How to throw a locally sourced Florida tailgate, from steak to strawberries

Tom Estevez knows meat. When the assistant lab manager for the University of Florida’s Meat Retail Store looks for a steak to throw on a grill to impress his tailgating buddies, he knows just what he’s looking for. Grilling, he said, is all about imagination, seasoned with smoke and fire.

“You get that cool snap in the air, and you know it’s grilling season,” he said. And local meat like from the UF Meat Retail Store and similar local shops means a fresher selection and less carbon impact than a grocery store steak or hamburger.

But beef, chicken and pork don’t have to be the only stars of the show. Florida’s fresh produce can also bring a smile to Gators fans’ faces.

Ahead of Saturday’s football game against the University of Georgia, get your refrigerator ready for prime time with these tips and tricks to making the most delicious Florida-friendly tailgate seen this side of the Florida-Georgia line.

Tom Estevez, assistant lab manager at the University of Florida's Meat Retail Store, selects a package of beef.
Tom Estevez, assistant lab manager at the University of Florida’s Meat Retail Store, selects a package of beef.
  1. Steaks: The cut can vary, but stick with some of the old favorites: ribeye, tenderloin or sirloin. The key, Estevez said, is to find a cut with a good amount of marbling and a good balance between meat and fat.

A crowd favorite, the “Gator griller,” is a boneless shoulder steak that is heavily marbled, tender and flavorful, he said.

With any steak, the key will be in the cook time, and that comes down to the grillmaster’s skills. “Don’t stress test it. Don’t overcook it,” Estevez said.

  1. Hamburgers: The UF Meat Retail Store sells ground beef, as well as pre-made hamburger patties – in five-pound bags for the serious tailgaters. “The bigger the game, the bigger the hamburger sales,” Estevez said.

With hamburger, you want a good quality ground beef, and you don’t want the mean to be too lean or it dries out on the grill, he said. He sticks with an 80% meat, 20% fat mixture.

  1. Pork: A pork tenderloin on the grill, first marinated with fresh Florida tangerines and garlic, is as close to heaven as one can imagine, Estevez said.

Marinades can make or break this meat, so pick out flavors that complement pork well. One combination could be ginger, lime and garlic. Another option is coconut milk, cumin and salt.

  1. Corn: Corn on the grill is a fan favorite (Give me a C!), but did you know UF/IFAS has been instrumental in breeding sweet corn? Specifically the Florida Staysweet, a sweeter variety of corn, was bred by a UF/IFAS researcher. Two more modern varieties, the Yellowstone and Everglades hybrids, are also available commercially and are hardier plants with sweeter kernels that have a “more creamy, corn taste,” according to UF/IFAS documents.
  2. Fruit salad: What tailgate would be complete without an offering of fruit? Sweet oranges and local strawberries would pair well with blueberries, apples and grapes.

Both citrus breeds and several strawberry varieties have been created by UF/IFAS plant breeders.

  1. Snacks: Snack on boiled peanuts or make some peanut butter dipping sauce for raw vegetables or chicken skewers. In Florida, about 50 percent of peanuts produced are made into peanut butter, the perfect base for a savory dip or sauce.

“Did you know peanuts have more protein than any other nut?” said Andrea Nikolai, a family and consumer sciences agent and registered dietitian for UF/IFAS Extension Polk County.

“Eating Florida-grown foods helps our local farmers and bolsters our local economy, and it also involves shorter food-transportation distances,” Nikolai said. “This means the food is often fresher with more flavor and nutrients and fewer food-safety risks. It’s Florida for the win.”


The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.  |  @UF_IFAS


Feeding a hungry world takes effort. Nearly everything we do comes back to food: from growing it and getting it to consumers, to conserving natural resources and supporting agricultural efforts. Explore all the reasons why at or follow #FoodIsOurMiddleName.


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Posted: October 23, 2023

Category: UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Teaching, Work & Life

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