In the days leading up to this year’s LSU vs. Florida game Oct. 16, Chris’s Specialty Foods owner Tressy Leindecker knows her Baton Rouge and Prairieville stores will be inundated with requests for one particular meat.
Chris’s sells Louisiana farm-raised alligator tail meat by the pound, which fans will purchase in large quantities for fried or blackened nuggets and for gator etouffée, she says. And many will request it another way: whole.
“Recently, we’ve seen this trend of people ordering whole gators with the head and tail on, and putting the entire thing on a pit,” Leindecker says. “It makes for a great conversation piece.”
Indeed, in 2019, when ESPN featured the LSU-Florida faceoff on College Gameday, producers asked local restaurateur and veteran tailgater Jay Ducote to smoke a whole alligator for the show. He obliged, attracting plenty of attention from fans and guests, including actor John Goodman, who posed for pictures with Ducote and his handiwork.
“One of the first things you do when you plan your menu is look at who we’re playing,” says Ducote, author of Jay Ducote’s Louisiana Outdoor Cooking.
A battle with the Mississippi State Bulldogs inspires a play on hot dogs or corn dogs, he says, and one with the South Carolina Gamecocks invites chicken wings and beer-can chicken. Duking it out with Alabama can trigger an eye-catching elephant fashioned from grilled pork chop “ears” and a pork loin “trunk.” No surprise, playing the Arkansas Razorbacks means specialty butcher shops will see requests for whole hogs.
“Yes, we sell a lot of them for the Arkansas game,” Leindecker says. “People smoke them whole in Cajun microwaves or on pits.”
There’s plenty of similar action in restaurants, too.
“We definitely see an increase in alligator sales for that week,” says The Chimes manager Brent McLellan about the LSU-Florida game. “We also add specialty items for that week, as well, like grilled alligator sausage and gator chili.”
McLellan says the restaurant’s Chimes East location has also served house-made alligator sausage corn dogs, co-opting both Florida’s mascot and the still-puzzling LSU-smells-like-corn-dogs insult Alabama fans have hurled at Tigers.
Sammy’s Restaurant also sees healthy sales of blackened and grilled gator when LSU plays Florida, says Kevin Kimball, operations manager for Wayne Stabiler Companies, which owns the restaurant.
Kimball says the restaurant group’s other eateries can get really creative with game week dinner specials.
After LSU’s 42-28 “pounding” of Florida in 2019, Palermo briefly added gator picatta, made with Louisiana alligator pounded thin, pan-fried and topped with lemon butter caper sauce.
Kimball says this year is no exception. “Stabs Prime might do a Louisiana gator and andouille gumbo, and you might see a gator fettuccine dish at the Little Villages,” he says.
Even teams whose mascots don’t convert well to the plate can influence what’s served on game-day.
“When Texas A&M comes to town, I might do Texas-style brisket,” Ducote says. “Or when it’s Tennessee, you might see Nashville hot chicken or Jack Daniels in a sauce. The idea is to get as creative as you can.”
This article was originally published in the August 2021 issue of 225 magazine.