Deep in heart of Texas, and, therefore, football country, James Hromadka has set his enthusiasm for tailgating on the sport of soccer, specifically the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer. A charter member of the Texian Army, one of the largest independent supporters groups for the Dynamo, Hromadka is currently the treasurer and travel director of the 501(c)(7) organization, but, perhaps most importantly, he’s the grill master.
A financial advisor by day, this sportsman and outdoorsman is so passionate about Dynamo soccer that he met his wife Melissa through the Texian Army. Each home game, Hromadka arrives at BBVA Stadium in the eastern section of downtown Houston, known as EaDo, and cooks for up to 100 hungry Dynamo fans. Taking his cue from the tailgating culture surrounding the state’s vibrant football tailgating culture, Hromadka’s Lone Star pride is on full display at Dynam tailgates, especially when rival Sporting Kansas City coming to town.
“One of my favorite things is when the Dynamo play Kansas City because of big Texas versus Kansas City barbecue rivalry,” says Hromadka. For these games, Hromadka will typically smoke 18 racks of ribs and started smoking brisket in 2018. “I’m a Texas native and so I’m very proud of our cooking, especially our barbecue. So, once a year we usually do a gigantic barbecue tailgate around the K.C. game, just to kind of show them what good barbecue is.”
For equipment, Hromadka prefers to cook old school over charcoal, typically using a Weber 22-inch kettle grill, primarily due to its durability and efficiency. Hromadka and the Texian Army crew planning the day’s tailgate are allowed in the parking lot at four hours before kickoff, however, the actual tailgate party typically begins three hours before the start of the game. The Weber kettle grill gives him the flexibility and durability he needs to cook for large groups of fans who come to Dynamo games with an appetite.
“if I’m grilling I have basically an hour to get my pit ready and have food started cooking,” Hromadka says, “The Weber really holds the charcoal heat for a long time and I don’t have to keep replenishing the coals often.”
For an extra bit of style at Dynamo tailgates, one of the Texian Army members has built a giant, silver smoker, with weights on the handle custom-made to look like soccer balls and vent covers cut in the shape of retired Houston star Brian Ching in mid-air resembling his 2006 bicycle kick goal-of-the-year against D.C. United.
While Texas and Mexican cuisine is a big part of Dynamo tailgates, Hromadka says Tex-Mex is available on every corner in Houston, so he and his crew members tend to shake things up as much as possible. From time to time he will do the standard ballgame fare, but with Houston being one of the most diverse cities in America, Hromadka and his fellow Dynamo fans like to prepare foods from all over the globe in order to break from conventional tailgate wisdom.
“At one of our last tailgates, L.A. Galaxy came to town on Cinco de Mayo, but we didn’t want to do anything themed around that,” Hromadka explains. “One of our members is Greek and he likes to cook up some souvlaki, so we had souvlaki skewers, a Greek salad, and some really nicely seasoned and oiled bread. It was actually pretty healthy as far as tailgates are concerned.”
Other themes may include a fish fry or other seafood when the Seattle Sounders are in town or a theme with members of the Texian Army doing different takes on chicken wings. Anything, Hromadka says, to add variety and to appeal to the different tastes of fellow fans. “It’s very challenging when you’re cooking for a large group of people versus cooking for your family because you have to be quick and efficient,” he says. “I do some of the standard stuff, like burgers and hot dogs, but to me that’s boring. So I try not to cook those very often.
When Hromadka is taking the lead, he says, it’s barbecue all the way, but don’t expect to get his full recipes – those are closely guarded secrets, however, Hromadka did agree to divulge one key bit of information. He likes to use Whataburger brand mustard and ketchup, a Texas favorite. “If I’m giving away one of my little secrets when prepping my ribs, the mustard I always use is Whataburger mustard,” he says.
“Also, true Texas barbecue doesn’t have sauce, but I usually make up a little bit of barbecue sauce just for the out-of-towners,” he adds. “I actually use their ketchup as a base, just to kind of give it a little bit more of a Texas flair.”