Freeze Your Water:
I love this one because it can serve more than one purpose. If you get bottled water, freeze it. The day of the game, pop it in to the cooler. If it’s hot out, you can take it out as it melts and you’ll have plenty of cold water. These frozen gems can also keep things cool and the bottles make good ice packs. Plus, you won’t “water down” your cooler like ice will.
Prep for Burgers:
Make your burgers in advance – and make sure they are no thicker than 3/4 inch — thick burgers can take a long time to cook. If you like to eat, stack patties. Freeze your patties between sheets of wax paper. When you’ve got the grill going, put the patties on (still frozen) and cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Then, dress ‘em up accordingly.
The Jumbo Drink:
It’s always a good idea to bring a “jumbo” cup. Less trips to fill it on up. Make sure that your cup sticks out like a sore thumb or has distinguishable markings so that you know it’s yours. You wouldn’t want to drink out of someone else’s cup now, would you?
Large Storage Bins:
Oh, where would we be without the large storage bins? These magnificent totes keep your tailgating gear and equipment organized. It’s easy in and easy out all season long. If you need these bins, your local home improvement store has plenty of ‘em.
Warm Weather Ice Melt:
If you live in a warm climate or happen to have your tailgate on a hot day, make sure that your beverages are very cold before you put them in the ice in your cooler. The fact is, if you have really cold drinks, the ice in the cooler doesn’t have to work as hard and it helps slow the ice melt. And on a hot day, it’s always good to be able to reach in to the cooler for a little ice.
Throwing a party for a dozen friends might not be such a big deal at home, but take that same party to a sun-baked or snow-filled parking lot, and you’ve got a different ball game. Keep the following tips in mind, as you’re getting ready to take your show on the road.
- Plan ahead: To avoid last-minute scrambling or forgetting essentials like charcoal, make a checklist of all the food, drink, and equipment you plan to bring. Remember that you’ll also need to clean up and cart everything away afterwards, so make a second checklist for all the items you want to bring back home. Here’s a tip too: Laminate the list so you can use it again and again and it won’t get messy.
- Know the rules: Most stadiums have strict rules about when, where, and how people can tailgate. At the University of Washington, Huskies supporters do their tailgating on the waters of Lake Washington, but before they pull their boats up to the designated party zone, they consult gohuskies.com for the necessary paperwork. Fans of the New York Giants find home-game tailgating regulations at meadowlands.com. Save yourself some serious hassle by checking your athletic department or stadium Web site for tailgating rules and guidelines.
- Meet the neighbors: If it’s your first season on the tailgate circuit, be respectful of established “party lines.” At many campuses and stadiums, tribes of tailgaters have been setting up in the same place for decades. You can usually spot them a few days before the game, patiently guarding their traditional territory. Also, they tend to fire up their grills early, so it’s often possible to simply follow the smoke trail straight to their party sites. Once you find these loyal fans, be sure to check out their setup — they’re experts, and you’re bound to learn something.
- Pick a team: Unless you’re a professional caterer or a glutton for high-pressure punishment, it always pays to make tailgating a team sport rather than a solo production. Pull in help from the following folks:
One-dish wonders: Always go through your guest list and find a few folks to contribute their favorite dishes. If Uncle Bob makes good baked beans, have him mix up a batch. Remember that shameless flattery never hurts in the recruitment process (“Oh, Virginia, people have been asking about your famous pimento cheese…”).
The firebugs: Some guests are never happier than when they’re standing in front of an open flame. Enlist one or two grill-happy buddies to tend the fires and ply them with plenty of cold beer.
The equipment manager: This is the pal who loves to call the plays and has the practical tools to back it up. He will pack his truck a few days before the game, double-check the guest list, and if necessary, show up the night before to cordon off the party spot. Keep this friend fed and happy
- Keep an eye on the clock: Since your party start time is tied to kickoff, coordination is everything. If you’ve got a noon game, you’ll need to get a really early start. If your team plays at night, you can sleep in. Either way, you don’t want to miss out on any of the good pregame dining or schmoozing. To figure out just how early to get to the stadium, make a list of all your pregame tasks (we’ve included some essential to-dos below) and how long each takes, then work backwards from kickoff time. Keep in mind that in some places, tailgaters need to arrive extra-early to reserve their party space. Also, make sure that you’ve got some convenient snacking foods (a nice dip perhaps, or some melt-in-your-mouth deviled eggs) ready to keep folks fed while you work on the main courses.
Budget ample time for these basic (but usually overlooked) party-time tasks (all times approximate):
- Hauling tables and chairs, and setting up your tent: 20 minutes
- Preheating the grill: 30 minutes for charcoal, 20 minutes for gas
- Running home to fetch your lucky “We’re #1 foam novelty finger”: 30 to 45 minutes
- Smoking succulent, melt-in-your-mouth barbecue ribs: 2 to 3 hours
- Cleanup: 15 minutes
- Finding the nearest garbage can with room for all your postparty trash: 30 minutes.
For a successful tailgate, you’ll need the following 11 essentials:
- A grill (gas or charcoal) or propane hot plate with extra fuel and a portable fire extinguisher. (Take foil to line the bottom of the grill for easy clean up)
- Plenty of disposable bowls, plates, cups, cutlery, and napkins. Aim for two or three per person of everything, and at least six napkins per person
- Large bowls and platters for serving, and serving utensils if necessary.
- Any condiments that are essential for your menu, plus any unusual extras you can fit in the cooler.
- Three separate ice chests (one each for beer, food, and meat products). Ice packs help keep cold items cold, while heatproof padding will help hot foods retain their heat.
- More ice than you think you could ever possibly use.
- Folding tent (team colors preferred) to keep your party safe from the elements.
- Two folding banquet/card tables for food and drinks—reserve some table space for a cook’s workspace where you can take care of any on-site food prep.
- Nylon folding chairs (preferably with cup holders).
- A pumpin’ car stereo for blasting the school fight song or endless pregame coverage.
- Heavy-duty garbage and recycling bags for easy cleanup — set up recycling and garbage disposal areas, and your cleanup will be much easier — and lots of paper towels.