As one of the biggest sporting events in the world, the Super Bowl brings so many people together. Whether you’re a die-hard fan of the game or someone who really just showed up to watch the halftime show, we can all enjoy the drinks and food at a Super Bowl party.

This year, the Super Bowl will be held in Las Vegas and just like the rest of the city, the food scene within the stadium is just as unique and extraordinary. Unfortunately, like many of you, I can’t go see the game in person (scheduling conflict, you know how it is) but after seeing the food offerings for the game, I had major FOMO.

But fear not! I have scoured Chicagoland and my own recipes to get amazing food recommendations that will rival or even beat the offerings in Vegas. If you happen to be lucky enough to go there in person, these suggestions could be a good litmus to judge your Super Bowl meals. For us watching from home in Chicagoland, here are some of the items that I may eat to feel like I’m at the Super Bowl too.

Inspired Burgers

There are some primo burgers available to those at the game and one I’ve been eyeing is an Asian Fusion style with a wasabi mayo. This got me thinking of making some creative burgers at home. With a little ingenuity, we can create some amazing fusion burgers in our own kitchens.

I think when it comes to making fusion burgers, there are three levels – the simplest way to get those Asian flavors into a burger is by simply changing up the condiments. Add some wasabi to mayo at home to make something similar to the ones at the stadium or go big with an upgraded spicy mayo by combining Chinese chili oil, sriracha, and Japanese mayo for that extra depth of flavor and complexity.  The next level would be to change up some of the toppings. Fresh or pan-fried kimchi is an amazing topping for burgers and tossing on a fried egg gets you a burger many Asian-fusion places serve up. For me, I wanted to add a topping most haven’t seen before – jjajang sauce. This sauce is made with an inky black base sauce called chunjang (tiánmiànjiàng in Chinese). It’s a complex and slightly sweet sauce made of fermented wheat flour and soybeans. Usually eaten with noodles, this sauce can pack an umami punch when added to a burger. I added a leafy section of fresh homemade cabbage kimchi on top to add a bit of acidity and boom – you’ve got yourself a Jjajang Burger. If you want to take it to expert level though – make a custom Asian burger patty with some Wagyu fat trimmings, and get them thin and crispy by making them a smash burger with a splash of soy, ginger, and garlic as you sear them for a flavor-packed burger that needs minimal toppings. For this burger, I added a few of the meatier pieces of the trimmings as a layer just below the patty and topped it with a red pepper vinegar sauce called chojang for balance. Add some loaded kimchi fries to finish the whole aesthetic but make sure you use a fork.

I suggest letting these burgers really shine by pairing it with the Easy Drinking Bud Light. The rice in Bud Light compliments the Asian flavors and finishes crisp on the palate. If you’re looking for something crafty to pair with your burger, why not pair it with another local favorite – Hopewell’s Stay Frosty Winter Lager. This beer is another great pairing option due to the caramel maltiness of Stay Frosty. It is a great juxtaposition against the richness of the beef patties.

A Barbecue Feast

In the stadium, it wouldn’t be very easy to carry over a full platter of BBQ to your seat and eat it comfortably – well that’s too bad for those at the Super Bowl (is my jealousy showing?) because we won’t have that issue! In Vegas, they’ll have to settle for more portable versions of their BBQ, mainly in the form of sandwiches. They offer brisket, pork shoulder, and chicken and I’m sure they taste great but if I’m going to have BBQ – I am going ham (pun intended) on a fully loaded platter. I don’t think the stadium’s offerings can hold up against a full platter with plenty of sauces and napkins – For me, I like my platter loaded with brisket, ribs, pulled pork, and smoked wings.

I wish I was a pitmaster – it’s something I always found very daunting. Luckily, there are great BBQ spots all around the city and in Chicagoland. Choose your favorite place and make sure you call ahead early if you’re planning on getting catering from them or get that reservation in before they’re booked up. If you are going to have it at home, it’s a great chance to try some sauce pairings that aren’t offered at the restaurant. Try Texas style with Alabama White, St. Louis Style with a Lexington, Memphis style with Baltimore style horseradish, you’d be surprised by how many combinations are possible! Bud Light and BBQ are a perfect pairing that really lets the pitmaster’s flavors resonate. Another great option is to look over to Texas and grab a Shiner Bock to pair with your meats. Shiner and BBQ go hand in hand in my book.

Ain’t No Party (Sub) like an Italian Party (Sub)

A sub sandwich is a symphony of flavors that brings together so many ingredients to form a sum greater than its parts. The ceiling is obscene on a sub because you can always upgrade the bread, the meat, the cheese, the veggies, etc… I’ve made some great sandwiches at home but there is something very unique about ones that are made in a deli. Recently, I learned a trick that makes a world of difference.

You probably have a spot for Italian subs but if you want to make your own for your Super Bowl party, it’s important to make it just a little bit before the guests arrive (30 minutes to an hour before). Get the bread you like, the meats you like, and all the toppings you like but timing is key. Here are some tips to make your sandwich go from okay to “OH KAY!”.

