Tailgate 101: The Basics You Might (or Might Not) Already Know
April 4, 2019
So what does “tailgate” mean, anyway? It means that truck of yours is more than just a way to get you to work: come pigskin season (or baseball season, or basketball season, or your next big auto racing event–you get the idea), it’s just as essential as your fantasy draft picks. For the uninitiated, your tailgate is the gateway to an all-American, fuss-free outdoor party with all the space you need to store grub, drinks, and your friends’ butts while parking the proceedings right at the venue. Whether you’re a tailgating newbie or a seasoned vet, it’s time to brush up on the basics of packing your party wagon.
If you’ve been tasked with planning your very first tailgate party, you’re in good company. Going all-out on sports is pretty much an American tradition, and nothing goes all out like a good tailgate. While you don’t have to spend beaucoup cash, you’ll likely need to drop a little coin on the essential supplies.
To stock your truck (or van, or SUV, or mid-sized hybrid Toyota sedan–tailgates don’t discriminate) properly, you need to deck it out with a grill, coolers, cups, napkins, plates and utensils, storage containers, mountains of ice, a sound system, and some portable chairs, at minimum. You’ll need a folding table or two to contain your spread, too. Oh, and always, always, always bring a ball to toss around.
In terms of schedule, prep as much food as you possibly can at home and try to eat at least 45 minutes before the game starts, allowing yourself plenty of time to pack up before kickoff. Check the stadium rules regarding fuel types allowed on site before you build a plan around an open-flame grill, for example, only to find out it’s prohibited. If you’re asking yourself how to tailgate, it’s all in the planning and prep. Once you’re there, your only job is to keep everyone fed and watered and to have some fun yourself.
When it comes to tailgating, food is at least half the battle. Lucky for you, there are lots of surefire bets to choose from. You can’t go wrong with burgers, brats, and hotdogs alongside chips and dips (don’t forget to include veggie options if you have anyone with special dietary requirements in your group). Although the classics are reliable, you can expand your horizons by thinking of your truck as a portable sports bar.
Carne asada nachos? Check. A fully featured taco bar? Double check. Custom burger toppings? Oh, we’ve got sriracha mayo, parmesan crisps, and guac spreads ready to go. When the weather chills out, try making chili in bulk for an easy, crowd-pleasing comfort food. Fresh off the grill is great, but serving pulled pork or brats from a cast-iron skillet heated by a can of Sterno is even more impressive.
Alongside plenty of cases of water and soda, beer and wine are absolute must-haves. You can also seal the deal with a few trays’ worth of shots, or make life easier on yourself by making beverage batches in bulk. Sangria, for instance, is super cooler-friendly or you can go with themed batch cocktails for extra points.
Tailgate Hacks and Pro Tips
Want to go really big this year (or just shield your party from wintery weather)? Pitch a party tent. Truck tent shades make for a cozy spot to roost while camp-style outdoor pavilions give your crew a real home away from home at the stadium. Customize it with team logos to go the extra mile. For more lo-fi warmth, pack a big basket full of cozy throws perfect for huddling round the grill. On the other end of the temperature spectrum, a wheelbarrow makes for a spacious and mobile drink cooler.
While no one’s doubting that your friends and fam are plenty interesting enough to keep things entertaining, cinch the deal with extras like a hefty Bluetooth speaker and–if you’re really gunning for the title of tailgate MVP–a portable cornhole set. And while looks aren’t everything, team-themed table cloths, banners, and disposable cutlery really tie the whole thing together.
What to Bring to a Tailgate
When you’re playing the role of posse rather than planner, you can’t go wrong by bringing beverages to the party. A case of beer or a bottle of wine does the trick, but since you have less responsibility overall, seize the opportunity to get creative. Whip up some beer jello shots, using food coloring to match your team colors, or go fancy with a big batch of bloody mary cocktails. When you focus on just one or two dishes, you can pay extra attention to the plating and presentation of your five-layer dip or Cuban sandwich sliders.
Remember, a good tailgate is a tailgate where everyone has fun. Don’t stress about what to wear to a tailgate or whose party is better than whose. Put in a little effort, be excellent to each other, bring plenty of team spirit, and you’re looking at a party that’ll please everyone.
Written by Dan Ketchum for Knockaround