AUSTIN, Texas — For some football fans, the tailgate is as important as the game.

At the core, it’s an opportunity to hang out with friends and fellow fans and eat and drink before watching a game. But for some, tailgating is not just about throwing out a few fold-up chairs and cooking hamburgers and hotdogs on a mini kettle grill.

Each game is an excuse to haul out a generator, flat-screen TV and a satellite dish, a traveling bar with a couple of kegs and a $10,000 custom-made smoker on which to cook enough briskets, pork ribs and sausages to serve every person who stops to ask what smells so good.

For the past five years, Mary Joffre and her brother, Mace Villarreal, have spearheaded Tejana Tailgaters, a group that throws such an elaborate tailgate that it requires a 12-person board to oversee.

With DJs, a big-screen to watch the game and award-winning barbecue, Tejana Tailgaters have won tailgating awards every year since 2010. They host fund-raisers in the off-season to help cover some of the costs, including more than $2,000 in fees to reserve parking spaces.

“This is a second family,” she says. “It’s all about dedication, loyalty and hard work. Everybody brings something to put in the pot.”

It’s a family you can join without even rooting for the University of Texas. “We welcome everybody, even the opposing team,” says Joffre.

Moe Guerrero, who custom-built a five-figure smoker in 2005 to take to barbecue competitions, is always in charge of the grill, and on the first tailgate of the year, he was firing up sausages, pork ribs, chicken fajitas and corn on the cob.

No one should walk away hungry, he says, adding, “We just keep throwing food on the grill.”

North Carolina-based photographer Taylor Mathis loves the customs and passion of tailgaters so much that he spent three football seasons traveling to almost

30 games throughout the South to document them for his new book, “The Southern Tailgating Cookbook: A Game-Day Guide for Lovers of Food, Football, and the South.’.

“I went to big schools with 100,000 students and small schools with 900 students and learned that it doesn’t matter the size of the school, the level of passion is still there,” he says. “Anywhere on a Saturday, you’ll find people tailgating who are there to have a good time with their friends and their family.”

Mathis, a former collegiate swimmer, says that you can learn a lot about foodways in a particular region by what people serve at their tailgate, such as boudin and gumbo at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge or the individual barbecue styles of the Carolinas, Tennessee or Texas. But one of the dishes that captured Mathis’ eye were the pepperoni rolls at West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va., which are a reminder of the long history of mining in that state.

Some people spend a bunch of time on the food, while others focus on activities, decorations or even fashion, as houndstooth-clad fans in Alabama do in honor of Bear Bryant’s famous hat. “The beauty of tailgating is that it’s whatever makes it fun for you,” he says.

The most serious tailgaters don’t make a living off their parties, but they treat the event like a business nonetheless with websites, Facebook pages and even business cards.

Among them is a card-carrying Justin Barron, who has been hosting a tailgate with his friends at every home game for the past

10 years.

Barron had to commute from Houston for a few years, but he’s back in Austin full time, which gives him more time to spend on figuring out what to throw on the Bubba Keg, a now-discontinued lightweight version of the popular Big Green Egg.

Barron says he mostly cooks typical tailgate meats, but his recipe for beans is the most requested, so he posted it on the tailgate’s blog, texastailgaters.

Tailgating recipes

Barron’s Beans

2 pounds dry pinto beans

1 (12-ounce) package of bacon

1 medium onion, diced

1 batch cilantro, diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 (10-ounce.) cans Rotel tomatoes

4 tablespoons. Fiesta pinto bean seasoning

2-3 tablespoons beef bouillon

1 tablespoons ground black pepper

Tony Chachere’s to taste

Soak the beans in a pot of water overnight. The next day, dump out the old water and rinse the beans in a strainer.

Cook the bacon about halfway, then cut it into chunks.

Put the beans in a pot and fill up with hot water (2 inches or so above the beans), then turn on the stove. Throw in the pinto bean seasoning, garlic, pepper, bouillon, and bacon — stir it up until the bouillon dissolves. Leave out the onion, tomato and cilantro for now. After the water starts boiling, turn down the heat and simmer. The beans will take about 4 hours or so to cook depending on the temperature.

You’ll probably need to add water occasionally. About one hour before the beans are done, throw in the onions and tomatoes.

When it’s getting close, try the beans — they should be tender but not mushy. When it’s done, throw in the cilantro. If you want to, you can stir in some Tony C’s. Serves about 20.

— Justin Barron

Grill-Spiced Pecans

This tailgating version of spiced pecans adds an element of fun to the party snack staple. Why make them at home when you can easily make them on your grill? While the grill is heating up for your main dish, you can provide guests with freshly roasted spiced pecans and an experience they won’t soon forget.

3 cups pecan halves

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

At home, measure out the pecans and store in a sealable container. Pack the butter in a small sealable container and refrigerate overnight. Add the rest of the ingredients to a small sealable container and mix together.

At your tailgate, place a

9-inch-by-13-inch baking pan over a medium-high grill. Add the butter and let it melt. Once the butter is melted, add the pecans and stir, making sure all the nuts are covered in melted butter.

Add about half of the spice mix to the pan and stir. Cook the pecans over a medium-high grill, stirring frequently for about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and add the remaining spice mix. Stir to evenly coat. Transfer to a serving bowl or place the pan on a trivet and serve. Makes 3 cups.

— From “The Southern Tailgating Cookbook: A Game-Day Guide for Lovers of Food, Football, and the South’’ by Taylor Mathis (University of North Carolina Press, $30)

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Hatch Mac and Cheese

5-6 Hatch chiles

1 pound dried macaroni

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste

1/2 teaspoon pepper, to taste

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

2 cups half and half

2 cups whole milk

4 cups shredded sharp cheddar, divided

2 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar

2 cups shredded muenster

Roast chiles in oven or grill until skin is blackened, rotating every 3-4 minutes. Immediately place in paper bag, seal and let sit 15 minutes. When chiles are cool enough to handle, peel skin off. Cut tops/stems off chiles and discard. Discard seeds, or leave some in if you like extra spice. Chop up chiles and set aside.

Cook macaroni according to directions on package. Drain and set aside.

Preheat oven to

350 degrees. While macaroni is cooking, melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Whisk in flour and cook 2-3 minutes, whisking continuously. Add salt, pepper and garlic powder. Stir to combine. Slowly whisk in half and half and milk. Cook, continuing to whisk, until sauce is thickened. Add in

2 cups sharp cheddar, 2 cups extra sharp cheddar and

2 cups muenster and stir until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth.

Mix sauce, green chiles and macaroni in large bowl and pour into greased

9-inch-by-13-inch casserole dish.

Top with remaining

2 cups of sharp cheddar. Cover with foil and bake at

350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbling. For crispier top, remove foil for last

5-10 minutes of cooking to allow cheese to brown slightly. Serves 10.

— Recipe courtesy of Kristen Smolik

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