  • Bread – Get quality bread. Doesn’t have to be expensive or from a bakery but get something with a nice crusty exterior and pillowy soft interior. Cut the loaf lengthwise but remember to take some of the bread out from the two halves. How many times have you tried to close a sub and have the bread rip and make a mess? The cavity you create will let you put more fillings in and help the bread-filling ratio. Also – no need to toast but to each their own.
  • Meats and Cheese – Buy or ask for thin slices and don’t lay them flat on top of eachother like they were in the container. Flavors need air to really shine. Layer your meats and cheese with care – folds and creases – to create that beautiful picturesque height. Make sure to vary the meats and go for a balance. Going with all hard cured meats will make your sandwich a dense log that will probably cause more achy jaws than happy smiles. Capicola, pepperoni, and salami are common but get adventurous with mortadella, prosciutto, or even soppressata if you’re into those. The cheese has to be provolone for me but go with your tastes.
  • Veggies – I like a lot of onions but white onions just don’t do it for me anymore on something like this. Pickled red onions are perfectly acidic and tangy to balance the meats. It also adds a little sweet to the mix. Next is tomatoes. Most tomatoes in markets are pretty watery and lack flavor – that’s just how it is when you’re eating them out of season. You will want to cut them about an eighth inch thick, lay them out on a paper towel and then sprinkle both sides with a coarse kosher salt or a flakey salt if you have it. Let the extra water seep out and then they are ready for your sandwich in approx three minutes. As for lettuce, fancy leafy greens just don’t make sense to me on an Italian sub. Getting cute with kale or arugula to make it seem healthier is just going to ruin the overall taste of the sandwich because those are too flavorful. Iceberg lettuce, finely shredded should go on the sandwich last to preserve its crunch. It should act like packing peanuts to keep space open in the sandwich to allow that air in for a more aromatic eating experience.

The final step to make this an extraordinary sub is to wrap it in butcher paper or parchment paper and let it rest in the fridge. When it’s ready to eat, throw on the extra black pepper, a little flakey salt, quality olive oil, and maybe even a spritz of the pickled red onion brine. If we added all that while it was resting, the lettuce would have soaked up all the liquids and oil and sogged it out. Some extras you can add are fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, a little balsamic, and some Italian seasoning at the end too. A great pairing for Italian subs are hoppy and citrusy IPAs like Goose Island IPA. It will cut through the richness of the meats and cheeses but also compliment the acidity of the toppings. It’s a pairing I’ve done multiple times and it’s very hard to beat. You can also pair it with some other citrus forward IPAs like Spiteful IPA, Stone IPA, or Founders All Day.

Game Day Trinity – Football, Beer, and Wings

I may have mentioned this before but chicken wings are my favorite food in the world and I have tried many different types of wings all around the city. From what I’ve seen, the wings served in the stadium seem like they would taste great but they are similar to the ones sold in most pizza spots around town that have them on the menu but don’t really specialize in them. When it comes to that classic buffalo wing though, there are only a handful of spots that I go to to satisfy that exceptional wing craving. However, I’m now out in the suburbs and those spots are just a little too far for me to drive to on a whim. That is why I was beyond excited when I discovered a place famous for their wings out here in my new suburb. I’ve always preferred non-breaded wings in the past because I was a purist but the crunch on dredged wings are making me reconsider. Regardless of whether you go for traditional style or breaded, there are plenty of options in Chicagoland that will satisfy. This is one food that I’d definitely order from a restaurant because the juice just aint worth the squeeze making them at home for me. Budweiser is my preferred beer when I’m eating wings because it doesn’t fill me up and pairs so well with the wings. I recently started eating them with Michelob Ultra so I can have some extra wings and I’ve enjoyed that pairing just as much. If you’re as big of a fan of chicken wings as I am, you know it’s a marathon, not a race – go with something lighter in the lager or pilsner family and you won’t regret it. Trumer Pils, Haymarket Speakerswagon, and Spiteful Lager are all great options that I have happily had with my chicken wings before.

For Those Who Prefer Boneless and/or Something Spicy!

No, I’m not saying to get boneless wings (they’re not really wings!). I am talking about boneless chicken options. I understand some of you don’t want to worry about bones while you’re focusing on the game. There are some bone-free chicken options for those at the Super Bowl too. One thing that stood out to me at their concessions was some pretty great looking Nashville Hot-style chicken sandwiches. Hot Chicken is easy to do at home because the heat is the last part that is added. If you have breaded chicken tenders, breaded chicken patties, or any kind of fried chicken already at the party, making a hot oil for your spice loving friends is pretty easy to do. One part oil to three parts of your favorite hot sauce in a hot pot is all you need. Cayenne based sauces will get you that signature red hue associated with Nashville Hot but go with what you like. I made mine with a mixture of a cayenne based hot sauce along with a habanero one. When the mixture is nice and warm, just dip the chicken in and pull it right out. If you’re making a smaller batch, use a sauce pan to heat the mixture and toss the mixture with the chicken. As a spicy food lover myself, I plan to open up some special bottles I’ve been eyeing for the Super Bowl this year. Just remember to not heat the mixture to the point where it will aerosolize because nothing ruins a Super Bowl party faster than accidentally macing everyone. Pair it with white bread and pickles if you’re traditional – I decided to go with a creamy coleslaw (in case the chicken got too spicy) and some pickled jalapeños (if the chicken wasn’t spicy enough). With spicy foods, I usually go with two schools of thought: you can either match the intensity with a bold IPA or cool the burn with crisp lagers. If you are in the first camp, Hopewell’s Going Places, Goose Island’s Hazy Beer Hug, Spiteful’s Working for the Weekend, or Haymarket’s Mathias are all strong choices. If you want to ease that burn, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Goose Island Full Pocket Pils, or Stella Artois are great pairings.

Even though at the time of writing this, the two teams are not decided yet, I am already excited for this year’s Super Bowl. Let me know if you tried any of these suggestions and I would love to hear your feedback after trying some of these food and beer pairings. If you are going to the Super Bowl let’s be friends and go next year let me know what you think about the food there and if you think these choices are better or worse; I am super curious to hear your thoughts!