers
  • Cooking oil and/or butter
  • Drinks: Beer, soft drinks, water, wine
  • Drink coolers
  • Faux Cambro
  • Flatware
  • Grills (one or both):
  • - Charcoal grill, charcoal, chimney, lighter
  • - Gas grill, propane, lighter
  • Heavy duty aluminum foil
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Footballs, frisbees, bean bag toss
  • Oven gloves
  • Ice
  • Meat: pulled pork, ribs, hotdogs, brats, Italian sausage, burgers
  • Pots and pans
  • Paper cups and plates
  • Paper towels
  • Phone
  • Rain gear: ponchos, umbrellas, caps
  • Salt, pepper, other herbs & spices
  • Side dishes: potato salad, slaw
  • Snacks: chips, Chex Mix, Cheetos, peanuts
  • Stadium seats
  • Sunblock
  • Sunglasses
  • Tables and tablecloths
  • Team rosters
  • Easy-Up canopy or tent or tarp
  • Trash bags
  • Utensils: knives, spatula, serving spoons, tongs
  • Water for cleanup
  • Wet towelettes
  • And don't forget the tickets!

Tell me below what is missing.

The football-ribs relationship

Why is barbecue so popular at football tailgate parties? As any fan will tell you, the greensward the game is played on -- marked with parallel white stripes -- is called a gridiron. What they may not know is that a gridiron is an early name for the iron grate with parallel bars upon which meat is cooked over coals.

And what is the central object of the game of football? A pigskin, of course, even though it hasn't been made of pigskin for decades.

More Grill & Smoker Buying Guides

This is a good time to shop for grills. Hardware stores and online merchants are clearing out space for winter products. Floor demos can be had by just making the store manager a lowball offer. Just make sure all the parts are there.My website has a large section devoted to reviews of grills, smokers, accessories, thermometers and kitchen tools. Check it out by clicking here.
Tailgating is such a ritual that I even have a checklist of what to take (at right). I usually bring a small portable gas grill or charcoal grill, but in the fall of 2011, I discovered the coolest tailgating rig ever.

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I never do this. I never devote the majority of a column to one product. I never want to look like a shill. But I have never come across a product like the GoGalley. Manufacturers send me a lot of cookers to test, and I have never focused on just one in a column. But when the GoGalley people dropped off one of the first units off the assembly line for me to test, I knew on first look it was revolutionary*. Packed with innovation, this is the best system I've ever seen for tailgating or camping. GoGalley is the iPhone of tailgating rigs.

The GoGalley is a single unit that contains a grill, a smoker/oven, a side burner, large work surfaces, storage and a trailer hitch. But that is like saying an F-22 is a jet with some weapons. This baby has everything except the kitchen sink.

But GoGalley is not just for football games. Heck, it is even a fine backyard setup. It is not cheap, at about $2,000, but it is a bargain for what it has under the hood and what it does.

Mobility

Let's start with the most clever innovation on this rig: The trailer hitch and the way the designers have made the GoGalley portable.

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The whole shebang folds up into a box that is 32.5" wide, 49" tall and 41" deep -- plus 10" for the trailer hitch. It fits nicely on the skid on which it is shipped.

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It weighs about 350 pounds. When it is folded up, you roll it back to the trailer hitch on your car or truck, remove a large T-shaped heavy duty handscrew that holds the trailer hitch securely to the body, and move the hitch on the grill in position to mate with the vehicle. Slide the two together, lock them, toggle a switch on the grill's side. A battery powered motor and cable winches the unit up off the ground and snug against the vehicle's hitch.

Put the T-screw back in place, lock it to the hitch, slide the casters off, and there's enough clearance to motor down the road at highway speeds. Exact clearance height will depend on your vehicle. The hitch connection fits a DOT approved 2" square receiver hitch with a minimum of class III rating -- meaning it can handle up to 500 pounds. If your hitch is smaller, there are adapters available.

