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It's All About the Spread
When the pros outside the stadium bring their A game, it's grills and chills

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Baltimore Ravens fans have had ample cause to gloat over their Interstate 95 rivals in recent years. Their team has finished with a better record than the Washington Redskins for five of the past seven seasons, winning 18 more regular-season games in that span.

[Read: The Smackdown in Five Categories]

But because you're reading this section, you realize there's more to life than pigskin (think various cow, chicken and lamb parts). And so, at three recent home games, we took stock of the grilling battles waged in the parking lots, where menu options include plenty of burgers and dogs but also creative efforts such as ostrich, alligator, venison tenderloin and, of course, deep-fried turkey. Fans in both cities insisted that food was but a minor part of the tailgating experience, that camaraderie was most important, and that, despite some extreme supply costs, the exact amount of dollars spent just did not matter.

It must be noted that Ravens fans enjoy certain inherent advantages. Their stadium is nestled downtown, offering purple-clad revelers a lunchtime view of the city skyline, while Redskins fans are treated to the asphalt-and-dirt charms of Landover. Ravens fans are allowed into the parking spaces five hours before an early game, a full 60 minutes before Redskins fans. Grill-wise, that makes a big difference for a 1:05 p.m. kickoff. Baltimore also will enjoy two late-afternoon starts at home this season -- perfect for a relaxed dining experience -- and two night games, while six of Washington's eight home games start at 1 p.m., forcing a more hurried breakfast-lunch convergence.

All that said, in general, the superiority of Ravens tailgating seemed clear. (And now Redskins fans can send hate mail to the Sports and Food sections!) The typical spread offered more variety: tuna steaks to turkey legs to tenderloins. The unifying trend outside M&T Bank Stadium was seafood -- scallops and shrimp and lobster and crab -- while the FedEx Field lots offered more pedestrian sausages and red meat. Baltimore's cozy lots gave rise to a festive, block-party atmosphere, where cigar smoke wafted on the breeze, gently mingling with the scent of charred meat. Heck, even the press box food was superior: a full breakfast, then crab cakes for lunch, vs. warmed-over hot dogs and sad stir-fry in Washington.

To make sure, we consulted with a few experts, who shared our general impressions.

"Ravens fans seemed to know their tailgating stuff a lot better. They seemed to be better decorated, more creative, with a more creative use of public spaces and private lots," said Andrew Kulyk, who, with fellow freelance sportswriter Peter Farrell, has rated the game-day experience at all 31 NFL venues. "The Redskins experience . . . just seemed to be very quiet and very sterile by comparison."

"They're both in the top half [of NFL cities], and they're very close," said Joe Cahn, the self-proclaimed Commissioner of Tailgating, who has visited more than 500 tailgates nationwide. Cahn suggested Baltimore's spread would make it a three-point favorite, in football terms. "But one good bite of something else could just change the entire game."

Related Recipes:

Forbidden Black Rice Salad With Ginger Vinaigrette, Jimmy Jester's Cider Rocks Dogs, Mark Grande's Grilled Tuna With Wasabi Sauce, Mark Waters's Sausage, Peppers and Onions, Mary Wilson's Salmon Spread and Ted Abela's Asian Country-Style Pork Loin Ribs

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