The beauty of tailgating is that you’re guaranteed a good time regardless of how your favorite team performs. With friends, food, drinks, music and games, you can create the perfect parking lot party.
If you’ve never organized a football tailgate before, you’ll want a checklist to make sure you don’t forget any essentials. That’s why we’ve put together a rookie’s guide to tailgating – the game plan for the ultimate gameday experience.
What to Bring to a Tailgate
We’ll assume you’ve got what you need for the game itself, such as tickets, sunglasses and whatever clothes/accessories are required to endure the weather. Here’s a checklist of must-haves for the tailgate itself:
- Coolers with ice
- Folding table and folding chairs
- Plastic tablecloth
- Portable grill, plus propane or charcoal and lighter fluid
- Matches or lighter
- Grilling utensils
- Meat thermometer
- Aluminum foil and plastic wrap
- Paper plates
- Plastic utensils and cups
- Napkins and paper towels
- Disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer
- Bottle opener
- Plastic containers and zip-top bags for leftovers
- Trash bags/cans
- Portable sound system or Bluetooth speakers
- Phone charger/mobile charger
Tailgating Recipes and Tips
Get ready for football season with our top tailgating recipes and tips, including how to pack a cooler. These recipes will have you ready for any tailgate all year long.
So…what’s cooking? This all depends on how ambitious you are and where you plan to prepare your food. For rookie tailgaters, we’ve gathered grilling tips that will be useful at any tailgate.
If you plan to cook at the game, pick quick-grilling foods like burgers, hot dogs and chicken. If you’re cooking at home, bring the food in a container that will keep it hot. Pork butt and brisket can be brought whole and then cut or pulled on site, since the whole cut will retain heat better.
Other traditional tailgate foods include chicken wings, chili, pigs in a blanket, grilled nachos, baked beans, chips with salsa or guacamole, potato salad, macaroni salad and beer cheese dip. A veggie tray also travels well or take your cheese board to-go.
The biggest key to success is prepping the food ahead of time. Chop those veggies, marinate those meats and organize the condiments the night before.
Pro Tip: A fitted sheet can substitute for a plastic tablecloth and won’t blow in the wind.
Seeking inspiration for some flavor faves? Start with our blog about game-day party foods.
For your first tailgate, plan a simple menu – heavy on finger foods. (It’s hard to cut steak with a plastic knife.) Our Hot Italian Sliders and Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Chili recipes are tailgate greats, and Honey Sriracha Chicken Wings will bring sweet heat to the party. You can read more about how to make chicken wings and tips for winning dip recipes.
How to Pack a Cooler
To maximize space for beer and soft drinks in your cooler, remove the cardboard from one end of each 12- or 24-pack, hold that side of the case and turn it over quickly into your empty cooler so it’s standing upright. Once you’ve done that with all your drinks, fill the rest of the cooler tightly with ice. Then lift the cardboard boxes straight up and out – your cans will remain in neat stacks, still surrounded by ice.
Mixing drinks? Try creating a “car bar” in your trunk with a small shoe rack. When you arrive, lay your bottles on top of the shelves for everyone to access. Even easier, you can mix up pitchers of cocktails the night before and pour them into canning jars for single servings. Then pop them right into your cooler with other drinks on gameday.
Pro Tip: When it’s time to clean up and head into the game, plastic totes or lidded bins are great for stashing all your condiments and dirty dishes.
Show off your own skills before you watch the pros show theirs. That means starting with the obvious: throwing a football. Parking lots were also made for beanbag toss (aka cornhole) and ladder ball.
For more ideas, shop our assortment of outdoor games.
Time to Tailgate
Ready for all the action? For more tailgate inspiration, see additional recipes below and check out our Game Day page.