Planning a Tailgating Party

Tailgate party

Autumn is here. School has started again, leaves are changing color, a cold nip is in the air and the football season has returned. Not only are football games in full swing for the professional teams, but the college and high school teams also are playing weekly. Even the younger children have local football games during the day on the weekends. A great way to get to know people, show team spirit and prepare for the football game is to have a tailgating party.

This type of party has traditionally happened in the parking lot of the stadium or the arena the football game is being held at or in an area that has been specifically set aside for tailgating. It usually involves a lot of team spirit, consuming beverages and grilling food. It gets its name because this party used to happen around the open tailgate of a station wagon or the bed of a pick-up truck.

Planning the Tailgating Party

Tailgate party
  • Know the rules about tailgating for the area the party will take place. Some stadiums have rules about when, where and how people can tailgate. Some require permits and others may charge a small fee for use of the area. Check the department or stadium website for their tailgating rules and guidelines.
  • When arriving, be respectful of other tailgaters. Some have set up in the same location for decades and will guard their turf. Do not intrude on their areas, but they will be able to provide good information and advice, so be sure to introduce yourself.
  • Decide on how many people you want to invite. While this party usually has smaller groups of people, it is possible to work with others attending the game to have a progressive party where only one type of dish is made and the guests move from car to car. Food can be brought along already prepared or it can be grilled on site.
  • Tailgating is a team sport in its own right. It is almost impossible to host a good tailgating party individually. Instead, enlist the help of friends, family and neighbors that can assist by providing their specialty dish or casserole. If asked, some of them will eagerly man the grill. Find someone to perform as the equipment manager. This person will pack up a truck with all of the equipment needed for this traveling party and should be willing to go earlier in the day or the night before to cordon off the planned party spot.

Tailgating Rules

Tailgating has been a popular pre-game party for American college football fans for years. Recently, it has moved beyond college football to include all sports and even outdoor concerts. The first rule of tailgating is to make good food right there in the parking lot where the action is pre-game or pre-concert.

The main ingredients for a tailgate party are alcoholic beverages, grilled food and playful fellowship. Some of the most dedicated tailgaters will go so far as to erect tents and portable beer pong tables to keep the morale high prior to a game or concert.

Traditional Tailgate Fare

Picnic foods are the staple for tailgating: Grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, beer & brats, baked beans, potato salad and chips are the easy picnic foods you’ll see everywhere. For the foodies who still like to keep it simple but don’t care for mundane, the following recipe can be made with a camping stove, a large pot and the following ingredients.

Choose the Food for a Tailgating Party

In planning the menu, almost anything goes. Keep everything quick, easy and social. Find foods that can be cooked in less than 15 minutes or prepared ahead of time, if necessary. Popular grilled items include hamburgers, hot dogs, bratwurst, chicken and steak. Chili is a common staple of tailgate parties since it can be prepared in advance and is easy to heat. Any food that cooks easily or is portable is also commonly found at tailgate parties. This includes soups, casseroles, chicken wings, nachos and lasagna. Both cold and hot sandwiches can also be found. Side dishes include everything to baked beans to potato salad. Desserts are usually something that was made in advance and is easy to eat like cookies or unfrosted cakes. For beverages, choose drinks that the guests appreciate, ranging from soda to hot chocolate. Remember that many stadiums do not allow alcohol, especially if the football game is held on public school grounds.

Be sure to remember to cook and pack your food safely. Ensure that everything is cooked thoroughly and have a plan on how to store any leftovers. Bring enough food storage containers to handle the leftover food. Serve hot food hot and cold food cold. Do not leave perishable food out for more than two hours.

If the food is grilled at the location of the party, have a smaller portable grill that can fit in the vehicle easily. Ensure the grill is set up away from cars and the seating area. Have water or a fire extinguisher available in case of emergencies. Never leave the grill unattended and be sure to dispose of the charcoal safely.

Prepare in Advance

The key to any tailgating party is making sure that everything is ready in advance. Because this event is held in a parking lot, it is almost impossible to have access to a grocery store or other amenities. They all need to be brought along. Make a checklist of all of the food, drink and equipment that you plan on bringing. Remember that you also need to cleanup afterwards – so make a checklist for that too.

Because the end of the party has to allow everyone enough time to get to their seats before the kickoff, coordination is everything. To figure out how early to get to the stadium, make a list of all of the pregame tasks and how long each task might take. Then work backwards from the kickoff time. Be sure to allow ample time for often forgotten tasks like moving tables and chairs to the area, setting up a canopy, preheating the grill, preparing the food, eating the food, clean up and hauling trash to a dumpster. Some of these tasks can take minutes but others may take hours. Be sure to have some prepared snack foods to keep everyone happy while the main courses are being readied.

A Sample Checklist for a Tailgating Party

  • a charcoal or gas grill
  • portable hot plates
  • a fire extinguisher
  • disposable plates, bowls, cups, cutlery and napkins
  • large bowls
  • platters
  • serving utensils
  • condiments
  • enough ice chests for the drinks and food
  • plenty of ice
  • a folding canopy
  • folding tables
  • nylon folding chairs
  • a good stereo
  • decorations for your party space
  • heavy-duty garbage and recycling bags
  • paper towels
  • water
  • emergency and medical supplies
  • everything needed to prepare the food

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