Tailgating is a great experience. It lets you experience team pride with strangers, lets you talk smack to opposing fans, and enjoy some amazing food and drink before you have to go in and pay stadium prices.
So what are my favorites when I’m tailgating? Let’s get into it.
Food is an extremely important part of tailgating. And it’s a unique kind of food that makes the tailgating experience. It’s not pasta, it’s not Chinese food, it’s not a steak. Those are all great food, but it’s not for tailgating.
Tailgating food consists of three main types of food:
- Grilled meat that is bun-able or on a stick
Hot dogs, bratwurst, hamburgers/cheeseburgers, grilled chicken on a stick, shish kabobs. They’re all great, easy to cook and eat, are customizable with toppings, condiments, and sauces, and most importantly are plate optional (the bun is your plate). These are perfect tailgating “main courses.”
2. Hand held/finger foods
These are great because, once again, you don’t need a plate and they’re extremely portable. They’re perfect for tailgating because you can grab another handful every time you get another drink. The other reason they’re a key part of tailgating is because they’re what you have most of your friends bring when they ask how they can contribute since you shelled out the big bucks for the parking pass.
My favorite hand held and finger food items: Mini pigs in a blanket, pizza rolls (the lava pocket kind or homemade), meatballs (don’t forget the toothpicks!)
3. Dips (with chips)
Let’s start with the chips. Always make sure you have multiple bags of “scoops” chips. They’re a top five invention in food and I won’t hear arguments for the contrary. Other than that, definitely tab a few of your friends to bring random chips. It’s fun to mix it up throughout the pre-game time so there really is no wrong answer with chips. The more the better.
Now for dip. I love dip. My favorite dip for tailgating and watching football at home is delicious and so easy to make. How easy is it to make? I made it on both my Iraq and Afghanistan deployments in a single pot on a crappy hot plate.
All you need is three ingredients: Hormel Chili (I prefer no beans, but go for beans if you like), Velveeta Cheese, and a can of Hormel Tamales “Beef in Chili Sauce.” Optionally you can brown up some ground beef and add it to the mix but I usually only do that at home when I don’t have all the items from categories 1 and 2 above.
I usually use two cans of the Chili, 1 can of Tamales, and 1/3rd of a log of Velveeta per “batch.” A batch should have enough dip for two-four people. You can definitely use more or less cheese depending on your tastes.
Pour the chili into a pot. Cut up the tamales into small chunks and add them to the pot. Cut up the Velveeta into small cubes and add them to the pot. Turn on med-high heat and stir occasionally until all the cheese is melted. Done.
What makes this dip so great for tailgating is that it continues to taste great as it cools (if you don’t have a crock pot or similar to keep it heated while tailgating), it’s easy to make, and it’s versatile. You can eat it with scoops (or any tortilla chips), you can pour it on your hot dog or brat, you can dip the pigs in a blanket in it. It really goes great with all the other tailgating essentials.
Other good dip options: Buffalo Chicken dip, Queso, Spinach Artichoke
Drinks are key to tailgating. It’s hot before the game out in the parking lot, drinks are expensive in the game, and you want everyone to have a good time.
- Canned Drinks
Canned drinks are important because they’re easier to deal with than glass, they’re portable, and easy to keep cold with a couple coolers and some ice.
You need a healthy amount of beers. Tailgating is the start of a marathon. You’re out there for a couple hours usually, followed by about three hours in the game, so you can’t be hitting the hard stuff or even smashing cup after cup of wine. Beer is the drink of choice. Early in the season when it’s warmer you’ll want plenty of Lagers, crisp or fruity IPAs, and maybe even some shandys. As the weather gets colder, add in some reds, Stouts, Porters for when people want something more in season.
You’re also going to want to have a good supply of Hard Seltzers. These are a great alternative to beer for that marathon of game day. They’re refreshing, there’s a ton of flavors, and they’re affordable.
2. Non-alcoholic drinks
Water. As I mentioned above, tailgating is a marathon. Between the heat and the alcohol (if you’re consuming it) you’ll need to be hydrating. Grab a case of water bottles and you’ll be pretty well covered.
Sodas. Not everyone is going to want to drink and you want something there with a little caffeine so make sure you have some sodas. Cans are preferred because then you don’t have to worry about cups and separate ice for being in drinks.
Wildcards are alcoholic drinks that are for novelty, celebration, and bonding. So what are they?
Jello shots. Jello shots are great because they’re easy to make, you don’t have them all the time so they’re fun, they’re easy to hand out to your friends and any randoms in the parking lot that are wearing your team’s jersey, and you can make them in team colors!
Shotski. Shotskis are fun because it’s a group activity, you can decorate the ski with team colors, and it’s hilarious when someone isn’t ready for it and they wind up being the only one who ends up dribbling booze all over themselves.
Celebration/hide the pain bottle. This is a bottle you keep stashed for after the game so you can toast the victory, or start drowning your pain with your friends.