Serving up superior grilled goodness is the best way to make your tailgate party stand out. To achieve this grilling excellence, preparation is key, so make sure you check out these 7 rookie mistakes you should avoid when grilling at a tailgate. So save yourself some time and the headache before you head out to the game.
MISTAKE #1 – NOT BEING PREPARED
Tailgating is not a completely spontaneous activity. It works best when you've done some prep ahead of time.
Chop your veggies, skewer your meats, form your patties, and pack your condiments. While this might sound awfully organized, it makes for a far better experience on the day of. Remember, tupperware is your friend.
When everything is measured out and prepped, all you need to do is fire up the grill and cook your food while you relax. It will also cut down on the number of utensils you have to bring, and the amount of washing up you have to do once you are done, which we can all agree is the worst part of the whole experience.
MISTAKE #2 – CHOOSING MEAT THAT TAKES TOO LONG TO COOK
Don't get carried away trying to make tender barbecue ribs or anything that's going to take hours to cook. Save that for a weekend at home.
Think foods that are quick and simple to cook on a grill and are easy to cook in a batch, so you can spend more time eating and relaxing rather than hovering over the grill.
Here are some good options that will cook quickly and taste delicious:
- Hot dogs
- Chicken wings
If you are still dead set on bringing something like a brisket to the game, why not consider cooking it at home so it's ready just before you leave, then keeping it piping hot in our thermal bag.
That way, all you need to do is slice the meat up at the game.
This won't work for all meats, as some will overcook and become rubbery, so make sure you do your research.
MISTAKE #3 – RUNNING OUT OF FUEL
When you're busy prepping and planning, there is one vital detail that can easily be overlooked: fuel.
An emergency trip to the store that makes you late is never a good way to kick off your tailgate.
Whether you plan on cooking with gas or charcoal, it's a good idea to always have more than enough to run the grill for a couple of hours.
Undercooking your meal is arguably more irritating (and dangerous) than not even getting the grill going in the first place.
MISTAKE #4 – DRINKING TOO MUCH
Operating the grill safely requires you to have your wits about you.
This is especially true at a tailgate where there are lots of distractions and you're grilling on an unfamiliar setup.
Moderation is key, so keep an eye on how much you drink, at least until all the food is cooked and the grill is safely put away.
MISTAKE #5 – LEAVING THE GRILL UNATTENDED
Always keep an eye on the grill!
The best option is to have one person (aka the grillmaster) responsible for operating the grill. If you need to step away, have another person take over for you.
This isn't just about safety, either. It's far more likely that your meticulously prepared burgers could get burned to a crisp if you get embroiled in a deep analysis of your team's last performance with your parking lot neighbors while grilling.
Don't waste all your pre-game preparation by taking your eye off the ball once you start cooking.
MISTAKE #6 – SERVING UNDERCOOKED MEAT
In all the excitement, don't forget about food safety. Everyone going home with food poisoning is one sure way to ruin the day.
Make sure you keep uncooked meat chilled at under 40° F. Store it in a separate chiller that won't be opened all the time to access other food or drinks.
As mentioned earlier, make sure you have enough fuel to cook any meat properly, to a safe temperature. A meat thermometer is a great addition to your kit to make sure you've reached a safe temperature.
If you are unsure what a safe internal temperature is for the meat you plan to cook, you can find a comprehensive list from the USDA here.
If you are bringing meat you've cooked at home with you, make sure the meat stays above 150° F.
After you have washed up your cooking surfaces and utensils, washing surfaces down with a solution of one tablespoon of 5% unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in a gallon of water will ensure any leftover bugs won't stick around.
MISTAKE #7 – NOT CHOOSING THE RIGHT GRILL
You want to pick a grill that is portable, sturdy, and easy to operate.
Generally, a small gas grill like the Weber Q1000 is the most convenient grill for tailgating.
If you're a fan of cooking with charcoal, a small portable charcoal grill is also a great option. Just make sure you check with the venue as some stadiums don't allow charcoal.
Be sure to check out how easy the grill is to pack up and how much space it will take up in your car.
A good grill for tailgating doesn't have to be expensive.
As we mentioned, a smoker is not the best idea for tailgating. However, if you have an epic weekend planned and are setting up the night before, you might be able to get some use out of it.
Needless to say, if you are a beginner, perhaps leave the smoker for now and tackle that only when you have some experience under your belt. Otherwise, tailgating might seem like too much of a hassle.
Tailgating should be one of those activities that make the most of the simple pleasures in life: food, family, and friends!
So keep it simple, take note of the suggestions above, and you'll have a great time!