It’s tailgating season folks, and I’ve compiled some great tailgate tips to make your game day a win for your team! I love tailgating, (or “home gating” where your friends come to the house,) but sometimes it seems like such a pain to get everything organized and loaded.
With my friends from Academy Sports + Outdoors, I recently did a tailgate event for the Tennessee Titans! We had plenty of items from Academy that were perfect for a tailgate. Coolers, grills, charcoal- they have it all!
Here are some tips to make your tailgate come off looking easy and make you the envy of the parking lot!
Remember, it’s not enough to root for your team, you have to look good doing it!
- Some team-centric colored tablecloths and placemats will take your tailgate from basic to basically awesome! Wood cutting boards make great platters for placing snacks, and they are perfect for keeping the tablecloth in place on windy days!
- Small wooden crates are perfect tailgate accessories. They give your spread a bit of rustic charm while helping you carry all the necessities. They are perfect for holding chips, buns, or keeping plates and napkins from blowing away.
- Make your own chafing dish with bricks and small cans of sterno. Top the bricks with a cast iron skillet filled with your famous pulled pork, shredded beef or queso dip. Everyone will remark how stylish and smart your tailgate spread is!
- Put together a “tailgate kit” with tongs, spoons, knives, gloves and other needed items. and extra chairs. Plastic storage bins are perfect for this. If you are carrying several, tape an index card to the top with each bins inventory. A large toolbox or a ready made plastic cabinet with separate bins is perfect.
- One of my favorite tips is freezing bottled water. The bottles can be used to help keep food cold, then provide ice cold water to drink as they melt.
- Change your menu! Tailgating will go from late summer to winter- have your menu reflect the seasons by making seasonal dishes.
- Condiment holders help keep things organized! Done with that case of beer? Save the six pack holders- they make great caddies for hot sauce, condiments or utensil and napkin holders.
- Personalize Napkins to show your spirit! I made these with a disposable silverware, paper napkins, and some rustic looking twine. How easy!
- Checklists! You wouldn’t just wing it for an important meeting, so don’t wing it for the tailgate- you have to win this thing! Make a checklist and double check before leaving the house (and don’t forget the parking passes and tickets.)
- Always read the rules for the venue you are going to be tailgating! Some places do not allow live fires, balloons, banners, etc. Know before you go!
- Keep it safe!
- Food Safety! No one wants to get sick at the big game! In addition to helping with your grilling, an instant read thermometer is imperative for food safety. When you’re tailgating, you don’t have all the conveniences of your kitchen, but a few easy rules should keep food wholesome and fresh. Bring separate dishes for cooked and raw items, and never mix them up. Keep raw foods below 40 degrees by keeping iced in a cooler. Hot food should stay above 140 degrees for safety as well, either by cooking at site or by holding in a warmer.
- A cooler can be a warmer! In the restaurant business, we use commercial warmers, holding ovens and purpose built “caterwarmers” to hold hot food hot. You can easily do the same thing with a cooler! Warm meat placed in a cooler in a pan (wrapped in a towel) will stay warm for a 2-3 hours. If you really want to keep things hot, purchase some cheap, unglazed bricks from your local hardware store, wrap in foil and heat in the oven. Lay down a layer of damp towels in the bottom of the cooler, place your bricks, and lay on some more damp towels. Hot food will stay hot for hours, but remember the food danger zones! Magellan Outdoors coolers are awesome for this, and some sizes come with a divider that also works as a cutting board!
- Practice! Before you offer to feed 40 of your closest tailgating buddies, have a plan on how to do it flawlessly. Plan your event, and practice at the house. Make a list of everything you need, and then you’ll have your blueprint for success! A great rule of thumb is to plan on having your food ready 2 hours before the game so you’ll have plenty of time to clean up and get ready. This also gives you some leeway in case it’s one of those days!
- A small metal trash can with a lid is good for cleaning the ash out of your grill. Remove ashes from the grill before the game and place in the can. After the game they should be cool enough to carry the can home, and you’ll have a clean grill!
- If using propane, become friends with the local dairy person at your neighborhood grocery. A milk crate is perfect for transporting a propane tank and keeping it from tipping over.
- If you’re using a generator, go for the ultra-quiet models. You don’t want to be “that guy with the loud generator.” Plus, those models are usually very portable.
- “Slider Bars” are always a hit, and come with the benefit of being able to prepare some items ahead of time! Bring some pulled pork, braised beef already cooked, and quickly grill mini burger patties and sausages at the game. Your guests will love the variety, and you’ll still have time to enjoy the tailgate without working so hard.
- Morning games are made for Bloody Mary’s. Bring the fixin’s for a Bloody Mary Bar! Different vodkas, tomato juice, Worcestershire, horseradish, candied bacon, celery, hot sauce, limes, olives, different seasoning for rimming glasses, well, you get the picture. Pretty much anything goes with bloody mary’s- if you can dream it you can make it happen!
- Make cute individual desserts or salads in mason jars! Salads can be added in layers, and bring the dressing on the side to let everyone add their own and shake shake shake!
- Purchase condiments in disposable packs (or save up from your trips to the fast food joint!) Packets of ketchup, mustard and mayo are shelf stable, and can be placed in a bowl and easily stored between games.
- Prep ahead! Tailgating should be about enjoying the company of friends, family and your favorite team! Prep your items ahead so cooking is a snap! If marinating with an oil-based marinade, make sure to shake off excess marinade before placing your item on the grill to help avoid flare ups.
- Cook Ahead– There are some items that are just plain difficult to cook in a tailgate situation. Save the quick-cooking grilled items for the tailgate and bring the low and slow items such as pulled pork, ribs, or chili’s from the house.
- Charcoal doesn’t stop burning just because it’s time to head to the game. Plan your cooking timeline so you’ll have plenty of time to put up your grill without burning up your truck.
- Tailgating areas are crowded– let your friends know where you’re at with a festive balloon spread. Small helium tanks are available at party supply stores. Inflate your balloons, take a pic and text to your guests to help them find your area!
- Flagpoles are a great addition. There are several flag pole stands that work by placing under your tire for support. Get an expandable flagpole and you’ll be all set!
- Kebabs are perfect tailgate food. The meat is smaller so it will cook quicker and more consistently. Make beef, chicken, veggie and pork kabobs the day before and marinate in the fridge (keep different foods separate from each other.) Then just pack in a cooler and take to the game.
- Make LTOP’s ahead of time. In the restaurant biz, we call the burger set ups LTOP’s- lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles. You can make these individually ahead of time, or make a burger set up buffet by prepping these items along with different cheeses on a platter or small pan.
- Hydrate (and no, beer doesn’t count.) Especially on those unseasonably hot September days, that last drink can go to your head and make the game a blurry memory. Drink plenty of non-alcoholic beverages and water throughout the day.
- Ice is important! How much ice do you think you need? Double it. Trust me.