Our Ultimate Tailgate Tips, Tricks and Checklist

Food & Drink

Tailgating season is upon us. Few American activities are as fun and fulfilling as organizing and pulling off a successful tailgate for your family and friends. Years from now, you may not remember the score of the game, but if you properly prep for the party, your pre-game festivities may enter the pantheon of legendary pre-game tailgates.

Check out our tailgate tips and tricks below, and download our printable checklist for your outdoor game day extravaganza.

Equipment

The range of tailgate gear and gadgets varies by fan, of course. You could go full Mr. Dink with a 12-foot HD projector screen and massage chairs, but all that’s, you know, very expensive. On the other end of the spectrum, a sturdy grill, a few chairs and a cooler may serve you just fine.

Whether you use a charcoal or gas grill, clean it beforehand and make sure there’s enough fuel to last you the day. Pack an extra small tank of propane and an extra bag of briquettes.

Pro-Tip: Freeze unopened water bottles overnight, then use them as ice for your cooler during the tailgate. By the time you’re ready to walk into the stadium, you’ll have a few bottles of cool water to quench your thirst.

This might seem like it should go without saying, but if you have a tent, bring weights and/or rope to secure it. The standard square aluminum tailgate canopy you see in the photos below is very light—a small gust and your untethered tent will be on its way to another party, potentially injuring someone, or worse, some beer in the process.

Finally, when accounting for potential guests, get creative. Can people sit in your open trunk? How many “cooler spots” are available? Fans of opposing teams are welcome to stand.

Man’s favorite stance: in front of the grill.

Food

Whatever your menu for the day, the number one thing to keep in mind is food safety. The last thing we want is for a guest of yours to be keeled over in the stands midway through the second quarter because the delicious bacon cheeseburger he had at your tailgate miiight have been a little on the rare side.

Tip: Pack all your food in zippered bags and plastic tubs with lids, and bring more than enough ice and ice packs to keep meat, fruits, and veggies cold.

Like every good meal, a solid tailgate spread should include a main course, a few side dishes, Hot ‘N Spicy Barbecue Lay’s Stax, and a dessert option. Our checklist below includes most of the basics (even for an early morning tailgate)—add and subtract as you see fit. A heavier main course, such as burgers, brats or chicken, will keep the all-day troops satiated, while smaller appetizers will work well for other folks who stop by for a few minutes to say hi.

Second only to food safety is packing and preparation. Make your grocery list a few days beforehand and organize everything securely the night before. Keep cold foods in a cooler separate from drinks, that way guests won’t interfere with the master at work. After all, the less time tailgate grillers spend fumbling around, the more time they have to relax and entertain friends. And we just happen to have a few crates that will make his job easier:

Entertainment

Yours truly is a big proponent of a well-curated playlist for all occasions, and tailgates are no exception. Music is the best way to unite a group of people and steadily raise their energy level as you get closer to game time. A haphazard playlist can dampen the mood of a would-be great party, so be sure to put some thought into yours.

Tip: If you use a streaming music service, such as Spotify, set the playlist beforehand and download it the day before the tailgate. Little data-saving tip for a long day of phone use.

Most Bluetooth wireless speakers will get the job done if your tailgate area is just behind a car or two. To drown out your parking lot neighbors’ tunes, bring a few outdoor speakers, an amp, and the aforementioned power generator.

Safe to say these fans aren’t milling around in silence. Music is a must for a proper tailgate!

If you want to really impress your guests (and if you can’t go more than a few hours on a fall Saturday without football being beamed into your eyes), go the extra mile and set up a TV. You’ll need a spare dish (a few companies sell dishes designed for tailgating), your TV, box, remote, and all the necessary cords. Park in a relatively open area and call your satellite provider—they’ll help you point the thing in the right direction.

Tip: Clean the dish of any dirt and debris, and set up your TV under a tent so it’s easier to see in the daylight.

Games

For my money, there are only three tailgate games worth discussing: cornhole (“bags” for us Midwesterners), washer toss and beer pong.

If your best pong days are behind you, and if you’re looking to save room in the car, washer toss is the way to go. It’s the same concept as cornhole, though some would argue  it’s slightly more difficult (e.g. me, because I’m bad at it). Bring any or all of these tailgate games and your guests are guaranteed to stick around for the long haul.

Cornhole (or simply “bags” where I’m from) is a staple tailgate activity. These days it may even land you some air time on ESPN2.

Miscellaneous

A few small things that will make a big difference during the tailgate:

  • Sunscreen
    • Tip: Apply the sunscreen to your skin before you do anything else. The number of times I’ve brought sunscreen somewhere and forgotten to apply it is embarrassingly high. Do not be like me.
  • Pain reliever
    • Tip: Use when one of your guests has a headache. Or when your arm hurts from flipping so many half-pound burgers all day. 
  • Team glassware
  • Trash bags
    • Tip: Many public tailgate spots will provide a trash bag upon entry. Accept their offering while also showing them your box of trash bags. This is the equivalent of giving your teacher an apple on the first day of school.
  • Koozies
    • Tip: Most us can survive holding a cold beverage without insulation. But are you really tailgating if you’re not advertising a local business on a piece of foam? I would argue no, you are not.

Download and print the checklist below and be fully prepared for game day.

 

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