Proud Alum: FSU Alum Charlie McKenna On The Art Of Frying Up Gator Tail

College football has kicked off in a big way this year. What should you eat while watching your school's team? In Proud Alum, we talk with a chef about their memories of tailgates past, and ask for their best parking lot recipe.

"It was a whole lot of partying," reminisces Charlie McKenna about his Tallahassee days, the tone wavering between proud and nostalgic. Personally, we're quite jealous. The head chef of Chicago barbecue standout Lillie Q's holds the distinction of graduating from Florida State University, a campus known for both a renowned party scene and a perennially ranked football team. Turns out that Charlie has received some national recognition of his own, having taken home hardware at Memphis in May, widely regarded as the world championship of barbecue. We caught up with the acclaimed chef to talk tailgating tips and Seminoles football.

What were the tailgating parties like at FSU?

They were huge. Thousands of people would gather outside the stadium – they had RVs, tents, satellite televisions on the back of their pickup trucks. We'd watch College Gameday in the morning. We'd eat lots of typical tailgating foods and then for all the FSU games, we'd cook gator tail.

Give us some cooking advice for tailgating like a professional?

My most important tip would be proper planning. Get everything organized beforehand because once you get there, you don't want to have to deal with any of the party planning aspect. You want to be in party mode.

Do you ever go back to Tallahassee for the games?

I usually go back for one big game per year – usually, either the game against Miami or UF. Last year I went back for the game against Florida [alas, McKenna's beloved Seminoles lost, 37-26].

When did you decide that cooking was your true calling?

I actually knew that I was going to go to culinary school after FSU. I got into cooking – specifically barbecuing – with my dad when I was little. He'd do big catering events for people and I would help out. He also taught cooking classes when I was in high school, and I would always take care of the appetizers. I always knew I was into cooking, but didn't know that I wanted to do it as a career until after I got to FSU.

Any predictions for this year's team? They're currently undefeated and ranked eighth.

I think they're going to be in the race for the National Championship, even though I don't know if they'll actually win it. Their redshirt Freshman quarterback [Jameis Winston] is awesome and played really well last Saturday.

Charlie gives us his favorite places to eat and drink on game day in Tallahassee:

Po'boys Creole Café

"They do po'boys with crawfish and all of that. They've been there since at least four or five years before I went there. Typically on Friday nights, they'll have a big party before the game the next day. My friends are always hanging out there whenever I go back." 1944 W. Pensacola Street, Tallahassee, FL 32304, 850-574-4144,

AJ's Sports Bar

"It's your typical sports bar: a bunch of TVs, a big patio around the outside. The food is more like burgers and that sort of thing. We'd watch most of the away games there since they get satellite and kids in college couldn't really afford that." 1800 W. Tennessee Street, Tallahassee, FL 32304, 850-681-0731,

Prime Time Sports

"Again, this is a very popular, typical sports bar and hangout area. It's a lot like AJ's. Classic." 1921 W. Tennessee Street, Tallahassee, FL 32304, 850-329-7148,