It's that time of year again. The kids are back in school, there's a briskness to the air just chilly enough that you need an extra layer, the fallen leaves crunch with every step, and pumpkin spice-flavored foods and products have taken over the grocery stores. (Speaking of, we also wrote a blog about that. Check out our awesome pumpkin spice recipe roundup.) Anyway, we digress. Back to the topic at hand. Ahem. Most importantly: It's football season.
Whether it's a Thursday Night Football toss-up, a Friday Night Lights kind of showdown, a College Football Game Day Saturday, an NFL Sunday or a Monday Night Football primetime matchup, we've got you covered when it comes to how to throw the most epic tailgating party.
Whether you’re heading out to tailgate at the stadium or you’re planning a game day party at home, we’re your guide to ensure your party goes off without a hitch. Here are the top 7 must-haves for a successful tailgating party.
1. THE FOOD
First things first, let's talk about the most important part of the tailgating experience—that is, of course, after the "three Fs": friends, family, and football. We're talking about game day food, of course! Keeping everyone happily chewing away—and happy altogether—is a key part of being a great tailgate host.
Tailgating Hall of Famer and diehard Bears fan, Tim Shanley, has some great ideas when it comes to tailgating prep, especially regarding game day food. His top advice: Think quick and convenient, and go finger food all the way. Your guests should be able to stand and eat, hold their drink, and socialize at the same time.
We concur. But there is absolutely something to be said for our tailgating food go-to's, which include grilled anything. Think wings, hot dogs, burgers, and sausages served with tasty sides and a variety of dips. May we suggest some crowd favorites? Try our bacon guacamole, our tailgate supreme burger, our tater tot poppers or our bacon cheddar jalapeño cornbread. (You may have noticed 2/4 recommendations include bacon. And surprise! The tot poppers have bacon in them too. You can never go wrong with bacon).
But hey, maybe grilling isn't your thing, or you just want to mix it up. That’s cool. Try a low-maintenance recipe option like these fall-off-the-bone rosemary and plum-glazed ribs or slow-cooked brisket made in a portable slow cooker. And, everyone loves queso, especially for that one Big Game at the end of football season…you know the one we’re talking about! Check out our killer smoked queso dip recipe. These meatballs are also a go-to and easy-to-manage bite-size snack. And don’t forget about everyone’s favorite finger food: wings. These baked Buffalo wings are great for a tailgate or homegate. They’re simple to prep and pack up or serve fresh out of the oven.
And because even non-athletes need to carb-load on game day (listen, cheering is exercise, OK?), don't forget a side of pasta salad. It should go without saying, but don’t skimp on the chips and dip! This game day BBQ chicken dip is one of our favorites. Last but not least, never forget to show off your team spirit in the sweet and delectable form of cupcakes, brownies, and other crowd-pleasing desserts. The bottom line is you've got to be serving up anything and everything to keep your guests salivating. The key to their happiness is through their stomachs.
2. THE DRINKS
Of course, as awesome as it is, game day food isn't everything. You can't tailgate without a refreshing, chilled (adult) beverage to wash down each and every tasty mouthful. This bloody caesar is one of our favorite ways to get the game day party started, especially for morning tailgates. We also like to ring in fall and football season with this autumn old fashioned cocktail that warms up your insides like a charm. Regardless of whether your guests are imbibing, it’s always a good idea to have a pitcher of iced tea on hand as well as a cooler full of sodas and plenty of water. Hydration is key!
3. THE SETUP
Next, the setup. The beauty of a tailgating setup is that it's relatively basic. So, pop the trunk (or the garage door) and put out some chairs, or invest in a customized team tent for weather or sun protection. Also consider a sturdy, foldable table to arrange your food spread. Your setup can only add to your game day fun.
4. THE TOOLS & GADGETS
Along with the styling of your setup come the cool, handy gadgets and gizmos used to enhance your tailgating or homegating experience. As we just discussed, you can't have a football tailgate without a properly decadent assortment of tasty eats.
Make sure to pick a sturdy pair of tongs that'll help get the job done. This sturdy grill tong set will make your life easier, whether you’re grilling or serving a tasty salad.
When it comes to meaty entrées, ensure that your game day proteins are perfectly juicy inside and out. Try this handy marinade meat injector to juicy-up the inside of your protein and provide a nice splash of sauce atop it before serving.
A tailgate isn’t a tailgate without a grill. Consider packing a portable one, along with charcoal, propane, matches, and lighter fluid. (If you’re home, be sure to check you have all those items too! It’s never fun to have to make a last-minute propane run.) If you’re at the game, note that some stadiums place limitations on the types of grills allowed, so be sure to double check the rules before you leave..
Cooking and grilling aside, it's game day and you're there to have a good time, not to babysit the grill or items that need to remain cool. Consider this thermal bag to keep hot food hot or cold food cold, so you're free to eat, drink, and be merry.
You may also need the following items. (This list is for you, skimmers!)
Serving tools (including a buffet server to keep the food warm)
Slow cooker filled with delicious food and kept warm with a thermal bag
5. THE FUN & GAMES
Because you’ll be in the parking lot for a while before game time (or in your backyard hanging out watching the pre-game coverage), it never hurts to bring games or other activities to keep people (and kiddos) entertained. Let’s be honest, some people are only there for the food and drinks. No judgment.
Consider having the following on hand:
Deck of cards
Popular tailgate games include ladder ball, cornhole, and beer pong. Check out our complete list of essential backyard games for more fun ideas.
6. THE “PREPARE FOR THE WORST” ITEMS
It's always smart to expect the unexpected. If something changed or didn't go as planned, don't panic! Be ready. Anything can happen on the day of the game, and it's best to be as prepared as you can with all the right supplies.
For example, it might rain. Have ponchos and umbrellas just in case. Also, the sun can get quite hot even in the fall and winter, so be sure to pack sunscreen. Or the opposite can happen, and temperatures can drop, so think about bringing extra layers, gloves, or even a space heater. (Note: Do not use a space heater outside if there is any precipitation whatsoever.) Your better bet is to bring along a bunch of hand and toe heaters people use for skiing and strategically place them where you're cold.
Worst-case scenario, someone can get hurt at your tailgate (not blaming the cocktails at all…), so never forget a first aid kit.
7. THE TEAM SPIRIT
Most importantly, on game day, your number one priority should be to have fun and show off your team spirit. Think about decorating your car or backyard, your face, and even your kids! (Just be sure to read our blog about safe paints to use before you go all Monet on yourself and others.) We’re also big fans of some fun apparel like this apron. Big smiles go a long way too.
The best tailgating parties are not only easy to throw together, but they’re also so fun that some guests forget to watch the game. It’s like two parties rolled into one. With these tips in your back pocket, you're sure to have a successful and fun tailgate whether the “parking lot” is at the stadium or in your backyard. Go team!
Peruse the recipes in this article: