Pat and Gina Neely, stars of television's Down Home with the Neelys, coach you through the best tailgating season ever with their game-winning entertaining tips and recipes.
Pat and Gina Neelys' Tailgate Tips
Credit: Photographer: Todd Rosenberg

Pat and Gina Neely have co-owned one the South's most famous barbecue restaurants, Neely's Bar-B-Que, in Memphis for 22 years. In 2008, Pat and Gina began filming their hit Food Network show Down Home with the Neelys. The show captures the Neely's genuine passion for family, fun, friends, and food straight from Pat and Gina's own kitchen.

Also, Kraft Foods has partnered with the Neelys, sportscaster Erin Andrews, and quarterback Joe Montana to beat hunger this football season through the Huddle to Fight Hunger program aimed at serving 20 million meals to Americans this year.

Being prepared can make or break a game, as well as a party. What are your best party-prep tips for a tailgate party?

The Neelys: We believe that, "just like a football game, if you're not prepared for the party you will lose." In fact, Pat's mantra is "plan, plan, and plan!" Planning and preparing are the most important things a host can do.

Keep in mind that with tailgating, guests arrive early and stay late. Grill meats the day before so that all you have to do on game day is warm. Also, make salads and sides ahead and keep chilled until you're ready to serve.

When planning a tailgate menu, are you going to focus on an assortment of hors d'oeuvres or will you serve a large entrée?

The Neelys: We favor serving small and light portions over a big entrée because tailgates can be all day affairs. Set out food so people can graze before the game and well after the game is over.

Barbecue is the perfect tailgating food; it can be prepared in advance and will not spoil. Consider serving easy-to-eat finger foods like wings and ribs. Dips are always a success, especially a spicy, Mexican Cheese and bean dip.It's delicious and filling. Another great snack that will last all day is a snack mix. We prefer a tasty one that's heavy with nuts, butter and paprika.

Gina's Dip Reheating Tip: Pack an extra pot, place the dip in it, and warm it on the grill.

Can you share your MVP recipe for tailgating?

The Neelys: Memphis-Style BBQ Mac and Cheese is mouthwatering, filling, and wallet friendly. No tailgater is going to say "no" to mac and cheese under the influence of bacon, barbecue sauce, ground beef, and onions.

Menu Money Saving Tip: Any time money is a concern, serve pasta. It is inexpensive and filling.

What are the Neely's tailgate essentials?

Pat: No tailgate is complete without Gina.

Gina: You've got to have a grill at the tailgate!

The Neelys: We both agree that there is no tailgate without food and friends. Our tailgates are so much fun that people frequently miss the game. Some guests even bring a TV to watch the game because they won't ever leave the tailgate!

The Fun Tip: You can always bring the game to the tailgate, but you can't ever bring the tailgate to the game! Make it fun![pagebreak]

For tailgating on location, you must have food that can travel. Which portable foods do you two recommend?

The Neelys: Store chilled foods in an insulated cooler; they only gain two to three degrees an hour. Pat swears by Gina's mother's famous potato salad, Mama Jean's Potato Salad. Sandwiches are another great thing to bring. Try a hardy and crowd-pleasing New Orleans-style muffuletta that's loaded with deli meats.

Traveling Food Tips: Chilled foods travel more easily than foods that need to be kept warm.

Tailgating is all about the food and the drinks. Which food and drink combo says it's football season to you?

Gina: Nothing says football season to me like a hot dog topped with chili and Neely's slaw washed down with my favorite low-cal, girlie drink, Crystal Light pink lemonade and vodka.

Pat: I stick to the tried-and-true ribs and beer combination.

Four quarters is a long time. How do you pace the food to make it through the whole game?

The Neelys: We bring plenty and keep cooking! We always over prepare, if we expect 30 then we cook for 40. If there aren't leftovers, then you've done something wrong.

What team are you rooting for this season?

The Neelys: We cheer for our hometown team, the University of Memphis Tigers! If they aren't playing, then we'll cheer for another Tennessee team.

Do you take special menu-considerations depending on the teams that are playing? Would you serve gumbo and bbq if LSU and Tennessee are playing?

The Neelys: Never ever! The menu is barbecue even if Hawaii is playing. Barbecue is our blood. Gumbo doesn't stand a chance to ever make our tailgate.