Strategies to Make Your Next Tailgate a Success
Nothing beats fall: pumpkin spice everything, crisp air, beautiful leaves and, best of all, tailgating. It’s the perfect way to spend time with friends and family before catching the game. Score the winning touchdown at your next tailgate with our best tailgating ideas and tips.
Gather Your Friends and Family
Tailgating is all about bonding with family, friends and fellow fans of your favorite team. If you go tailgating often, you likely already have your regular crew. If it’s your first time, reach out to other fans of your team in your social circle.
When deciding who to invite, consider people with similar styles of tailgating. If you love to be active, have a lot of fun, make some noise and drink a few cold ones, you probably won’t enjoy hanging out with a group of quiet people who just like to sit around. You don’t need a huge tailgating crew. You just need one that’s fun, upbeat and ready to celebrate, regardless of the final score.
Review the Rules
It’s important to know and follow the rules at the stadium where you plan to tailgate. Find out when the parking lots open for tailgaters, so you know how early to arrive to get a good spot. Check on the cost to park in various lots. Review restrictions on what you can bring into the tailgating area, so you can leave any banned items at home. Some stadiums may not allow charcoal grills, for example. Others may prohibit glass containers. Look over the guidelines before the big day, and plan accordingly.
Plan the Menu
Food is a huge part of the tailgating experience, so plan your menu early. The best tailgate food is easy to eat without sitting at a table, since most people walk around, socialize and play games while tailgating. Grilling is the go-to method of cooking while tailgating. It’s easy to pack up a small, portable charcoal or propane grill, so the food is fresh and hot. Grab some burgers and some Premio sausages for the main course. Round it out with your choice of salads, dips, chips, finger foods and other munchies.
If you’re tailgating with a large group, coordinate the dishes you bring. One person might supply the meat, another group brings the sides and another makes the desserts. Or have everyone bring their own meat and one side or dessert to share. This planning method ensures you end up with plenty of variety. If you’re trying a new recipe, it’s always a good idea to do a test run before the big day.
Handle as much of the prep work as possible at home. Marinate your meat the night before, and place it in a zip-top plastic baggie or reusable plastic container. Make any salads, side dishes and desserts. Cut up veggies, whether you’re making a veggie tray or bringing veggies to top your burgers. That prep work frees you up to do more socializing at the tailgate.
Pack Essential Tailgate Items
Your game-day essentials may vary somewhat depending on your style, activities, and location, but many of the basics apply no matter where and how you tailgate. You’re essentially throwing a party in a parking lot, so anything you need to serve food and stay entertained needs to fit in your trunk. There’s no running inside to grab something you forgot.
When creating your packing list, think about everything you plan to serve and do. Write down all components you need to make those things a success. If you tailgate frequently, buy dedicated items to keep in a large storage tote. Toss the tote into the car every weekend, and you’re ready to go with all the essentials.
Some common tailgating essentials include:
- Grill — If you plan to cook on location, you’ll need a grill or similar cooking device. Pack plenty of charcoal or propane to ensure you can cook enough food for everyone.
- Food — Pack up all the food, condiments and drinks you need for the day. Keep food safety in mind. All cold items should remain cold until serving. Pack a cooler with plenty of ice to keep cold dishes chilled.
- Plates and utensils — Load up on plates, glasses and utensils, so everyone can chow down on the tailgating food you bring. Disposable items are the easiest to use because you don’t have to worry about taking home the dirty dishes. Bring trash bags to collect the garbage. If you prefer reusable plates, pack them in a plastic tub with a lid. You can put the dirty dishes back inside the tub on the way home to prevent messes in the car.
- Seating — Folding camp chairs are ideal for tailgating. You’ll likely spend a lot of time walking around and socializing, but you may want to take a break occasionally.
- Folding table — A long, narrow folding table comes in handy while tailgating. Use it to set up the food and beverages.
- Protection from weather — The weather dictates some of the items you pack. You may need sunscreen, bug spray, umbrellas, hand warmers, hats and other items. It’s a good idea to keep many of those items in your tailgating kit, so you’re ready for unpredictable weather.
- Canopy — A tent or canopy to provide shade and protection from weather elements is a useful addition to your tailgating list.
- Paper towels/cleaning supplies — Messes happen while tailgating. Prepare for those spills with paper towels. You can quickly clean up the messes and dry your hands.
- Bungee cords — You can find a variety of uses for bungee cords while tailgating. One handy option is to use them to suspend a roll of paper towels from support bars on your canopy.
- Hand sanitizer — You may not have access to real bathrooms near your tailgating site. Pack hand sanitizer for quick hand cleaning. Hand wipes also work. If you want water, clean out an empty laundry soap bottle with a dispenser. Fill it with water. Press the button to get your hands wet.
- First-aid kit — Hopefully you won’t need to use it, but it’s a good idea to pack a first-aid kit for scrapes, splinters and other minor injuries.
- Fire extinguisher — It’s a good idea to have a fire extinguisher on hand if you’re going to grill.
- Entertainment — Bring along any games and entertainment you want.
- Chargers — Depending on when you start tailgating, your phone battery may drain quickly. Bring a portable battery pack to recharge your device, so you stay connected.
- Tickets — If you’re going inside the stadium to watch the game, make sure you have your tickets in hand. Keep them in a secure spot until game time.
Socializing with your fellow tailgaters is a primary activity, but packing extra entertainment options helps you pass the time if you run out of things to discuss. Several games work well for tailgating entertainment. Opt for games that are easy to transport without lots of parts. Games you can play with one hand while you hold a drink or food also work well. Cornhole and ladder golf are two popular tailgate game ideas. Tossing a football or Frisbee is also an easy way to stay entertained.
