Food & Drink

Hugh Acheson’s Guide to Football Food

The Athens, Georgia, chef on setting out a winning spread

“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.

Chef Hugh Acheson.

“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.


Think Ahead

“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.”

Slow Cooker Boiled Peanuts

Set it and forget it—chef Hugh Acheson’s no-fuss take on the classic Southern snack


    • 2 pounds green peanuts

    • ½ cup kosher salt

    • ½ cup cider vinegar

    • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

“Green” peanuts are the raw peanut, before curing and roasting. They have a season that runs from August to November, but it can be challenging to find them north of Virginia. Still, you should make the effort to find them, because they are an amazing snack when boiled until soft—like beans with a rich, nutty flavor—in water that’s spiked with vinegar and red pepper. (Try looking in the produce section of Asian markets, or buy the green peanuts online.) When we cook them, we end up giving them to friends and neighbors—it’s a natural way of demonstrating that innate Southern hospitality. And if you like a little kick to your nuts, add some cayenne to the mix before cooking them. Hugh Acheson


  1. Using the lid of a 6+ quart slow cooker as a stencil, trace the outline onto a piece of parchment paper with a pencil. Cut out the shape with scissors and set it aside.

  2. Place the peanuts, salt, vinegar, and red pepper flakes in a slow cooker and add 4 quarts of water. Cover with the lid and cook on the high setting for 1 hour. Then place the piece of parchment directly on the peanuts, reduce the setting to low, and cook for 11 hours, or until the peanuts are tender, like well-cooked beans. Serve them warm, or cool the peanuts in their cooking liquid and store them in it too. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Recipe from The Chef and the Slow Cookerby Hugh Acheson

Slow Cooker Catfish Stew

Chef Hugh Acheson’s easy-to-make take on this rich, hearty meal rises to the top

Serves 4 to 6


    • 1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes

    • ½ pound slab bacon, small-diced

    • 1 large sweet onion, small-diced

    • 1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and small-diced

    • 1 celery stalk, small-diced

    • 4 garlic cloves, minced

    • 4 whole cloves

    • 1 teaspoon ground mace

    • 1 teaspoon ground allspice

    • 2 cups bottled clam juice

    • 2 cups fish or vegetable stock

    • 1 pound fingerling potatoes, cut into 1-inch-thick rounds

    • Kosher salt

    • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

    • 1 teaspoon hot sauce

    • 1½ pounds catfish fillets, cut into 1-inch pieces

    • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

    • ¼ cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

    • ½ cup store-bought pickled banana peppers

    • Freshly ground black pepper

Catfish stew—is it Southern? I mean, what is Southern food? You got six months for a chat over a number of cases of bourbon? There will be some tears and some wrestling of emotions and probably real wrestling, too. The short of it is that stewed catfish dishes are widely found across western Africa, particularly in Nigeria, and the very similar methods and results of those stews have been around in North America since way before George Washington’s parents ever got to first base.

So yes, catfish stew is a Southern recipe because it exists in our history of Southern food. Not to get all serious on you, but many recipes and foodways in the Southern United States exist only because of slavery, something that we need to come to terms with and honor in the right, solemn way. These are recipes that were never meant to be here, yet have become an important part of our cuisine. I just want to make sure that we remember that.

So go make some food and gather round the table and talk about where all of these flavors come from and what that all means. ’Cause it means a lot to converse about where we have been as a culture, and where we are going. Hugh Acheson


  1. Pour the tomatoes and their liquid into a food processor and pulse to break them down a bit.

  2. Set a 4+ quart slow cooker to the high setting. Add the bacon and cook until most of the fat has rendered, 20 to 30 minutes. Add the onion, bell pepper, and celery, and cook for 10 minutes. Then add the garlic and cook for 5 minutes more. (Alternatively, this can be done in a large skillet over medium heat; cook the bacon for 10 minutes, the onion, bell pepper, and celery for 2, then the garlic for 1, and place it all in the slow cooker.)

  3. Add the tomatoes, cloves, mace, allspice, clam juice, stock, potatoes, and 1 teaspoon salt to the slow cooker. Cover with the lid, reduce the setting to low, and cook for 4 hours or until the potatoes are fork-tender.

  4. Add the Worcestershire, hot sauce, and ½ teaspoon salt.

  5. Season the catfish pieces with salt, add them to the slow cooker, cover, and cook for 20 minutes. Add the butter to the cooker and stir it in gently. Then ladle the stew into individual bowls. Garnish with the parsley and banana peppers, and finish with a grind of black pepper and additional salt to taste. (Somewhere in those bowls there will be 4 whole cloves. You can pick them out, or live on the edge.)

Recipe from The Chef and the Slow Cookerby Hugh Acheson

Slow Cooker Chicken Soup with Chiles, Coconut Milk, and Lime

This flavor-packed soup from chef Hugh Acheson is ready when you are


    • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

    • Kosher salt

    • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

    • 2 shallots, minced

    • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

    • 2 tablespoons minced lemongrass, from the tender, pale inner layers (use the bottom 4 inches or so, from 1 or 2 stalks)

    • 1 teaspoon red curry paste

    • 2 Thai (bird's-eye) chiles, minced

    • 2 cups thinly sliced stemmed fresh shiitake mushrooms (½ pound)

    • 1½ quarts chicken broth

    • 2 tablespoons fish sauce

    • 1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk

    • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

    • Thinly sliced carrot rounds, for garnish

    • Thinly sliced scallions (white and light green parts only), for garnish

    • Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

    • Torn fresh mint leaves, for garnish

I love the flavors of Thai food. Redolent with ginger, fish sauce, scallions, and lime, luxuriant in coconut milk, and fresh with mint and cilantro, it is a full-flavored cuisine. This recipe borrows a lot of that sensibility and translates it into a simple soup that is nourishing, spicy, and just downright tasty. Hugh Acheson


  1. Pat the chicken thighs dry and season them well with salt. Place a large skillet over medium heat and add the vegetable oil. When the oil is shimmering, add the chicken thighs, skin-side down, and cook for about 10 minutes, until they are very well browned. Flip the thighs over and brown them for 3 minutes on the other side. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

  2. Raise the heat under the skillet to high and add the shallots, ginger, and lemongrass to the pan. Cook for 1 minute, until fragrant, then add the curry paste, chiles, shiitakes, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook for 2 minutes. Then pour the contents of the skillet into the slow cooker and turn the setting to low.

  3. Add the chicken broth and fish sauce to a 4+ quart cooker, then add the chicken thighs. Cover with the lid and cook on the low setting for 4 hours.

  4. Remove the lid and stir in the coconut milk and lime juice. Add salt to taste. Portion the soup into individual bowls, making sure to allocate a piece of chicken to each one. Serve the soup with the carrot rounds, scallions, cilantro, and mint alongside.

Recipe from The Chef and the Slow Cookerby Hugh Acheson