Some would say that all you really need for a tailgate is a truck, a radio, and a well-stocked cooler. But why stop there?
Tailgating is a tradition woven as deep in the fabric of our nation as Thanksgiving dinner. There’s no better way to show your love for the team than throwing the loudest, rowdiest, best-est tailgating party in the school’s history.
You bring the energy. We’ll provide the essentials.
Your Tailgating Party Essentials Checklist
The basic tailgating checklist looks something like this – we’ll expand on it with recipes, tips and ideas below.
- Food and a way to cook it/heat it up. BBQ is the gold standard. Things you can eat with a beverage in one hand are ideal.
- Beverages and a way to keep them cool. There are a few ways to do this – we’ll cover two of the best.
- Cups, plates/trays and utensils. Aim for three plates and cups per person and six napkins per person, plus extras for drop-in guests.
- Extra everything. Extra food, extra napkins, extra charcoal/propane, extra ice. A great tailgate is never smaller than you expect.
- A line to the game. The old-school option is radio, but it’s now easier than ever to broadcast the game in full HDTV. We’ll explain how.
- Team pride. Mark your team’s territory with flags, jerseys, and homemade gear.
Best Tailgating Food
Tailgating grub shouldn’t be complicated. Simpler is better. After all, most tailgaters aren’t seated at tables holding forks and knives – they’re milling around with a beverage in one hand and a snack in the other.
That’s one of the reasons why hosts usually serve up BBQ staples like burgers, hot dogs, and sausage on a bun. Burritos and tacos (and their kid-friendly cousin, Fritos in a Bag) have also gained ground in the tailgating world.
Not a carnivore? There’s plenty of cheesy, buttery goodness you can grill up alongside burgers. Check out Bobby Flay’s best-ever corn on the cob, Todd + Diane’s chargrilled cauliflower steaks, or these gooey cheese-stuffed grilled peppers.
But BBQ is just the main course, and a good tailgate should have food enough to last guests from pregame to post. The Today Show helpfully defined the four tailgating food groups as dips, grillers, stews and sweets – your party should have plenty of each.
- Don’t forget toppings and condiments! There’s no letdown like a hotdog without ketchup or a cheese-less cheeseburger.
- Want to bake squares, cupcakes or sugar cookies with team colors? This Southern Living article will tell you just how to mix perfectly-colored
- For late-season games in cold climates, bring along a pre-heated crockpot of hearty stew to warm your bones. Bonus points for homemade bread bowls.
Bring on the Beverages and Keep ‘em Cold
Beer, coolers, cocktails, soda…your tailgate, your choice. The point is, you’ll want to keep those bevvies cold for as long as possible.
The pinnacle of tailgate drink storage is the beverage center: a compact refrigerator made just for cans and bottles. Since you can see what’s inside through the glass door, there’s no holding it open and letting the cold out while searching for a certain drink.
Still waiting to find a beverage center in your stocking? In the meantime, an ordinary plastic cooler can do the job well enough. For best results, it helps to pre-chill the cooler by filling it with cold water and a bag of ice at least 12 hours before game time. When it comes time to pack the cooler, cover the bottom with a layer of ice and try not to leave big gaps between items.
As for the age-old question of whether to drain the melted ice mid-game, science has the answer: the cooler’s contents will stay colder for longer with that meltwater in.
- Need to keep food warm instead of cold? You can turn a cooler into a temporary warmer using foil and bricks.
- If you plan to have more than one cooler at your tailgate party (one for drinks and another for food, or separate coolers for kid and adult beverages), label them. Otherwise, you’ll keep having guests open the wrong cooler, letting out the cold.
- There’s no such thing as too much ice at a tailgate. An ice maker is a worthwhile investment for serious tailgaters.
Set Up a Tailgate TV
No tailgate party is complete without a way to tune in to the game. The good news is, there are more ways to do this than ever, and it’s a lot easier than it used to be.
Setting up a tailgate TV is simple. TVs are comparatively lightweight nowadays, and many hardware stores rent out generators for power hook-up. If the TV doesn’t sit steadily in your vehicle, you can put together a simple tailgate TV stand with a few tools and some plywood.
When it comes to broadcasting the game, many fans have switched from tailgate antennas and satellite dishes to streaming services. There are plenty of devices out there designed to help you stream video to a TV from computers, tablets or mobile phones. Choosing standard definition over high def will cut down your data costs – but let’s face it – the best tailgating party is going to be one that displays every throw, catch and fumble in full HD. Splurge if you can.
- Watch the weather. Set up a tarp or a folding tent to protect your TV if the forecast calls for rain (or worse, snow).
- Be mindful that most LCD TVs are not meant to operate outdoors in temperatures above 150F/40C or below 50F/10C.
- Don’t forget to bring speakers. Many new TVs have Bluetooth connectivity, so portable Bluetooth speakers are ideal.
More Tailgating Tips
We like to party. Here are some of the other bright ideas we’ve had!
- 5 Essential Tips on Hosting a Summer BBQ To Remember – It’s the details that make the difference between a decent backyard BBQ and an electrifying summer shindig.
- Beer Chilling on a Budget – Step One: Grab a shovel.
- 5 Quick Party Finger Foods – Salivating one-bite snacks.