“It’s hard to avoid Georgia football,” jokes chef Hugh Acheson, who adopted Athens, Georgia, as his hometown in the mid-1990s and rose to national prominence with such restaurants as Five & Ten and The National. But who would want to miss out? Getting ready for gameday is its own sport in the South, and in the hours before kickoff, you’ll find tasty fare in any nearby parking lot, front porch, or TV room.
“Because of what I do for a living, I want to up the ante a little bit,” says Acheson of his own gameday cooking traditions. “It’s not just hotdogs and hamburgers.” His cookbook, The Chef and the Slow Cooker, offers inventive ways to use the handy appliance to feed a crowd, so we asked Acheson for tips and a few recipes to help craft a perfect spread.
“You’re going to a game, and the team has a plan on how to win it—hopefully. You want to plan, too,” Acheson says. “Put the pieces in place so you’ve got an easy morning.” On cold days, Acheson suggests using two coolers: one for hot food and one for cold. “All coolers do is insulate at whatever temperature is inside them. If you put a whole slow cooker in there, with hot broth ready to go, it’ll hold temperature until you can get it on-site and plug it in.” Acheson also suggests purchasing or preparing a few easy appetizers, too. “Homemade pimento cheese is always going to be classic, plus lots of pickles, lots of snacking food,” he says. “You’ll want a good spread, and then some hot toddies to stay warm. A belly full of bourbon fits the bill, too.”
Don’t Fear Hot Food
“If you can find power or use a generator, you can use a slow cooker to great benefit,” Acheson says. Think roadside classics like boiled peanuts—which Acheson prepares with vinegar and a kick of red pepper—alongside comfort foods, like soups and stews. “You can make a catfish stew on site by just poaching the catfish to finish,” he says. Just make the broth in advance and tackle that final touch at the tailgate. Another favorite is his Thai-inspired chicken soup with chiles, coconut, and lime. “You could bring that chilled and then reheat it on a small burner, or on a barbecue, or whatever you wanted, “ he says. Either way, warm dishes are the ultimate crowd-pleasers at late-season games. “If you’re the guy giving out hot, piping soup, you’re going to make some friends pretty quickly.”
Thrill with a No-Frills Bar
For easy cocktails, Acheson suggests mixing a batch of Negronis in advance, and serving them up from a large Thermos. As for that belly full of bourbon, Acheson sticks to accessible, high-quality bottles. “We all love the Pappy Van Winkle, but I’m not sure I need a second mortgage,” he laughs. “There are other great bourbons—Maker’s Mark is a clear classic that’s always good, Old Grand-Dad is great, and Michter’s we love in various whiskey forms.”
The Good Times Don’t End with the Game
After the final whistle, plenty of fans return to the tailgate tent to wait out traffic or catch a second wind. “Have the after-game stuff as almost a second course,” Acheson says. He recommends packing sandwiches, like pimento cheese and simple tomato when in season, to satisfy post-game cravings. “People are tuckered out. They’ll want to regenerate before going out and celebrating a win—or consoling a loss.”