50 States of Tailgating Food

The most iconic and savory tailgating foods from across the country.

By: Jed Portman

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Alabama: Smoked Chicken With White Barbecue Sauce

Bob Gibson invented mayonnaise-based white barbecue sauce in his Decatur, Alabama, backyard in 1925. Today, his great-grandson-in-law Chris Lilly dunks smoked chicken quarters in it at Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q—and chefs have begun to follow the pit master’s lead everywhere from New York to New Orleans. It’s a no-brainer dip for wings, too.

Alaska: Candied Salmon

Cured and then smoked, maple syrup-lacquered salmon strips are a sweet-and-salty coastal alternative to jerky. Eat them the same way, as finger food. Get the recipe.

Arizona: Sonoran-Style Hot Dogs

Mexico’s gift to hot dog lovers everywhere is this bacon-wrapped dog on a crusty, baguette-like bolillo roll, heaped with pinto beans, fresh and grilled onions, chopped tomatoes, mayonnaise, mustard and jalapeño salsa. It came from Hermosillo, the capital of the state of Sonora, but it’s since crossed the border to Phoenix and Tucson.

Arkansas: Cheese Dip

Don’t call it queso. Blackie Donnelly piqued locals’ appetite for the gooey appetizer he dubbed cheese dip at his Mexico Chiquito restaurant in North Little Rock in 1935. Today, North Little Rock hosts the World Cheese Dip Championships—and Mexico Chiquito is one of twenty-some restaurants on the state’s official Cheese Dip Trail.

California: Ranch Dressing and Vegetables

Hidden Valley was a place before it was a supermarket staple. Steve and Gayle Henson bought the Hidden Valley Ranch, near Santa Barbara, in 1954. Guests fell in love with their creamy buttermilk-and-herb dressing. Sixty-three years later, it’s the go-to dip for everything from pizza and fried pickles to baby carrots and cherry tomatoes.

Colorado: Green Chili

Colorado chili is a stew of pork and roasted green chiles, not beef and beans. Serve it with tortillas, or ladle it over a burrito. Get the recipe.

Connecticut: Hot Lobster Rolls

In this coastal state, you’ll get hot buttered lobster on your bun, not the cold seafood salad served elsewhere. Locals wouldn’t have it any other way.

Delaware: Chicken and Slicks

Nothing warms up a cold afternoon like bowl of rich chicken broth fortified with shredded meat and traditional noodle-like rolled dumplings, also known as slicks. Here, the broth comes to the table so thick it’s almost gravy.

Florida: Key Lime Pie

Tart island key limes add pucker to this famous dessert. For a truly impressive presentation, top it with a crunchy meringue crown.

Georgia: Boiled Peanuts

Boiled peanuts are a side-of-the-road favorite with tailgate appeal. For more flavor, add ham hocks or an extra fistful of spice to the cooking water. Cajun seasoning is a good bet.

Hawaii: Kalua Pork Sandwiches

Hawaiians make smoky, tender kalua pork by burying whole hogs in underground pits, but you can make an equivalent with a pork shoulder and a slow cooker or oven. Add a splash of high-quality liquid smoke.

Idaho: Potato Skins

Idahoans are the nation’s potato-growing champions by far. That means there’s roughly a one-in-three chance that your cheese, bacon and sour cream–loaded skins have roots in the spud-loving state.

Illinois: Chicago Dogs

Chicagoans don’t put ketchup on their hot dogs. Instead, it’s a very specific set of ingredients: yellow mustard, chopped onions, pint-sized sport peppers, a pickle spear, sliced tomato, celery salt and a shamrock-green spoonful of sweet relish. They pile it all on a poppy seed bun.

Indiana: Hoosier Pie

Also called sugar cream pie, this nineteenth-century dessert was once the only sweet treat on the table in the months when fresh fruit was out of season. Nowadays, the custardy classic is the official state pie. Get the recipe.

Iowa: Loose Meat Sandwiches

Iowans love these sandwiches—crumbly beef on squishy burger buns with optional pickles, onions and mustard. Picture sloppy joes without the sauce.

Kansas: Burnt Ends

Everybody’s favorite part of a smoked brisket is the bark—the crisp, caramelized outside layer. You won’t find a better bark-to-meat ratio than in a basket of burnt ends. Kansas City pit masters snacked on the charred brisket scraps themselves before their customers began clamoring for a taste. Today, you can order them at any respectable joint in town.

