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Tailgating Party Ideas and Tips: Food, Recipes, Supplies, Decorations, and More
How to Throw a Tailgate Party
For more than a century and a half, tailgating has been integral part of many major sporting events in the United States. Of course it is most widely associated with college football, but many people also tailgate for other collegiate sports, professional baseball, outdoor weddings, and many additional events. Do it up right this season with the best tips and guidelines for supplies, set up, food, clothing, décor, and more. It can be overwhelming when you are first learning a tailgating area and don't have your routine and supplies down yet, but it will become more manageable with a few key pieces of advice and a little practice.
- Taylor Tailgates - The Best of College Football Tailgating
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More great sports team information and tailgating game tips.
This article includes the following tailgating topics:
- Tailgating History
- General Guidelines
- Food Preparation and Serving
- Tailgating Recipes
- Clothing, Accessories, and Décor
Brief History of Tailgating
- One of the earliest tailgating events that was recorded occurred during the Civil War. It took place at the Battle of Bull Run in 1861. When the battle began, Union civilians came with baskets of food and yelled, "Go Big Blue!" Their efforts were a means of support and encouragement for their side in this impending battle.
- Another notable event in tailgating history took place in Texas in 1866. Rancher Charles Goodnight converted a U.S. army wagon into a portable feed wagon in order to help cowboys mobilize their meals. This invention was deemed the chuck wagon, after the chuck beef cut. The chuck wagon revolutionized the ranching industry and became one of the earliest versions of the tailgate set up that is still used today.
- The first tailgate before a sporting event took place in 1869 at the very first Princeton vs. Rutgers football game. At this time, the game shared many characteristics of current rugby with 25 player teams and three different player positions. The biggest influence that this event had on the future of tailgating was the scarlet-colored scarves that some Rutgers players and fans had fashioned into turbans to distinguish themselves from the other fans.
- Ever since that Princeton/Rutgers game, tailgating has become a staple component of many types of sporting events. Instead of turbans, fans choose jerseys, t-shirts, caps, and body paint. Modern coolers and grills have replaced the original horse-drawn wagon. Throughout the years, the fans' enthusiasm and team spirit have remained strong.
Source: History of tailgating: A time-honored tradition (http://americantailgaterassociation.org/news/history-tailgating-time-honored-tradition) - link no longer active
General Tailgating Tips
- Bring your own labeled glass. If you have a large group and/or multiple people drinking the same beverage, it can be easy for drinks to get mixed up when people set them down somewhere. Use a water bottle, thermos, or other personal glass with your name on it to avoid mix ups.
- Laminated check list. If you tailgate often, it can be helpful to have a check list for each event. Create a permanent list of the regular items that you need and make a laminated copy. As you pack up your items, check them off with a dry erase marker. Then you can wipe them all off and be ready to go for the next event.
- Store regular gear in large storage bins. Keep all of your tailgating equipment in large storage containers during tailgating season so that it's easy to grab what you need when it's time to get ready for an event.
- Learn the tailgating area. Not all parking spaces are created equal. Get tips from fellow tailgaters and take away from previous experiences to get the best spaces.
- Don't forget to clean up afterward. Be courteous to your neighbors and the hosting stadium by taking all of your garbage with you after tailgating.
- Dress in layers. No matter what the weather it is, you will not regret having at least one extra layer that you can take off or put on as needed. The temperature can change significantly during a long period of tailgating, particularly early or late in the day. Additionally, you never know when a cold or warm front will come through the area unexpectedly.
- Consider both pre-game and post-game tailgating. Plan to arrive at least three to four hours before game time for pre-game tailgating. Some people choose to tailgate for an additional hour or two after the game. The post-game option can be a great way to celebrate a victory (or drown your sorrows over a tough loss) and avoid some of the post-game traffic.
E-Z UP tents are not expensive and with proper care, will last for multiple tailgating seasons.
- E-Z UP Canopy or Pop Up Tent. If you will be tailgating regularly every year, a good tent is well worth the investment. Many canopy or pop up tents can be set up in ten minutes or less by two average sized adults. A number of big box stores and sporting goods supply stores carry them. Some places offer special deals during football season.
- Plenty of plates, cups, silverware, napkins, serving utensils, and cooking utensils. Make sure that you have an ample amount of supplies for preparing, serving, and eating food. Most of these items don't take up much room. It's not worth skimping.
- At least one or two coolers. For those who are bringing large amounts of food and drink, you may opt to designate different coolers for different items such as meat and beverages.
