With the regular season on the horizon, it’s time we finally discuss arguably the best part of game day ... tailgating! Baltimore has a combination of unique food and beverage customs combined with a stadium that is immersed in the heart of downtown Baltimore, giving it a much different feel than most NFL stadiums and tailgates.
When you clicked on this article, I guarantee the first thing that came to mind was something involving crabs! We will certainly get to the wild and wonderful world of crab balls, crab cake sliders and soft shell crab sandwiches, but let’s start with Baltimore’s best kept delicious secret.
Baltimore barbecue — known lovingly as “pit beef” — is a time honored tradition throughout Baltimore and Maryland. Pit beef is roast beef prepared over a charcoal fire (a pit) most commonly using top round cuts of beef. Traditional pit beef is thinly sliced and served on a kaiser roll with tiger sauce (horseradish and mayonnaise) and thinly sliced raw onion. Unlike traditional barbecue, pit beef is cooked quickly at high temperatures, hon.
Pit beef is Baltimore’s cult classic. At tailgates, aluminum tins filled with thinly cut slices accompanied by small bowls of tiger sauce, sliced onion and Kaiser rolls are a staple. You can find them all over. Pro tip: if you’re tailgating at a Ravens game and see someone has pit beef, find out who made it and ask them about their charcoal pit setup. You’ll most likely get offered a taste that is likely to be accompanied by a delightful family recipe story something along the lines of, “My father used to work off Pulaski Highway in Baltimore (the mecca of pit beef) and saw Ray Lewis at Chap’s Pit Beef not too long after ‘dey won da Super Bowl in 2000.”
Pit beef is Baltimore’s true tailgating tradition. If you’re a fan of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” then you have to check out Chap’s Pit Beef on Pulaski Highway. The king himself, Guy Fieri, had an iconic segment there that gives nostalgic memories to Baltimore faithful, perhaps even a tear.
I’m also personally fond of Andy Nelson’s Southern Pit Barbecue as well as Jake’s Grill, if you want to do a trifecta tour de pit beef. With great beef comes great responsibility, to drink (responsibly) and scream, “O’s!” during The Star-Spangled Banner at Ravens and Orioles games home or away, which was written by Baltimore native Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.
It wouldn’t be a Ravens tailgate without indulging in some variation of a Maryland blue crab dish accompanied by an oyster-shooter. Seafood, in general, is a massive part of Baltimore’s culture. With Baltimore at the point of the Chesapeake Bay, where 11,864 miles of shoreline run from Maryland through Virginia, which more than the entire U.S. west coast. While crabs are the most iconic Maryland cuisines, don’t sleep on the eastern oyster, one of the most iconic delicacies in the seafood world. At one point in the 1600s, the Eastern oyster was so abundant in the Chesapeake Bay, the oysters were filtering the entire bay once a week! Eastern oysters are mild, but meaty, with a low salt content. They pair extremely well with an American lager, or in the form of an oyster shooter!
Here’s one of my favorite oyster shooter recipes:
- 1 cup vodka
- 1/2 cup cocktail sauce
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
- Tabasco, to taste (I prefer a lot)
- Celery salt, to taste
- 8 small oysters, shucked
- 2 tsp. refrigerated horseradish
Shake all of the ingredients with ice then strain into a shot glasses, drop the meat of the oyster into the glass, bite a lemon and send it down! Now you’re livin’ baby!
Once you’ve indulged in a pit beef sandwich and gotten a taste of eastern oyster, it’s time for some crab cakes. While many will argue this stance, I’m of the firm belief that in order to be a crab cake, there must be filler. The ratio should be about 90% jumbo lump crab meat, 10% filler. The filler should consist of some combination of the following ingredients: dijon mustard, crushed up oyster crackers or saltines (some use breadcrumbs), lemon juice, parsley, and of course, Old Bay. Crabcakes and football baby, that’s what Maryland does! You can also toss one of those bad boys on a toasted kaiser roll with some Tarter sauce, lettuce, tomato and onion to fill up on a crab cake sandwich!
While you’ll see your fair share of crab cakes at a Ravens tailgate, you’ll also see a ton of crab dip! Here’s Old Bay’s recipe for crab dip:
- 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoons OLD BAY Classic Seafood Seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon McCormick Ground Mustard
- 1 pound lump crabmeat
- 1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
Here’s the full recipe, essentially combine those ingredients and bake at 350 degrees! Then enjoy by spooning it onto some toasted and sliced French bread.
Now that you’ve indulged in pit beef, oyster shooters and gotten your crab fix, it’s time to get your buzz (responsibly) with some purple jell-O shots, shotgun a Boh’ and indulge in Maryland’s most classic beverage tradition: the orange crush.
Orange crushes are a Maryland summer tradition that leaks into the fall (and winter/spring aka all year round) that originated in arguably the greatest city on planet earth, Ocean City. Originating at Harborside Bar & Grill in West Ocean City, Maryland, the orange crush is a refreshing and delightful drink that’s bright in color and flavor, giving you the spark you need to go hoot and holler for the Ravens as they handle business for four quarters.
Harborside owners Chris Wall and Lloyd Whitehead, along with their friend Jerry Wood and bartender Kelly Flynn, invented the Crush more than 20 years ago, screwing around with a bottle of Stoli O on a slow Sunday afternoon in the fall of 1995. The bar’s current build, which shares bits of DNA with drinks like the 007, the Greyhound and even the Daiquiri, is not a secret: cubed ice, two ounces each orange vodka and triple sec, the juice of one crushed orange and a splash of Sierra Mist.
“In the 2000s, you started to see it migrate, across the [Chesapeake] Bay and into the city,” says Brian McComas, whose three Ryleigh’s Oyster outposts have won “best of Baltimore” awards for their Crushes. This is a man who takes process seriously. Each of his restaurants is equipped with a pricey ice machine that spits out 2,500 pounds of “fish ice”—those slow-melting, buckshot-size pellets that keep your Blue Points chilly. He likes it better for Crushes than conventional cubes—it looks prettier and melts better. At his suburban location in Timonium, McComas installed a walk-in refrigerator dedicated solely to storing fresh fruit—loads of oranges, but also lemons, limes and grapefruits—for his menu’s eight other variations. The investments seem to have paid off: McComas says he sold 300,000 Crushes in the 2015 calendar year.
The orange crush also coincides well with the Ravens lot-mates, the Baltimore Orioles. There’s nothing pretentious about an orange crush; it’s refreshing and gets the job done. Congratulations, you’re officially done a Ravens tailgate right!
If you’d like to experience more of a bar scene before or after the game, head 0.3 miles from the tailgating lots and head over to The Purple Patio at Mother’s Federal Hill Grille and dive into one of the loudest, most raucous groups of Ravens fans who are partying before and after the win. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a few dozen pairs of purple camo pants along the way.
Enjoy, hon. Go O’s. Go Ravens.