FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22: Fans of the Baltimore Ravens cheer prior to the AFC Championship Game between the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
As grilling season is upon us, I thought I'd take some time to go over some of the best tailgating tradition from around the NFL. Because it's familiar to me, I'll start with some Baltimore traditions.
Most by now are familiar with Baltimore's terrific propensity to crank out amazing seafood, especially crabs, but few are familiar with just how creative people can get with their shellfish.
First, I'll preface what my tailgating experience is like. During football season, I sometimes have the pleasure of attending games at M&T Bank Stadium with friends. The tailgating scene there isn't bad, but it's not great either, especially when the weather starts to get cold around mid-late October. It's pretty standard stuff. During baseball season, we take a new approach to it. Since the practice of tailgating is not allowed at Camden Yards (probably my only complaint about the entire place), we take our tailgating elsewhere. I have a friend who lives two blocks from the stadium in a small but gorgeous row house in a neighborhood called Otterbein. During O's road trips during the dog days of summer, we like take a grill and a cooler up to the roof, set up some lawn chairs, get the game on the radio, and go to work. It's different, but I wouldn't change it for the world.
Start with the basics. Maybe the most synonymous visions that I have of Baltimore is a warm summers evening, sitting in someone's backyard at a picnic table covered in brown paper with a massive pile of dead shellfish sitting in front of me. This is what we call a crab feast and it's made it's way to tailgates everywhere. Everyone's tailgate menu is different, but in my experience, we always have crabs, even when they're out of season. Eating crabs is just good, messy fun. The fact that this ten minute video explaining the process of eating Maryland crabs exists is a testament to how seriously people take this. What makes these crabs unique is the fact that they are covered in a spice called Old Bay. For those unfamiliar, Old Bay is a mixture of mustard, paprika, celery seed, bay leaf, pepper, cinnamon, and ginger. Taken at face value, that's a weird combo of spices, but combine them and you have an absolutely delicious seasoning that goes great on more than just crabs.
Moving on to the more complex, let's take a look at crab cakes. This might be a little tough at a tailgate, but it's not impossible. Best when prepared in a skillet, crab cakes are probably my favorite food of all time. Take a pound of crab meat, some crackers for breading, an egg, some vegetable oil to fry it in and a little mayonaise to hold it all together, and you have yourself a crab cake. Also served best with Old Bay, crab cakes are Baltimore's claim to fame. If you're ever in the area, Faidley's is definitely the place to be for a crab cake.
Finally, I'm going to show you guys one of the newer "traditions". Camden Yards has always been an amazing place to catch a ballgame, but recently, they've made a real effort to make the food options both better and more unique. What they've arrived at is truly inspired. This year, they have unveiled both the crab macaroni and cheese hotdog and a hamburger topped with a crab cake covered in a "special sauce" (often just thousand island sauce) , a.k.a. "The Camden Monster". These haven't had the chance to make their way into football tailgating culture, but recently I have purchased the necessary amenities to make both of these beasts.
Hopefully this has given those unfamiliar with some of Baltimore's best an idea of how we like to do things around here. I'd love to make a series out of this, if anyone likes the idea and has some traditions of their own from out of state (or even out of country), I highly encourage you to drop me an e-mail with some of your traditions and the local cuisine, my address is linked at the bottom of the page next to my username.