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5 Things Not to Bring to a Tailgate Party

Healthy Soups & Sandwiches Image Gallery A giant, nine-layer sub sandwich may be tasty, but it's messy and hard to pack up. See more pictures of sandwiches.
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By some accounts, the first tailgate party in history occurred early in the Civil War, just before the First Battle of Bull Run (also called the Battle of Manassas). Northern spectators packed picnics, piled into wagons and parked along the bluff a few miles from the battlefield. As do many of today's tailgaters, some of whom don't bother going to the game afterward, these Union backers came more for the festivities than the fighting. And, as is the case with some modern fans, tailgating proved to be the best part of their day. At Bull Run, the Confederates routed the Yankees in an upset for the ages.

Today, the game doesn't determine the fate of a nation. It's the tailgating that can be disastrous -- if guests bring ill-chosen edibles to the parking lot potluck. Even in the "anything goes" atmosphere of tailgating, not everything goes.

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For example, bringing food contaminated with bacteria that sickens your friends is sure to get you uninvited to the next party. Also, no one wants to find tomato sauce stains on a pricey, officially licensed NFL jacket after high-fiving to celebrate the home team. Neatness counts, even here.

Finally, some things can lead to trouble with the law -- and consequences that hurt for a lifetime.

Take this article as a rule book outlining what to do and not do concerning tailgate-party food. We tackle the most serious infraction first: the alcohol issue.

For some people, no party is complete without a cold brew (and we don't mean iced tea). But bringing a 15-gallon (56-liter) drum of beer to a tailgate party is trouble. Many colleges ban kegs from campus, which includes the tailgating confines of the stadium parking lot. The same goes for beer bongs and other items that encourage rapid alcohol imbibing. Some NFL teams have followed suit.

Plus, unless you card every friend of a friend who asks for a beer, you risk serving an underage drinker, which is punishable by fines or jail time, depending on state law. Even if everyone is of legal age, another figure should give you pause: 11,773. That's the number of fatalities in the United States in 2008 that involved a drunk driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. If you think losing a football game is hard -- enough said.

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If you decide to bring alcohol, make it single-serving cans or bottles. Pack a selection of nonalcoholic drinks, too. Some people prefer them -- especially, say, hot coffee or cocoa at a Northern Michigan University game in late November.

Another strategy: Bring a killer dish that makes beer an afterthought. The rest of this article will help you pick winning tailgating munchies.

For a lot of people, tailgating is all about the grill. There's something primally satisfying and way impressive about slapping a 10-pound (4.5-kilogram) pork loin rib roast over the coals. But large cuts of meat can be demanding. You'll need extra tools, dishes, time and attention for prepping and serving. There's also the challenge of cooking the interior to a safe temperature of 160ºF without drying the outside. (Partially cooking meat at home and finishing it on the grill may save time, but it's a risk safety-wise.) Tailgating isn't conducive to such effort. And don't forget the transportation logistics: A chunk of meat that size takes a cooler all its own.

A good performer knows his audience. A steady supply of well-done burgers or hot dogs, ready for the asking, will make you a grill master in the eyes of a hungry crowd.

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If you're a sandwich maker, stick with simple, user-friendly fillings in a hand-held bun. Slices of corned beef and Monterey Jack (horseradish and sauerkraut on the table) pack a lot of flavor without the fuss. Save the nine-layer sub for the Super Bowl party.

Tailgating offers other chances to satisfy your food artistry -- within limits, as our next word to the wise shows.

Yes, they let you show off your pastry-chef chops (or those of the local bakery or deli). But egg-rich pastries with moist, creamy fillings are ideal breeding grounds for Salmonella and Shigella, two types of bacteria that can wreak havoc with your insides, and worse. These foods aren't the best travelers, either. A few hours in a cooler can turn a shrimp salad puff into a leaky, soggy mess.

If you want to show off your creativity, choose materials with a sturdier structure. Start with your favorite snack cracker. Or stamp out stars and diamonds from rye or sourdough bread with cookie cutters. Top them with a variety of cold cuts, cheese, vegetables and a garnish and secure with a toothpick.

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Mix and match colors and flavors to honor your gridiron heroes. American cheese and a green olive is a natural color combo for Green Bay Packer fans. Swap a black olive for the green, and voila, you're a Pittsburgh Steelers stalwart.

And what's a party without desserts? Next in the lineup: something for the sweet tooth.

Don't fuss with bringing ice cream and all those toppings. It probably won't last long enough to eat.
Don't fuss with bringing ice cream and all those toppings. It probably won't last long enough to eat.
Hemera/Thinkstock

Unless you're tailgating at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, frozen desserts are a nuisance to keep frozen. And if you are at the University of Alaska, do you really want to eat ice cream?

Again, practicality is the rule. Crunchy cookies and bars -- chocolate chip or oatmeal, for instance -- are a pretty safe bet. So are fruit and nut breads and muffins. Avoid frostings, buttery crusts and fruit fillings. For example, go with plain pound cake instead of carrot cake with cream cheese icing.

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But when cold treat would really hit the spot -- maybe an early September game at the University of Texas-El Paso -- think along the lines of strawberry shortcake. Buy packaged individual sponge cakes, then top them with bagged fruit from the supermarket freezer case and whipped cream from a can.

If you don't mind the goo factor, there's always s'mores. Or you can even roast a banana split. Slice a banana lengthwise in its skin, and stuff it with chocolate chips, peanut butter chips and chopped nuts. Then wrap it in foil, warm it on the grill, and eat with a spoon right out of the skin.

Grilling bananas directly isn't such a wild idea, though, as our final page explains.

Many people look forward to tailgating as a vacation from making wise food choices (such as carrot sticks) and save the health food for the other six days of the week.

If you're determined to prove that healthy can be fun and tasty, too, at least bring fruits and vegetables that are grill-friendly instead of the plain, raw variety. Grilling caramelizes sugars in foods, which brings out their sweetness. Just be sure to brush the food in oil first to keep it from burning, drying out or sticking.

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Choose foods that are study enough for skewering. Among veggies, try whole onions or cherry tomatoes, or chunks of potatoes, sweet potatoes, golden squash, eggplant, sweet peppers and corn on the cob.

Fruits are little trickier. They're softer and juicier, so you may need a grilling basket. Try peach, apple and apricot halves or large chunks of pear and pineapple. You can also string chunks of fruits and vegetables on skewers, but be sure they all cook at about the same rate.

Fruits and vegetables take to condiments, too. Offer salt, pepper, ketchup, herb blends, steak sauce, caramel sauce, brown sugar -- whatever suits the produce.

As long as you treat your tailgating crowd to snacks everyone can safely enjoy, it's sure to be a success.

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