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How to throw a Super Bowl party like a pro

This Jan. 19, 2011 photo shows crab cake sliders in Concord, N.H. Super Bowl party food is all about big, comfy flavor and ease. Because on the day of the big game, you want to spend your time in front of the tube, not the stove. (Larry Crowe / AP)

The key to throwing a Super Bowl party is to keep it simple.

So says Joe Cahn, the self-proclaimed “commissioner of tailgating” and man behind

The 69-year-old, Fort Worth, Texas-based tailgating king has been tailgating around the country since 1996, when he bought a motor home and headed out on the open road to visit all NFL stadiums. Since then, he’s logged more than a million miles and partied at more than 1,000 tailgates. He’s visited all 32 NFL stadiums and 98 college stadiums – but none in Spokane nor Cheney.

“I haven’t done Gonzaga or Eastern Washington, but I’ll be there,” he said in a phone interview last week. “I’m not giving up the quest.”

That quest is: “to have as much fun as I possibly can while I’m still breathing.”

Cahn doesn’t limit tailgating to football. He also tailgates at NASCAR events, baseball openers, Jimmy Buffet concerts and more.

“Wherever there’s a tailgate you’ll find me,” he said.

And when he’s not partying in the parking lot, he throwing his own game-day parties at home. Here are a few of his tips for throwing a touchdown of a Super Bowl party.

Keep it simple. “When we have a party at home, we want to do so much and try to put on this wonderful spread. But it’s all about the people who are coming. The simpler it is the better, the more time we have to spend with people. This is not a competition. Martha Stewart isn’t coming. Rachael Ray isn’t coming. Emeril (Lagasse) is not coming. Your friends are coming.”

Serve bite-size finger-foods. “This isn’t a banquet. This isn’t a reception. People are going to be grazing, picking up a little of this and a little of that. So no fork and knife.” But, yes to toothpicks and sliders instead of burgers. Consider, also, cutting up sausages or hot dogs so your guests don’t need to, or serving Lit’l Smokies.

Sign your name across your cup, if you want to find your beverage. “There’s nothing worse than having 28 cups and not knowing which one is yours,” said Cahn, who recommends Sharpies. For cans and nametages, he suggests Sharpies, too – and duct tape.

Go small. Forget big bags of chips. “If I’m going to serve chips and dip, I’m going to serve chips in small bags,” Cahn said. “I don’t need people, during the cold season, reaching in. They have to have their own individual bags.” Same thing goes for mixed nuts. “Put them in small little snack packages so you don’t have people putting their hands in. It’s like trick-or-treat, and it makes it easier to serve.” Plus, he said, “If you have a bowl of mixed nuts, everybody’s going to take the cashews anyway.”

Buy extra ice. “Extra ice is always a good idea.”

Give people something to do. Cahn suggests setting up an electric grill, an array of cheeses and seasonings, and letting guests make their own grilled cheese sandwiches. One of his favorite combinations: ham, cheese and pickles. A variation: a taco-making station with tortillas, toppings and shredded chicken, pork or beef.

Honor the teams. Cahn’s thinking fried chicken, a staple in Southern fare, to represent Atlanta, and lobster or crab, dipped in melted butter, to honor New England. Don’t forget those toothpicks.

Provide plenty of bottled water. “I like the small bottles because it’s so easy. Have people put their name on them.”

Make a cheese ball. A cheese football, that is. Cahn recommends using a creamy, flavored cheese spread, instead of cream cheese or a blend of soft cheeses, so you don’t need to combine them in – and later clean – a food processor. Chopped pecans can make the cheese ball the color of a football, and strips of Provolone can be used to make the laces.

Keep the cheese away from the TV. You don’t want partygoers blocking the screen. “That’s a penalty!”

Offer something besides meat and cheese. “Have a section of alternative food: health bars, fresh fruit, carrots.”

Have a ball. “I like to tell people to get a football. Have everybody at the party sign it and give it to the host” – for being, Cahn said, the MVH, or Most Valuable Host.