Kentucky: Burgoo

Burgoo is a stew best enjoyed from a communal cauldron. Common ingredients include pork, beef, mutton, venison, tomatoes, lima beans and corn, but nearly any combination of meats and seasonal vegetables can join this melting pot.

Louisiana: Gumbo

Gumbo takes many different forms, but the full-bodied bayou stew usually starts with a thickening flour-and-fat roux and simmers into a flavorful gravy over a period of hours. Shrimp, duck, oysters, okra and smoky andouille sausage are all popular ingredients. Ladle it over rice.

Maine: Cold Lobster Rolls

Mainers get their lobster fresh, and they prepare it simply. Cold lobster, tossed in mayonnaise or butter, and a hot buttered bun are the essential elements of their lobster roll.

Maryland: Hot Crab Dip

Crab dip comes in many forms, but it’s generally chunks of briny crustacean in a rich, creamy base of cream cheese or mayonnaise. Broil it under a breadcrumb or cheese crust and serve it with crackers or crusty bread.

Massachusetts: Boston Baked Beans

Native American cooks simmered beans with maple syrup. Bostonians opted for molasses, which came into their colonial port by the shipload, and added salt pork from their larders—creating a sweet-and-salty classic.

Michigan: Coney Dogs

America’s love affair with hot dogs kicked off in Brooklyn’s Coney Island in the 1870s. Greek and Macedonian immigrants appropriated the famed amusement park’s name to peddle wieners at turn-of-the-century diners in the heartland, where their descendants top their distinctive dogs with onions, mustard, and chili or ground beef.

Minnesota: Tater Tot Hotdish

Minnesota’s most infamous comfort food is this rib-sticking casserole of tater tots, ground beef and cream of mushroom soup, often dotted with canned or frozen vegetables. Locals laugh about it, but it’s still around for a reason.

Mississippi: Pimento Cheese

Cheese, mayonnaise and chopped pimento peppers are all you need to make this beloved spread, but many cooks add a secret ingredient or two: a dash of hot sauce, a sprinkle of paprika, even chopped pickles. Serve it as a dip or a finger sandwich filling.

Missouri: Toasted Ravioli

Locals call them toasted, but they’re actually deep fried. Supposedly, these crunchy pockets of melted cheese originated when a cook accidentally dropped an order of ravioli into sizzling oil some sixty years ago. Kin to mozzarella sticks, they usually come to the table with parmesan on top and a ramekin of marinara.

Montana: Huckleberry Pie

Montanans make jam, jelly, barbecue sauce and a whole lot more from their beloved wild huckleberries each summer. Nothing says mountain hospitality, though, like a slice of jammy huckleberry pie.

Nebraska: Runzas

Midwestern hot pockets most often stuffed with ground beef, cabbage and onions, runzas have been part of life on the prairie for generations. German immigrants introduced them in the nineteenth century, and today you can order them to go from an eponymous drive-thru spot. (Slogan: “Get your bunza to a Runza.”). Get the recipe.

Nevada: Shrimp Cocktail

Vegas’s all-you-can eat buffets offer an excess of earthly delights. Shrimp cocktail is a standby that harks back to the gambling capital’s swinging heyday. From 1959 to 1991, you could get an order of peel-and-eats for fifty cents at the famous Golden Gate Hotel and Casino.

New Hampshire: Apple Pie

Yankee comfort food at its best, apple pie is a sweet belly-warmer on a cool autumn afternoon. For a balanced dessert, add a scoop of ice cream to each plate.

New Jersey: Sub Sandwiches

Call them subs, hoagies, heroes, or grinders. This oblong sandwich layered with everything from turkey and provolone to meatballs and mozzarella is a crowd-pleaser by any name.

New Mexico: Green Chile Cheeseburgers

Order a chile cheeseburger here and you’ll get a patty with a slice of melted cheese and a layer of spicy, smoky chopped green chiles. Don’t muddy the waters with lettuce or tomato.

New York: Buffalo Wings

Buffalo’s Anchor Bar served the first basket of chicken wings in the 1960s. Buffalo wings were a national phenomenon within a decade or so. With them traveled two more of the bar’s trademarks: a butter-and-hot-sauce wing glaze and sides of celery sticks and blue cheese dressing.

North Carolina: Sausage Balls

Southern cooks often make sausage balls with just three ingredients: breakfast sausage, shredded cheese and biscuit mix. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without them, and they’re also toothpick-friendly tailgate snacks.

