tailgate-chef
Image: Chad Coleman

Number one fan Josh Henderson feeds the tailgate crowd without getting stranded on the party sidelines.

JOSH HENDERSON is the guy who made Seattle’s Skillet Street Food (skilletstreetfood.com) —and its artery-slapping “bacon jam,” the mixture of bacon, onions, and spices that he spreads on his burgers—a national sensation. He’s also a lifelong Dawgs fan who has spent many an hour manning the grill outside Husky Stadium. And while Skillet’s shiny Airstream trailer may seem better suited to tailgating than just about any vehicle on the road—there’s a grill, of course, plus a four-burner range, two deep-fryers, a refrigerator, work tables, and a three-compartment sink—Henderson says he’ll never need it at Husky Stadium.

That’s because football, he says, should be about football. And chef or no chef, Henderson doesn’t like it when people get too serious about the food. “I just want to hang out and carry on,” says the cook, who plans to open a diner on Capitol Hill in 2011. Next time you hit the lot before the game, follow Henderson’s tips for scoring a culinary touchdown without missing a minute of fun.

The Secret “If you’re going to be drinking for six to eight hours, you need to prepare and pace yourself. That applies to food, too,” says Henderson. Rather than trying to please all your pals’ palates, focus on one item and do it up right, using the best ingredients you can find. Henderson likes porchetta sandwiches: roasted pork belly stuffed with rosemary and fennel, then squished between two pieces of good bread. He preps the day before so that his parking lot time can be all about the party.

The Sandwich When cooking for about 25 friends, Henderson buys a 10– to 13–pound slab of pork belly from a local butcher (the cut is hard to find at the supermarket), and rubs it inside and out with pesto made from rosemary, fennel, garlic, roasted onions, and toasted walnuts. He rolls it up, ties it, and roasts it over a low, open fire for a few hours, basting it with apple juice and butter. Then he slices it and serves it on bread that’s hearty enough to hold up to the juice but not so crunchy it scrapes the roof of your mouth—Macrina’s potato roll would work well—with caramelized onions and a big slathering of lemon-fennel aioli.

The Trimmings In the snack department, Henderson keeps things simple—he suggests serving the meatwiches with a roasted potato salad and some greens.

The Booze Even for a chef, the goal of tailgating is straightforward: to drink. Henderson goes for growlers, the glass half-gallon beer bottles that allow grown-ups to play Edward Fortyhands without feeling immature. Good matches with porchetta? Stone Brewing Co.’s IPA, or, for local flavor, Maritime’s Pale Ale.