Food & Drink

Football fans, there’s no place like homegating

Football party/tailgating food.
Football party/tailgating food.

You want the fun of watching a football game, but not the $78 average cost of a Carolina Panthers ticket.

You want the fun of sharing all those traditional football foods with your friends, but not the work of schlepping it all to a parking lot and balancing your plate on the hood of your car.

There is a word for people like you: homegating. And while the entertaining can certainly be lavish, with from-scratch cooking and over-the-top decorating, you can do it just as well with food that’s easy to find and assemble.

“It’s more comfortable, the parking is cheaper, and the bathrooms are usually cleaner,” says Debbie Moose, the Raleigh-based food writer. When she was researching her cookbook “Fan Fare,” on classic tailgating food, she found people who were using projection TVs to show the games on the side of their houses, “sort of like replicating the outdoor experience at home.”

“The viewing experience at home is so much better now.”

This is no surprise to the National Football League, which has trademarked the term “homegating” and created a smartphone app, a logo and a whole line of home-entertaining products around it.

“Our best platform is Pinterest,” says Vanessa Lee, the NFL’s brand manager for consumer products, including recipes. “We’ve seen everything from traditional spreads to quinoa salad.”

Watching and eating

In Charlotte, about 400,000 people tune in on Sundays for Carolina Panthers broadcasts on WJZY (Fox46), the largest audience for any single show on any Charlotte TV station during the week. The NFL says 45 percent of viewers nationally are women. And where women go, food interest follows.

One surprise when the NFL started its homegating campaign in 2013: They thought football home parties were something that happened later in the season, after Thanksgiving, when it gets colder and the competition gets more intense. But they found that people are doing home football parties long before the playoffs and the Super Bowl.

“They’re doing it earlier, they wanted to engage earlier,” said Natara Holloway, the NFL’s vice president for consumer products. “It’s surprising that people were having as lavish of spreads and supporting their team at the beginning of the season.”

Homegating and tailgating may have different settings, but the foods are the same. Cindy and Bill Buchanan of Charlotte are experts in turning home football into an event. Their garage, tricked out in Panthers memorabilia, has become legendary as “Garage Mahal.”

Even when they go to games, they let their neighbors use their space. And if they’re not at a game, they hold very big football parties.

“I’ve got everybody trained now,” Cindy Buchanan says. “Everybody knows to bring something. Nobody ever walks up without something in their hands.”

Shaping a football-food party is a little different from other kinds of parties, says Moose: Focus on something that’s easy to make in advance, so you can watch the game too, put out smaller snacks for the first half and bring out the bigger food at halftime.

“For a regular party, it’s all out when everybody gets there. If I’m going to bring out the major stuff, like wings, bring those out at halftime, when people want something more substantial.”

Better-quality prepared foods cut the work, too. Moose likes the Wholly Guacamole brand of guacamole, for instance, which is in the produce section of most supermarkets.

“There are big improvements in guacamole, particularly. It used to just be green goo. Now there are better salsas.” Or you can get frozen wings and dress them up with a better sauce before throwing them in the oven.

One of Moose’s favorites: Put out a bowl of cooked, chilled shrimp, guacamole, salsa and a stack of small flour tortillas. People can assemble their own wraps when they’re ready.

“I would not make these too far ahead of eating them because they may get soggy,” she says. “But they’re easy enough that you can let the guests make them. Cooked and shredded beef or chicken would be good, too, instead of the shrimp – a good way to use up leftover grilled meat.”

No one is saying that homegating will replace tailgating. Sometimes, nothing beats being at a game. But there’s room in a season for both.

“In homegating, it’s about the social connection, having folks over and enjoying the game together,” says Holloway. “It’s about creating that fun atmosphere.”

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis

Win a copy of ‘Fan Fare’

We’re giving away a copy of “Fan Fare,” Debbie Moose’s book on football-party food. To enter, send an email to Kathleen Purvis,, with “Fan Fare” in the subject line. Make sure to include a daytime phone number.

Pizza Cups

From “Fun Food Fast!” by the editors of Good Housekeeping (Hearst Books, 2015).

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place 40 bite-size tortilla chip cups on a large baking sheet. In a bowl, combine 1 cup shredded Italian cheese blend with 2 tablespoons prepared pesto. Spoon into the cups. Slice 10 grape tomatoes into 4 pieces each and place 1 on each cup. Bake 6 minutes, or until the cheese melts.

Yield: 8 servings.

Brat Sliders With Beer Kraut

Beer Kraut: Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet and add a 14-ounce bag of three-color coleslaw mix. Cook briefly, then stir in 2 packed tablespoons light brown sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard and 1 cup brown ale. Cover, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 10 minutes. Uncover and cook until most of the beer evaporates.

Sliders: Remove the casings from a package of uncooked bratwurst (about 5 brats) and combine in a bowl with 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard and 2 tablespoons brown ale. Form into 12 small patties (about 1/4 cup each), then fry or grill until brown. Serve on small rolls, such as Hawaiian bread, topped with some of the kraut.

Yield: 6 servings.

Pepper Jelly Wings

Suggested by Debbie Moose, author of “Fan Fare.”

Combine about 1 cup of hot pepper jelly and 2 tablespoons hot sauce, such as Texas Pete. Microwave about 30 seconds and whisk to combine. Dip frozen wings (such as rotisserie-flavored) into the sauce, then place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake according to package directions.

Yield: About 4 servings.

Chocolate Chip Monkey Bread

From Cindy Buchanan of Charlotte.

Spray an 8- or 9-inch cake pan with nonstick spray. Place 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa in a small bowl. Working with one can at a time, unroll two (8-roll) cans of crescent roll dough and press the seams together. Cut each rectangle into 8 rows by 3 rows (24 pieces, or 48 total). Place 5 to 8 semisweet chocolate chips in each rectangle and shape the dough around it to seal. Toss the balls in the chocolate and sugar, then pile in the cake pan. Sprinkle any remaining chocolate and sugar over the top, then melt 1/4 cup butter and pour over the dough balls. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a serving plate and serve warm. (You can wrap it in foil and reheat it if needed.)

Yield: About 8 servings.