- Portable grill. There are a wide variety of both charcoal and propane portable grills on the market that are excellent for tailgating. Determine what will best fit your budget, preferable grilling style, and typical tailgating group size. Many people who go with a propane option like to keep an extra propane tank on hand.
- Folding tables. It is much more simple to keep all of the prepared food on a table than having to load your plates directly from the grill and Tupperware containers.
- Portable chairs. It is easy to get focused on the food and other preparation and forget that you'll want somewhere to sit down for at least part of the tailgating event.
- Wet wipes and Clorax wipes. Even if you aren't eating any foods that are particularly messy, inevitably there will be a few spills and other messes during any event.
- Plastic trash bags. Keep the clean up process simple by bringing a large supply of trash bags.
Guidelines for Preparing and Serving Tailgating Food
- Allow ample time for marinating. If you will be marinating meat before grilling it, allow sufficient time for the marinate to do its work before the game. Make sure to keep it well packed in a cold space so that the meat doesn't turn.
- Use aluminum foil for the grill. For those who are using portable charcoal grills, you can make the clean up and disposal process easy by lining the grill with foil before you start the fire.
- Freeze water bottles to use as ice. Instead of packing your cooler with ice, freeze a handful of water bottles ahead of time and pack them in the cooler with the food. They won't water down the way that ice cubes do.
- During hot weather, chill beverages ahead of time. Not only will chilling beverages ahead of time ensure that they stay cold throughout tailgating, but it will also keep the cooler a lower temperature for a longer period of time.
- Appoint different people for different food jobs. If you have a large group, it may be easiest to give people specific jobs, such as grilling and serving drinks. This system can be helpful for the set up and tear down process as well.
Don't forget the following items!
Condiments (i.e. ketchup, mustard)
Chips and pretzels
Classics such as potato salad and beans
At least one dessert
All-Star Chili Dogs
Great Tailgating Recipes
There are numerous tailgating recipes out there. You can search for just about any type of food and find multiple options. I've included just a few notable recipes and web sites to get you started.
- What's Gaby Cooking - Tailgating Recipes: Gaby shares her recipes for salsa, cheese crisps, chipotle guacamole, sweet potato Parmesan chips, roasted red pepper and artichoke hummus, Irish nachos, pulled pork sliders, and football brownies.
- Buffalo recipes. One great option for tailgating is buffalo recipes. Snappy Gourmet shares recipes for Buffalo Chicken Pasta and Buffalo Shrimp Bread Bowl Dip. Head over to The Girl Who Ate Everything for Buffalo Chicken Nachos and Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Cheese.
- The Food Network. The Food Network has rounded up their top 50 tailgating recipes.
- Ready to Serve Tailgating Recipes. Southern Living has a great collection of tailgating recipes that you can make the day before, pop in your cooler the morning of the event, and serve at the event without having to do anything else.
Tip: Can't find the type of tailgating clothing that you want? Consider making it yourself! Many craft stores carry inexpensive clothing décor items such as blank shirts, fabric pens, and fabric puff paint.
Tailgating Clothing, Accessories, and Décor
- Team jerseys, t-shirts, and sweatshirts. Shirts of any type are a great tailgating item. They are comfortable and can be layered for many different weather conditions.
- Team sweatpants. Stay warm during cooler fall tailgating events by layering sweatpants over tights, leggings, or long underwear.
- Warm weather accessories. Look for team gear or accessories with the team colors to keep you warm, such as scarves and mittens, during cold tailgating.
- Caps and hats. Grab a baseball cap to keep out the sun or put on a hat on chilly days.
- Overalls or coveralls. I had never seen team coveralls in abundance before I lived in Iowa City, but many University of Iowa fans wear them. I'm sure that fans in other cities do, too.
- Face paint. Face paint is fun, simple décor option for people of many different ages. Many big box stores carry face paint colors for local teams during football season. Additionally, you can check university bookstores for team colors.
- Body paint. Of course body paint remains a classic for sporting events. Take caution and consider whether this is a smart choice during colder games.
- Beanbags or cornhole. One of the most popular tailgating games in beanbags. Many people claim that the more you drink, the more fun it is. Head over to Cornhole-How-To for everything that you need to know about making your own boards and beanbags. There are lots of sets available for purchase, too.
- Party games. Board games and other popular party games that don't require a lot of pieces, such as Catch Phrase, can be fun during tailgating.
- Music. In the age of digital music, it is relatively easy and inexpensive to bring music that the entire group can enjoy.