by Chef Boy Ari

It's game day, and you're ready to party. You've got beer, ice, potato chips, folding chairs, tunes and a pigskin to toss with your buds. Your T-shirt announces your favorite team.

But perhaps it makes you dimly uneasy that the entire parking lot is full of people a lot like you. Everyone likes the same team, most are drinking Miller or Bud -- the McDonalds and Burger King of beers -- and the wieners and burgers around every corner are increasingly predictable.

For some, this is good. Schools of fish, for example, and flocks of birds have crafted the art of the herd mentality down to a science. And synchronized swimming is really...interesting. And there are the Maoist Chinese, who considered it noble and good to disappear into conformity. I'll never forget the sight, as I rode the train north from Beijing, of thousands of workers gathered outside a factory, doing synchronized Tai Chi en masse.

At this point, you're thinking "I'm an American, dammit, an individual. I have freedom of expression!" You want to tower like Shaq above the mediocre majority. You want to rule the tailgate party.

But remember, there are downsides to racing too far ahead of the curve. Unless you're that rare breed, like Dennis Rodman, or George Clinton, or Gandhi, and you can get away with redefining the playing field, you will probably need to work within existing conventions, pushing limits rather than shattering them. Say you hit the parking lot clad in a purple feather boa and a gold-plated jockstrap. This could be a problem - even in California.

The same goes with food, a vastly important aspect of tailgate parties. I don't recommend foofy French finger foods, no matter how delectable. Freedom foods might be OK, as long as they don't seem too fancy or too French. Tailgaters don't like foods with too many syllables, or foods in strange languages, except Mexican. Fish tacos are fine. Veal scallopini a marsala is out.

Thus, allow me to introduce the leading edge of tailgate cuisine, whose name and ingredients most tailgaters can truly relate to: Beer-Butt Chicken.

Beer-butt chicken is perfect for the tailgate party for several reasons: it utilizes beer, it cooks slowly (allowing chef and friends to drink a few of their own), it leaves room on the grill for faster-cooking treats with which to keep the appetite in check, and when it's done, an army of bare hands will quickly devour it - no plates necessary. Crispy on the outside and drop-dead moist on the inside, beer-butt chicken is an edible touchdown.

This is originally a rabbit recipe, but rabbit is problematic here for several reasons. Although it's long been staple of the rural poor, these days rabbit smacks of fancy foofiness. And rabbit is difficult to obtain, except at fancy foofy stores. Finally, bunny rabbits are cute and fuzzy, and even burly jocks whimper at the thought of eating them.

By substituting chicken, we take advantage of the second most common clich & eacute; about rabbit: "It tastes like chicken." (The most common clich & eacute;, of course, has to do with intimate details of the rabbit lifestyle).

It's unclear whether the title of this recipe derives from the fact that a beer can resembles a cigarette butt, or that the can gets shoved up the chicken's butt. Fortunately, both interpretations work at the tailgate party.

Publication date: 11/18/04

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