We’re All Ready For Some Football But Do You Know How to Throw a Tailgate Party?

Fall is almost here, and for millions of us, that means football season. While some fans prefer to watch their favorite team from the comfort of their own living rooms or a neighborhood sports bar, the more adventurous among us enjoy gathering in the parking lot outside the stadium with kindred souls for that rite known as tailgating.

You can’t pull into the parking lot of any major athletic event or concert without seeing folks “tailgating,” that is, holding a party around the tailgate of a pickup truck. Most tailgate parties involve cooking on a small grill or barbecue and imbibing large numbers of cold alcoholic drinks.

If this sounds like your idea of fun, here are a few tips on having your own tailgate bash.

The tickets
It may seem kind of obvious but it needs to be mentioned first.  If you’re going to be partying in the parking lot before a big game or show, make sure everyone in your gang gets tickets ahead of time. You may not be allowed into the stadium lot without tickets and some events are sold out months ahead of time, so make sure this is taken care of.

The vehicle
You can’t have a tailgate party without a tailgate, so someone in your posse needs to have a pickup truck, preferably one big enough to hold all the guests along with the BBQ grill, folding tables and chairs, pop-up canopy, keg, coolers and all the other stuff you’ll need for quality partying. If your posse won’t fit in one truck, more may be necessary!

The ambiance
Bring along a few items to get into the spirit of the occasion. Why not decorate your party site with banners for your favorite team? Hats, T-shirts, jackets—go all out! Going to a Jimmy Buffett concert? Dress up and decorate in “Parrot Head” style.” Folding chairs with built-in cup holders that are emblazoned with your team’s colors and logo are a fine investment!

The list
This is a group effort, so everyone should be ready to be responsible for something. Put the most organized member of your gang in charge of making sure there are no duplications and everyone is doing their part. Make a list of everything you’ll need for this party and keep in contact to be sure that all your bases are covered.

The rules
Find out what is and is not permitted at the venue of your choice. Some stadiums have bans on glass, kegs or alcohol not purchased on the premises. Check the online site of the venue to familiarize yourself with the rules of the house so you don’t run afoul of them when you arrive. Being stopped at the gate and told to dump your beer does not make for a fun afternoon.

The utensils
You’re going to need plastic cups, plates and forks plus napkins and trash bags. Bring the implements you need for grilling, like forks and tongs. Be prepared to clean up after yourselves and haul out everything you brought in. Don’t forget bottle and can openers, ice, bottled water, sunscreen and ziplock baggies for leftovers. Unless you use self-lighting charcoal, bring the propellant for lighting. And don’t forget the matches.

The coolers
You’ll need separate coolers for hot and cold items, plus you’ll have to separate meats and other perishable items from drinks. Raw meat must be kept cold and should not be allowed to come in contact with other items. Have one clean cooler for bags of ice. However many coolers it takes, take ‘em.

The lights
Nobody likes wandering around in the dark, especially after a few beers, so be sure to bring nightlights if you’ll be partying after sundown.

Now that we’ve covered the basics that you will need to get to the event and start setting up you need to keep reading to make sure you have all of the essentials to feed your buddies.

The food
You want food that’s fun, delicious, easy to cook and neat to eat while standing around a pickup truck in a parking lot, like hot dogs, burgers, sausages and brats. You can cut down cooking time by bringing a few dishes that can be prepared ahead of time like a pot of chili, BBQ chicken or ribs, buffalo wings, baked potatoes and the meatballs for sub sandwiches.

Burgers and dogs are the quickest and easiest to cook, even for the novice tailgater, so they’re a must for any party. Chicken takes longer to cook and can be dangerous when underdone, so a better plan is to marinade pieces the night before (tequila lime flavor is always a good choice), then cook until almost done in the oven. At the game, toss the chicken on the grill for a final crisping. Ribs can be marinated in sauce the day before and refrigerated, then pre-cooked in the oven until you pack them up for the party. Heat them up on the grill for that authentic barbecue taste.

Also pack some salads like coleslaw, potato salad or three-bean salad, plus burger add-ons like cheese, sliced onions, tomatoes and lettuce. Baked beans are a great side dish for a party. Snacks and finger foods are good, too, so bring along chips, dips, salsa and nachos. Keep dessert items simple, like cookies and cupcakes. Don’t forget the buns for dogs, burgers and sandwiches.

And don’t forget the spices and condiments like salt, pepper, grilling seasonings, ketchup, mustard, relish, hot sauce, BBQ sauce and mayo. If you’ve having buffalo wings, bring ranch dressing, plus sour cream for baked potatoes.

The drinks
Obviously, you’ll bring cold beer—lots of cold beer—and wine, but also have some non-alcoholic choices like sodas, juice and bottled water. On hot days, you can’t have too much bottled water. Guests who’ve had too much to drink will need that water!

All cold drinks taste better if they’ve been chilling in the cooler for at least a couple of hours before serving. Also bring hot drinks for cold, crisp days or cool nights. Coffee, hot tea and hot cocoa are all good choices.

The setup
Arrange ahead of time where and when to meet. Try to get to the parking lot of the event as early as possible so you can get two or more spaces together for your group. As soon as you get settled into your spots, begin setting up the grills so they will be ready for cooking as soon as the party gets started.  Light up the charcoals and keep an eye on them.

The TV
A portable TV that runs on batteries or a portable generator can let you watch the pre-game show before going into the game, and catch the halftime proceedings if you’re able to sneak out for a beer or another hot dog!

The crowd
Don’t just hang with your buds, take a walk and meet some of your fellow tailgaters. Check out their setups and see if there’s a trick or two you could pick up for future use. Take your phone or camera to capture your favorite memories of the day.

The cleanup
Be sure to allow enough time to clean up your area and get all your stuff packed back into the truck before heading inside to the game or concert. Don’t be a litterbug—because you might get a ticket and more importantly its just not cool to leave your trash laying there after all that partying.

The common sense
Pack a first aid kit for emergencies. Don’t get so drunk you never make it into the game, or do and barf on someone’s shoes. Make sure you have designated drivers for every vehicle. Do not try to smuggle illegal substances into the stadium. Be sure you have the cellphone numbers for all members of your party in case anyone gets lost (or passes out in the bathroom). Do not get into fights with fans of the opposing team.

Don’t let getting arrested mess up a great tailgate party!

Keep these tips in mind and your tailgating party will go off without a hitch.  Do you have any other necessities that you must have at your tailgating event?  Let us know how you make your event run smoothly.

Written on 8/12/2013 by Linda Cauthen.

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