If you'll be holding a little gathering of your own come kickoff time, we've got a party playbook for you that combines Superbowl classics (big, meaty food) with modern updates (big, not-so-meaty food) a tailgate-party reference or two (OK, assuming Ralph Lauren throws your tailgate parties) and even a touch of competitive fun. See you at the coin toss.
Diagram the plays Use a big chalkboard to let guests know the party plan — a chili and beer tasting worthy of your foodie friends, complete with voting for favorite chili and prizes for lucky guests. Don't have a chalkboard? Use any big frame (ours is a flea market find), cut a piece of foam board to fit and paint with chalkboard paint. Jot your menu and the basic party details on the board. Chalk markers (available at craft stores) are an easy-to-use, non-smearing alternative to standard chalk.
Stay open Keeping one hand free (to hold a beer) is crucial. So serve your chili in mugs, which you can score by the dozen at thrift shops. (Ours cost just 49 cents each.) Customize mugs with stick-on numbers (intended for use on school projects, find them at craft or big box stores) to make it easy for tasters to keep track of their own mug. An alternate play: A mix of kitschy thrift store mugs touting everything from tropical destinations to local plumbing supply stores are another way to keep each mug original. Stickers on the bottoms of a few mugs award prizes to their owners, making it even more fun to grab a mug and get started tasting.
Play good defense Using cheap dishtowels (ours are from Ikea) as giant napkins means everyone is equipped to clean up if necessary. The bamboo spoons are a good-looking, green alternative to plastic.
Quarterback sneak Tucking in some veggies lightens up the typically heavy football-viewing menu, and keeps health-conscious guests satisfied. Chili is perfect for a tasting because there are so many variations to choose from, and the hearty stews lend themselves to cooking ahead. (You can refrigerate or freeze until party time.) Small chalkboards from the craft store make great labels — feed the chili contest hype with some trash-talking nicknames for each variety.
Two-point conversion It's not so tricky to turn your extra points into something worth celebrating — a lazy Susan (also an Ikea find) painted with more chalkboard paint puts a spin on the toppings, and makes them easy to access. Offer plenty of goodies to complement the chili, then keep the rest of the food simple: chips and guacamole to munch and Southern-style cornbread on the side are all you need.
Keeping score Have guests cast their votes for favorite chili on more chalkboards, which you can leave out next to a basket of prizes that references the party's theme. A few ideas: team merchandise, vintage beer coasters and openers and kitchen gadgets for the foodies.
Victory dance This is when it's OK to cheat: Our dessert is a play on gourmet donuts — a comfort-food fave on many restaurant menus — but the main ingredient comes straight from your local donut shop. Make chocolate and caramel sauces (or spike some good-quality store-bought sauces with whiskey or Kahlua) and warm them up. Then grab a dozen plain cake donuts and cut into bite-size, dip-worthy pieces just before serving. Trust us, the crowd will go wild.