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There’s nothing better at a Wisconsin tailgate than the smell of grilled foods

Welcome back to that wonderful time of the year.

NCAA Football: Lambeau Field College Classic-Louisiana State vs Wisconsin Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve lived in Wisconsin for most of my life (sans a brief exodus to Florida), so I was born and raised in a state that celebrates not just the nine innings and 48 to 60 minutes of particular sports. There’s an aspect of community and camaraderie—and if alcohol is available, spirits inhibited—hours prior to the game.

Quite simply, there may be nothing more paramount to an American sporting event experience than a tailgate.

Wisconsinites take their annual pregame rituals to heart. With vehicles stuffed with lawn chairs and lawn games, minivans and trucks speckled with team-based license plates, stickers and flags, fans flock to their designated parking spots. They set up shop and, for a few hours, become citizens of a temporary, new community united by a common theme of rooting for their Packers, Badgers, and Brewers.

To be fair, I have not participated in a Wisconsin Badgers tailgate in quite some time. Having covered the football program for the last four years, there’s no opportunity to stop down at a friend’s gathering. Taking in a Milwaukee Brewers game as a fan, well, that’s a different story, and the Miller Park parking lots are ideal for pregame consumption of food and beverages.

Yet that doesn’t mean I don’t take in the tailgating experience on my walks down to Camp Randall Stadium, or haven’t in the past. Just after I graduated from UW, I lived off of Regent and Randall in a house whose driveway was annually rented out for every home game to farmers who would supply us steaks. For a broke kid stuck in a low-paying retail job, my commutes home via Metro Bus on the weekends would be supplemented with the excitement for smells of grilled meats hitting my nostrils on the walk down the street.

Walking down Regent Street brings back those memories and creates new ones. The fans clad in cardinal and white, the various pregame kick-off parties ranging from adult-only to family-friendly, the ranks of the UW Marching Bands swinging from party to party—especially those tubas—all enhance Madison’s college gameday experience to make it one of the best in the nation. It doesn’t matter what time the game is—there’s always something being grilled, and to me, that’s the way to win my attention and, more importantly, my heart.

After expanding my pallet after being a picky eater for the better part of my life, it’s not just meats that intrigue me now. Grilling marinated vegetables, mushrooms, etc. provide tasty options for those that are vegetarian or vegan. A shish kabob of peppers, plump mushrooms and pineapples, I’ll gladly devour.

My most fond aromas, however, come from the grilled chicken smothered in barbecue sauce, the burgers that are routinely flipped and served medium before being vigorously consumed. More precisely, a good bratwurst may be one of my top five foods of all-time.

People prepare brats in different ways. How many do you ask? Well, I asked my followers, and I received over 30 responses. I hit an interesting topic.

Many of those who responded noted the tradition of boiling the brats with beer, onions, butter and spices. I’ve been brought up to do the same, though upon an hour or two of research, combined with some timely responses on Twitter, I actually switched up my personal recipe.

To not break the casing of each brat, it appears best to simmer them in the beer (I used Polka King Porter from Door County Brewery) and red onion mixture, rather than boil. The casing is the shield that keeps in the juices and flavor of each delicious link of meat.

After taking a bite of one with some Secret Stadium Sauce—an ode to my Milwaukee roots with County Stadium and Miller Park trips—I realized I may never go back to my previous ways.

That will come in handy down the road when I may be called upon to prepare food for such a sporting event—if my career covering the Badgers ever draws to a close or I’m headed to a Brewers or Packers extravaganza with friends or family.

On Friday, I drove down to the campus area early to take in the sites and sounds of a returning Wisconsin game day. Though my media parking location has changed, I walked past the stadium to take in the sights, the sounds and the smells around Regent Street.

The first sniff of grilled meat came from hot dogs being seared near Engineering Hall. I then strolled down Randall, where a college-age party was blasting Smashmouth. The irony there laid in the fact those at that party were either young toddlers, or possibly not even before, when that song debuted in 1999.

I paced back and forth down the street I used to frequent often, seeing the various plumes of smoke billowing from each separate tailgate—whether corporate sponsored or a bar’s own event. Loud music was blaring, fans were parading down seamlessly to their preferred pregame parties. It’s a sight you only see six to seven times a year, but it absolutely never gets old.

On Saturday, both Owen Riese and I will be down on campus before the game once again. Let us know your location if you want extra guests. We’ll discuss how special Paul Chryst’s team could be this year, hopefully throw some bags around, and banter about how Wisconsin’s running game could resemble glory days of years’ past.

And hopefully, there will be some amazing food. Some tasty, delicious, grilled food.