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This design is especially cool because some universities, like Notre Dame, prohibit trailers in their tailgating lots. When you get to the stadium or campground, lower it with the winch, unlock it, unfold it so the side-burner is on one side and the smoker is on the other side, lift the work tables, and you have everything but the kitchen sink. Setting up takes about 3 minutes if you stop to drink a beer.

You can fold it up and lock it back on the trailer hitch while you're at the game and never have to worry about someone stealing it. After the game, you can be back up and running in minutes.

Versatility

GoGalley is designed for portability, but there is no reason it can't be used in your back yard. It can be opened up into a straight line as in the photo above, in a V-shape or even a U-shape, making for a very compact and efficient kitchen. The wheels on the side cabinets lock tight when you decide on your configuration.

Gas grill
The center section is a 4-burner gas grill with 540 square inches of primary cooking surface and a 150 square inch removable warming rack above. The main grates are cast iron and are held in tight by three screws so they won't bounce out in transit. The burners line up side to side, so you can cook indirectly or have a hot zone on one side and a warm zone on the other. There are porcelain coated heat diffuser plates above the stainless steel burners and a tray under the grill is angled to catch and drain grease into a small, easy-to-remove pan. The burners light with a push-button piezo switch. The designers have put in two of them in case one fails, which it shouldn't. The propane tank straps into the storage cabinet below the grill, but you should remove it when driving. The hood is double layered on the top to help retain heat. I had no trouble getting it over 600°F on a 70°F day as measured by my lab grade thermocouples.

Smoker/Oven
When GoGalley is unfurled, there is a nifty gas smoker and oven on the right that -- if it was a standalone -- might be the best gas smoker on the market. Unlike all the others, this one is not flimsy. It has a solid steel frame, double walls, two exhaust vents, a stainless steel burner and silicone door gaskets. It has a cast iron box for smoke chips and a water pan right above it for humidity.

There are four 12" wide by 14" long removable shelves that can hold eight short racks of baby backs, four whole chickens, four pork butts, etc. Skip the wood chips and you have an oven that can be used as a warming oven, or for baking cookies, rolls or beans. When pegged on low with the water pan in place, it can smoke at an ideal 225°F easily (most cabinet gassers cannot go this low). The top of the smoker gets hot so it can be used to keep a serving platter warm, but it can also burn you if you're not careful. You don't want to absent-mindedly put an unopened beer on it.

Burner/Boiler/Fryer
The left side has a big cast iron burner that puts out 25,000 BTU. There are three levels on which it can be set. Raise it up to use a large skillet, wok or griddle. Drop it down low to insert the capacious six gallon aluminum cauldron that comes with the system. The pot has a perforated insert. You can fry a pretty good size turkey in that baby, or boil a mess of lobsters. If you are foolish enough to overfill the turkey fryer or put a frozen bird into the oil and it overflows, and catches on fire, there is an emergency fuel turn-off under the grill that goes from open to closed with a quarter turn.

Work Tables
There are two 29" long stainless steel work tables, one on each side, and there is enough room for prep and serving. They are sturdy enough to hold whatever you need, but I wouldn't sit on them. The wing on the left has a hole for a standard 13-gallon garbage bag and a ring that holds it in place. There are even tool hooks on the tables. Nice details.

Construction

There is a one-year guarantee on parts and workmanship. How well will it take a beating riding on the back of an SUV to the games and being rolled around parking lots? The body is framed with square tubular heavy-duty 11 gage steel, and the parts appear to be welded properly. The moving parts use long heavy piano hinges. The latches appear to be well made and mounted. Many parts are stainless and the rest is powder coated, a nice sturdy finish; black is the only color available at the moment. I am told an all stainless option is in the works.

It comes with a heavy-duty, vinyl-coated, water-proof cover made from the trap material used for hauling steel on flat bed trucks. I'm not all that confident in the Velcro straps that hold the cover down when on the highway, but so far they have done the job.

