Nate Kaeding's 10 tailgating essentials for Kinnick Stadium
Starting this Saturday, Hawkeye football fans will take to the parking lots that surround Kinnick Stadium to practice an art that is as old as the game itself: tailgating.
With grill smoke, beer cans and sounds of music filling the air every Saturday during a home Hawkeye game, tailgating is as much a staple to Iowa City as the football game itself. But with the many variables involved in a proper tailgate, practicing the art of tailgating can seem daunting to newcomers.
Former All-American Hawkeye kicker, and all-pro NFL kicker Nate Kaeding has heard it all when it comes to tailgating: Hawkeye fans downing beers in parkas before games in December, to fans of his former NFL team the San Diego Chargers drinking Chardonnay and eating sushi rolls outside of the Qualcomm Stadium.
Since moving back to Iowa City about four years ago, Kaeding and his wife Samantha have become regulars of the Kinnick Stadium tailgating scene.
"It's been a fun transition. Growing up in Iowa City as a kid, I didn't tailgate much. As a player, that whole world is like nonexistent. You're in your own bubble as a player," Kaeding, a founding partner of the Tailgate collegiate clothing store in Iowa City, said. "Now, we make a full day of it.The whole atmosphere there is awesome. The game is great, but that whole experience before and after the games is just as memorable."
Kaeding calls himself a classic "tailgating guest," someone who will visit different friends' tailgates each week, instead of throwing one himself. This way, Kaeding, who now works for the Iowa City Downtown District, says he's been able to soak in all the variations of tailgating.
"Some of it is the old school where you're just cooking some brats and hamburgers, and get some bags of chips. Some are like a group sport with all the potlucks and dips. Then there are the outliers that serve filet mignon each game and have a different theme each week," Kaeding said.
If readers want to jump-start their tailgating game, here are Kaeding's 10 Kinnick Stadium tailgating essentials.
1. Cold cans of beer
"That's a must," Kaeding said. "Nothing fancy. You've got to be drinking Coors Lite, Budweiser. You can sprinkle in some local craft beer or maybe a light IPA."
The key to beer for tailgating is "drinkability," Kaeding said. No 10 percent alcohol by volume Belgian beer that will sit heavily on the stomach because that could disrupt your plans to eat.
Also, when it comes to beer when tailgating, keep refrigeration simple: coolers filled with ice.
"I'm a big brat fan, preferably beer-boiled prior. Sauerkraut, mustard, that's all you really need," Kaeding said.
Simple to grill, and no need for elaborate toppings for serious taste, bratwursts also give you a big amount of protein you'll need to get through a day of tailgating. Burgers are definitely not a bad option either, but brats are king for Kaeding's tailgating Saturdays.
"You need some music, but not too loud," Kaeding said. "I've seen it pop up where people feel like they need to DJ the situation. You need something for the ambiance, but nothing too crazy."
First, music that's too loud can really annoy tailgating neighbors. Most people tailgating at Kinnick are Hawkeye fans, so people want to be nice to all in the Hawkeye Nation. Second, tailgating at its core is about spending time with friends, talking and having fun. People can't share their opinions on the outcome of the game if they're yelling over some horrendously droning dubstep music.
"Bean bags or football are the go-to choices," Kaeding said. Bean bags, or cornhole, is a game easy enough for someone with a beer in hand to play, but challenging enough to get the competitive spirit going inside every football fan.
If tailgaters have kids like Kaeding does, he suggests bringing a good ol' pigskin as well. "With the kids, after the game, you can relive the big plays and the memories of the game by just throwing the football around."
5. Something sweet
Too often ignored at most Hawkeye tailgating gatherings is something sweet to cap off a meal. "Especially near the end of the season, some sweet hot coffee or hot chocolate is great," Kaeding said. "Cookies are a nice touch, too."
6. Nearby restroom
"Proximity to a bathroom is key. That's a pragmatic thing more than anything else," Kaeding said.
There are few things more annoying than long walks, or long waits, for the bathroom.
7. Bloody Mary bar
"I've never been a 7 a.m. drinker," Kaeding confessed. "But I will have a Bloody Mary around 10 a.m.
Kaeding is not a fan of all the "fancy" extras people add to a Bloody Mary sometimes: bacon, pickles, sausages. Keep it simple and a Bloody Mary bar becomes relatively easy to do, Kaeding said. " All I need is a spicy Bloody Mary mix, some good vodka, some olives, maybe a celery straw and I'm good to go."
8. Chips and dip
"I'm a big fan of the seven-layer dip: sour cream, cheese, guacamole, diced tomato, lettuce, beans, olives. That's key," Kaeding said.
Of course, tailgaters need some hearty tortilla chips to take the full brunt of a good seven-layer dip. Hy-Vee makes solid tortilla chips; Bread Garden Market makes their own tortilla chips if fans want to support local chip makers. Potato chips with French onion dip are also an appropriate alternative.
Probably the most challenging step for tailgaters is getting a television able to show other football games, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. "Especially later in the year when the bowl games are a bit more clear and teams are jockeying for position, having a TV around is important," Kaeding said.
Someone with a good television setup may also attract other Hawkeye fans, so a television can even help tailgaters make friends.
10. A quarterback and grill-master
"Every tailgate needs a quarterback, someone in charge, someone who knows what they're doing," Kaeding said.
The key job of a tailgating quarterback is being the master of the grill. "Grilling is not a team sport. You need someone who is going to be that guy and take it over as if it is his job," Kaeding said.
The old adage "too many cooks in the kitchen," applies, but you can also liken it to the old football saying "if you have two starting quarterbacks, you don't have one."
Reach Zach Berg at 319-887-5412, email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter at @ZacharyBerg.