Bring along a gas generator and a small TV for entertainment. Watch pre-game activities to get pumped for kickoff, or watch other games while you wait for yours to start.
Offer background music to all of your activity options with portable speakers or a battery-powered radio. If you prefer to keep up with games around the league, use the speaker to project broadcasts of various games from your smartphone.
Consider the Timeline
Plan your day in advance to ensure you have enough tailgating time. You want to arrive early to get a good spot. Coordinate with your fellow tailgaters, so everyone shows up at the same time to get spots together. Keep in mind setting up takes time. You also need time to clean up all your tailgating items and make it into the gates and to your seat before kickoff.
A good rule of thumb is to show up about four hours before kickoff. This arrival time lets you set up everything at a leisurely pace and socialize with all your fellow tailgaters. Coordinate your activities, so the food hits the plates around two hours before game time. You won’t have to rush to eat, and you have plenty of time to clean up everything before you head into the game.
Choose Your Spot
While doing your research on the rules of the stadium, it’s also a good idea to know where you can tailgate. Check out the parking lot options. You may find the restrictions vary by location. Another consideration is the proximity of the parking lot to the stadium. Make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to location. You don’t want to waste time flagging people down or searching for the rest of your party.
Once you arrive, scope out the available spots. If you arrive early, you’ll have more options before the lots fill up. Look for a prime spot right next to a grassy area, so you can extend the fun with plenty of space on soft grass. Proximity to restrooms, the stadium or other facilities is also a bonus.
Plan for the Weather
Fall means cooler temperatures, along with unpredictable weather. Check the forecast as game day nears, so you know how to dress and what to bring. You may need to pack umbrellas for a rainy day or plan for alternative food if you can’t grill. High winds can also make grilling a challenge. As the season progresses, you may find it necessary to load up on warm coats, long underwear and blankets to stay warm.
Show Your Team Spirit
You’re there for the camaraderie that comes with tailgating, but you’re also there to support your team, so don’t forget to dress the part. You’ll see a wide range of outfits in the tailgating lots — from basic jerseys to full-on face paint and crazy team costumes. Choose a look that works for you to show your team spirit.
You can also show your allegiance in the way you decorate your tailgating area. Invest in a canopy with your team’s logo on it. Bring tablecloths, napkins, plates and other gear in your team’s colors. Hang pennants, banners, and flags sporting the team logo.
Set up Strategically
Once you arrive, figure out how to set up all your tailgating gear. The best tailgate setup ideas maximize space to keep your crew comfortable with plenty of room to spread out and enjoy your time. Arriving early with your whole gang gives you your choice of spots. When you park next to others in your group, you can make one large tailgating area with easy access to everyone’s vehicles and gear.
Start by claiming your space. Position your vehicle as far forward as possible to maximize your tailgate spot. Define your area using tables, chairs and other large items. If you have multiple vehicles parked next to one another, form an outer perimeter spanning all of the vehicles. Your physical boundaries keep your tailgating neighbors from poaching some of your ground.
If you’re grilling on location, position your grill strategically, so you can be part of the action without the grill getting in the way. Consider the direction of the wind. You don’t want to blow smoke toward your group. Keep the grill away from flammable objects and from the main flow of traffic, so no one accidentally touches the hot grill.
Position tables, chairs, coolers, tents and trash containers to make them easily accessible while still allowing for traffic flow. Keeping those items around the perimeter gives you more space in the middle to congregate.
Make your position easy to find if you have others joining you later. You might set up a brightly colored tent, hang a team flag or tie balloons to a stake. It’s a good way to display your team’s colors and make your spot easily identifiable.
You want everyone to have fun, but safety is also an important part of a successful tailgate. Safety comes into play in many different aspects of the tailgate, from food prep to drinking. Check out these tailgating safety tips to ensure everyone has a good time without an unexpected trip to the ER:
- If you’re enjoying adult beverages, drink responsibly. Make sure everyone has designated drivers, so you can all get home safely.
- Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot to prevent food poisoning.
- Inspect gas grill lines to prevent dangerous leaks.
- Light charcoal grills safely. Never add lighter fluid to a grill that is already burning.
- Extinguish charcoal completely. Place the ash in a metal container to prevent a fire.
- Stay hydrated, especially at early-season games when temperatures are still warm. Drink plenty of water in addition to any adult beverages you consume.
- Secure any valuables you bring with you. Leaving as many valuables at home as possible is the best option, but if you do keep something in your vehicle that’s worth a lot, hide it as much as possible to prevent theft.
- Clean up the area fully. Not only is it the responsible thing to do, but it also prevents tire damage as people leave the parking lot.
- Drive slowly through parking lots when you arrive and when you leave to avoid hitting another vehicle or a person. Once you’re out of your vehicle, watch for other drivers to avoid getting hit while you’re walking around or standing near your vehicle.
- Use the buddy system, especially in rowdy tailgating crowds. You have safety in numbers when you stick together.
Tailgating is all about having a great time with the people you invite. Sure, you may run into people rooting for the other team. Some of those people may even be in your party. While some good-natured ribbing is fine, don’t let things get out of hand. Starting a fight is a quick way to get kicked out of the game completely.
The experience is so much better when everyone keeps a cool head and focuses on fun. Your good-natured attitude and general fun-loving spirit make it easy to meet new people in the tailgating lot. Before long, it’s one big party, with your tailgating setup at the center of it all.
Stock up for Game Day
What are your favorite tailgate tips and menu ideas? Let us know what you serve on game day. Find a store near you and download a coupon to add Premio Foods sausages to your next tailgating experience.