It comes with two bimetal dial thermometers that work pretty well when I compared them to my lab grade thermocouples, but as always, you should use digital thermometers to be sure.

Cooking With The GoGalley

I took it to a 2:30 PM college football game at Soldier Field in Chicago. We got there at about 9 AM, claimed a great parking space and put my Last Meal Ribs in the smoker. I had put Meathead's Memphis Dust on them the night before, and cut them in half so there was plenty of room around them in the smoker. Then I made omelets for breakfast. I had broken the eggs before we left home, chopped some fresh herbs into the mix and poured it into a plastic bottle. When I got there all I had to do was drop some butter into the hot non-stick pan on the side burner, shake the bottle and pour in the eggs.

The ribs were ready by noon. I pulled them out of the smoker, tossed them on the hot grill, painted on the sauce and sizzled them for about three minutes per side so the sugars would caramelize. Needless to say, our campsite was popular with passersbys. Meanwhile, I was putting the finishing touches on theItalian sausages grilling (there's plenty of room for them and the ribs), while my wife was frying some onions and peppers in olive oil on the side burner. When the ribs came off, I toasted the inside of the buns for the sausages on the grill, nestled the sausages in and topped them with the fried onions and peppers. Condiments were laid out on the side tables, and the platter of ribs was placed on top of the smoker to stay warm.

The other night I made smoked burgers -- so easy with this unit. I popped a couple of 6 ounce ground chuck patties in the smoker at about 225°F, tossed in a handful of pellets. 10 minutes later I took them out and put them on the preheated grill to build the crust. Now there's a sure-fire hit for your next tailgater.

Bugs

There are a few minor bugs to be ironed out with future designs (this is, after all, version 1.0), but absolutely nothing serious enough that would make me postpone a purchase.

The big wheels make rolling it around easy, but they must be removed when GoGalley is attached to your vehicle and you are motoring down the highway or they will scrape bottom. They are very easy to put in place; locking them is done by tightening a large T-shaped thumbscrew. But if you don't get that screw down tight, the wheels can pop off if you hit a big crack in the ground. Just make sure you tighten them well, perhaps using a pair of pliers.

The front wheels have an easy-to-use locking mechanism to prevent GoGalley from rolling when it is in use. Alas, the locks can't be accessed when the unit is folded. The wheels are so smooth that it just might roll away without locking them down, so I recommend putting the front wheels on the back, and visa versa, so you can lock the rear wheels when it is still folded.

For some reason, there is no igniter for the side burner; it must be lit with a match or a lighter, and the markings on the knob for the side burner as well as the knob for the smoker don't line up properly on mine. Federal safety laws require lots of vents on gas grills to allow air in and combustion gases out; when hauling GoGalley, I am concerned that some water and mud may get into the cabinet under the grill through vents in the bottom, but I haven't tested this yet.

The side burner has a small round metal disk that keeps rain out. I would prefer a square lid that could cover the whole left side cabinet, and a door to keep out rain and snow when I am cooking (hey, I'm no fair weather fan!). Also, when I am done cooking I leave the unit uncovered to cool before I put the vinyl cover on; well, sometimes adult beverages are served and I forget, and that left side is unprotected.

Alas, the only major shortcoming of the GoGalley is that it lacks a sink. And it can't guarantee a victory for the home team.

Tell me what is missing from my tailgating checklist and share your tips below.

All text and photos are Copyright (c) 2011 By Meathead, and all rights are reserved

For more of Meathead's writing, photos, recipes, and barbecue info please visit his website AmazingRibs.com and subscribe to his email newsletter, Smoke Signals.

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*Meathead's policy on testing grills: Sometimes I buy grills and smokers that I review and sometimes manufacturers supply me with test units. When I am testing a manufacturer's sample I always say so in my review. When I am done with samples from a manufacturer I return them or donate them to charities, usually fire departments. I never sell them. Manufacturers are informed of this policy in advance of shipment.

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