North Dakota: Kuchen

North Dakotans use the word kuchen to refer to a variety of coffee cakes, often topped or filled with custard or fresh fruit. Locals celebrate the defining dessert in all its forms.

Ohio: Cincinnati Chili

Greek immigrants popularized this distinctive dish of cumin-and-cinnamon-spiced chili over spaghetti. Texans might turn up their noses, but it’s hard to deny the appeal of pasta topped with meat sauce and a heap of shredded cheese.

Oklahoma: Cornbread

Southerners migrating west brought their cast iron skillets with them, and their descendants still know how to turn out a crisp-edged piece of cornbread. That’s why cornbread is part of the state’s official meal—which also includes fried okra, barbecue pork and chicken-fried steak.

Oregon: Hazelnut Brownies

99 percent of all U.S. hazelnuts come from Oregon. Nutella fans already know that nothing goes better with hazelnuts than dark, rich chocolate.

Pennsylvania: Whoopie Pies

Amish bakers likely popularized the whoopie pie, a sandwich of frosting or another creamy filling between two pieces of cake that look like inflated cookies. Like an inverted cupcake, the sweet bite has since found fans all over the country.

Rhode Island: Grilled Clams

We’re not asking you to roll out a clambake at your tailgate, but anybody can throw a bag of clams on the grill. Take them off with a pair of tongs when they open up and spoon garlic butter over them before you pass them around.

South Carolina: Pimento Cheeseburgers

Columbia, the state capital, is also the nation’s pimento cheeseburger capital. Beloved burger joints like the Rosewood Dairy Bar and the Mathias Sandwich Shop have been scooping creamy pimento since at least the 1960s. Get the recipe.

South Dakota: Chislic

Chislic might be beef, lamb or even venison, but it’s always cubes of deep-fried meat. Bars skewer them on toothpicks and sprinkle them with garlic salt. Get the recipe.

Tennessee: Dry-Rubbed Ribs

You won’t find gloppy racks in the western part of the state, where the dry rub is canon. A crust of salt, pepper, brown sugar and spices such as paprika and cayenne caramelizes to a sweet-and-spicy finish without overwhelming the flavor of the pork.

Texas: Chili con Carne

Texas chili never includes beans. At its most elemental, it’s cubed meat in a full-flavored sauce of dried chiles. Prepared correctly, it doesn’t need anything else.

Utah: Funeral Potatoes

Dour name aside, this is a joyously buttery bake of potatoes or hash browns in a creamy, cheesy sauce. Mormon cooks serve it at communal dinners—at weddings, holiday celebrations and, yes, funerals. Many of them sprinkle on a crunchy crust of cornflakes or crushed potato chips. Get the recipe.

Vermont: Macaroni and Cheese

Vermont sharp cheddar makes a smooth, tangy base for mac and cheese. For extra flavor, add a splash of another state specialty: craft beer.

Virginia: Country Ham Biscuits

Country ham can hang from the rafters for months or even years before it reaches salty, funky perfection. But partygoers gobble down miniature ham biscuits in minutes.

Washington: Smoked Salmon Dip

Smoked wild salmon is a treat by itself, but you can make it into a tailgate-friendly dip by mixing it with sour cream, mayonnaise, and scallions. This northwestern spin on the lox and cream cheese bagel is even tastier with smatterings of capers, chives and dill. Get the recipe.

Washington, D.C.: Fried Wings With Mumbo Sauce

D.C.’s sticky mumbo sauce is a soul food cousin to sweet-and-sour. It goes with anything fried, from shrimp to fried rice. Locals, though, most often serve it with wings.

West Virginia: Pepperoni Rolls

Italian immigrants introduced the pepperoni roll to the mountains, and coal miners made the portable, shelf-stable snack famous. You can now buy pepperoni rolls at convenience stores all over the state. Get the recipe.

Wisconsin: Fried Cheese Curds

Cheese curds don’t keep long, but if you live near a dairy then you might be familiar with the squeaky delights. The first step in the cheesemaking process, they’re especially delicious when fried til golden brown and dipped in marinara sauce.

Wyoming: Bison Chili

Wyoming has a bison on its state flag and a long tradition of chuckwagon cowboys who chowed down on hearty bowls of chili around the campfire. Out on the plains, a simmering stewpot is a welcome sight. Get the recipe.

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