Exuberant fans + asphalt neighborhoods.

The idea of celebrating outdoors in the brisk autumn air is a time-honored tradition harkening back to harvest festivals. College football parties most likely started on Ivy League campuses more than a century ago. Over time, ardent tailgating has become a mainstay activity at collegiate, professional or high school events. It’s one last hurrah before winter social hibernation sets in. Football (since the season is short and the number of home games limited) and auto racing are particular favorites for pre-game partying.

Envisioning a parking lot as the perfect setting for a gathering takes some imagination, but it’s easy once a sea of happy revelers get together to create a temporary neighborhood, socializing with friends and meeting new comrades. In fact, some dedicated tailgaters care more about the pre-game fun and never attend the game inside the stadium.

A great tailgating party doesn’t just happen.

Making a plan is key. Decide, for instance, if you want to invite your guests to bring a dish to share or if you’d rather do everything and maybe slow cook a big pot of shredded salsa verde chicken ahead of time for a creative build-your-own taco bar (using a camp stove to reheat). Or you could get all smoky and grill pre-seasoned chicken cutlets for hearty Greek-style sandwiches. Chicken Brochettes with Chimichurri Salsa or Coffee-Rubbed Drumsticks served with a creamy fresh fennel coleslaw are good do-aheads, ready to sizzle on a hot grill grate. 

It’s all more fun and much less fussy if your menu is based on items you can make ahead of time that are easy to tote. Pack coolers with chilled food just before leaving home, with meat on the bottom in direct contact with ice packs. Wrap breakable bowls filled with slaw or potato salad or pickle-filled jars in tea towels to settle into the cooler, with condiments and veggies packed last.

Let the grilling games begin.

Some sources estimate that 92 percent of tailgate pro’s make at least part of their food on the grill, but in the last 10 years as the quest for better food has become mainstream, menus are now more creative. A hallmark of modern tailgating is a culinary competition that drives the event. Fan-generated entertainment is an integral part of the excitement.

If a char-grilled dish is at the heart of your menu, a small kettle or hibachi grill is tailor-made for tailgating. Set the grill up at least two feet or more from your vehicle. A chimney starter with newspaper or compressed fire starter cubes help get the coals going quickly. And try not to over-build the fire, using just enough charcoal to cook your food so it’s faster to extinguish the coals.  

Food safety scores big.

To stave off hunger, set out snacks (like veggies, chips and layered dips) for grazing first. But wait to unpack chilled foods until the grill is fired up. Or if a family-style potluck is on the menu, wait until tables and chairs are set up and ready for the community spread. The buffet should be packed up again no later than two hours after the party begins.

As soon as food is off the grill, start cooling things down. Carefully remove the grill grate, close any air vents, then stir the charcoal with tongs or a stick. After a few minutes gently spray the coals with water (from that spritz bottle you should keep on hand to prevent flare ups), and cover the grill if there’s a lid. Transport the cooled grill with the coal ashes and safely dispose at home.

Ambiance + Spirit – Tips from the Pros.

Tailgating traditions embrace the best of sports enthusiasm. Bonding over common passions and good times had by all prevail despite friendly rivalries.

Every coach in every pre-game interview says that winning comes down to the fundamentals, and it’s true for tailgating too. Here, blocking and tackling means making sure you have all the essentials at the ready when the big day arrives, and a detailed checklist makes this prep-work fast and easy. Download and print a copy today, and take your game to the next level with winning tips from the pros.