by Wen Zientek-Sico
I will be the first to admit that I am not a football fan. I'll watch it if I have to and can even talk intelligently about it to a certain degree, but I am not a fan. To me, a football game is just a good excuse for a party - preferably a tailgate party. Actually, concerts and other stadium events are also becoming popular reasons to host a tailgate party, so even if you hate football you still might want to consider hosting a tailgate party some day.
Tailgate parties are casual and a lot of fun, and are especially easy to plan and throw. They can be as simple as sandwiches and chips, or extremely ornate and time consuming. Some people spend days preparing for a tailgate party - and there are even contests with stiff competition to prove who is the best tailgater.
Traditionally, tailgate parties have been held in the parking lot of a stadium or in an area set aside specifically for tailgating. More recently, with some colleges and cities prohibiting tailgating at the game, tailgate parties have been held in other parking lots (with permission) or even closer to home - usually in the driveway.
Before throwing a tailgate party, make sure they are allowed where you are going, what restrictions there might be, and what facilities are available. Supplies will probably be limited, so be prepared to bring everything you might need. This includes basics like water, emergency medical supplies, seating, and trash bags.
You also need to decide what type of party you want to have and how large of a party you want to have. I have seen parties with over a hundred people and huge amounts of food - including a roast pig! But more commonly you will see smaller groups of people with a packed meal - or else a small grill and a few other dishes.
If you are planning on grilling or smoking, make sure you can transport your grill or smoker and your fuel safely. Set up your grill away from cars and your seating area and make sure the surface is level. Have water or a fire extinguisher handy in case of emergencies. Never leave the grill unattended, and make sure to dispose of your charcoal safely.
Some popular grilled or smoked meats are bratwurst or Italian sausages, pork chops, steaks, ribs, short ribs, ham, chicken, seafood, game, and of course, hamburger and hot dogs.
Grilled and smoked dishes are very common at tailgate parties, but perhaps the most popular dish is Chili. It is easy to make ahead of time - or even on site - and is hot and filling which can be important if you are tailgating in colder areas.
Other popular hot dishes are jambalaya, soups, casseroles, pizza, chicken wings, nachos, fajitas, grilled vegetables, stews, lasagna, baked ziti, macaroni and cheese, and almost anything else that cooks quickly or is easily portable.
Sandwiches are also extremely popular. While cold sandwiches will always work, football season can be pretty chili and hot sandwiches may be more tempting. Some favorites are meatball subs, brisket, pulled beef or pork, beef on weck, muffaletta, Philly cheese steak sandwiches, or other local favorites.
Side dishes range from cold pasta, potato, and vegetable salads to hot potato and vegetables dishes, savory breads, soups, and especially baked beans.
Desserts are typically made ahead of time, and are easy to eat. Cookies, dense unfrosted cakes are the easiest to handle, but you frequently will see other cakes and pies as well.
While many a tailgater insists that it would not be a tailgate party without beer, there are plenty of other types of drinks that your guest might appreciate - and some stadiums do not allow alcoholic beverages. Canned soda or juice, bottled water, and even cocktails are favorites on the cold side. A big pot of cider, coffee, and/or cocoa is also great, and hot beverages also work really well in thermoses.
One of the most important things to consider is food safety. Not only do you need to worry about storing food safely before you eat it and cooking it thoroughly, you also need to plan how you will store leftovers. Make sure you have lots of ice and plenty of food safe storage containers or bags to handle any leftover food. Keep cold items cold, and hot items hot before eating, and make sure to bring a thermometer or two so there is no guessing about the temperature. Don't leave perishable food out for more than two hours. Because many places will not have soap and water, make sure to bring anti-bacterial wipes and clean everything thoroughly once you get home.
A few other things to remember are disposable plates and silverware, napkins, condiments, salt and pepper, bottle and can openers, plenty of ice, chairs or stools, paper towels, folding tables, blankets, and protection from the sun, rain, or snow. Make sure not to forget your tickets!
We have assembled a collection of recipes that would make great tailgate food from a variety of sources. Mix and match these recipes for a menu that can't be beat.
Brie and Burgundy Burgers
Broccoli, Ham, and Ricotta Calzones
Cajun Pork Ribs
Chicken Salad Sandwiches
Chipotle Pork Chili
Coffee Can Cookery
Crockpot Pulled Pork
Dad's Favorite Italian Grilled Steak
Favorite Chicken Quesadillas
Favorite Lamb Burgers
Grilled Alaska Crab Legs With Dipping Sauce
Grilled Chicken and Vegetable Salad
Grilled Lake Trout
Grilled Lemon Trout with Fennel and Tarragon
Grilled Mustard Rosemary T-Bone Steaks
Grilled Rosemary Garlic Pork Loin Chops
Grilled Salmon with Mustard Dill Sauce
Grilled Steak or Salmon With Basil-Pistachio Butter
Grilled Succulent Lemony Leg O' Lamb
Italian Bread and Meat Salad
Italian Style Saucy Chicken Wings
Lasagne ala Andrea
Lemon Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Scallops
Make-Ahead Spinach Manicotti
Maryanna's Enchilada Casserole
Mexican Fish Packets
Orange Grilled Shrimp
Parmesan Chicken Wings
Polish Sausage and Cabbage Packets
Red Hot Chicken Wings
Roast Beef Sandwiches with Roasted Garlic Spread
Savory Chicken Wings
Simple Hot Wings
Southwestern Philly Steak Sandwiches
Super Easy Baked Ziti
Sweet and Fruity Wings
Sweet And Sour Cocktail Meatballs
Thai Turkey Packets
Turkey Sandwiches with Spinach Aioli
Basic Make Ahead Potato Salad
Boston Baked Beans
Boston Brown Bread
Classic Cole Slaw
Creamy Cheese Bread
Dilled Red Potato Salad
Fiesta Pumpkin Corn Muffins
Fresh Green Bean and Tomato Salad
Garlic Basil Tomato Pie
Green Chile Squares
Grilled Bruschetta Loaf
Grilled Corn on the Cob
Grilled Green Tomatoes
Grilled Parmesan Bread
Grilled Potatoes Anna
Grilled Potato Wedges
Grilled Vegetable Medley Packets
Honey Grilled Onions
JohnnyRoadTrip's Baked Bean Casserole
Light Potato Salad
Linda's Potato Salad
Mexican Lemon and Pasta Salad
Michael's Macaroni Salad
Perfect Potato Salad
Pesto Pasta Salad
Pesto Potato Salad
Potatoes and Onion on The Grill
Ramen Cole Slaw
Seven Layer Salad
Spicy Tomato Bread
Spinach Artichoke Squares
Calico Wild Rice Soup
Crockpot Cream of Tomato Soup
Favorite Apple Squash Soup
Four Cheese Broccoli Soup
Italian Tomato Bisque
Jackie's Baked Potato Soup
Light Roasted Bell Pepper Bisque
Maple Apple Squash Soup
Marvelous Mushroom Soup
Mushroom Thyme Soup
Pepper-Cheesy Cauliflower Soup
Cherry-Cinnamon Apple Cider
Mexican Hot Chocolate
My Most Decadent Hot Chocolate
Summer Iced Tea
The Best Lemonade
Apple Peach Pie
Chocolate Caramel Crispy Rice Squares
Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies
Chocolate Espresso Cookies
Chocolate Spice Coffee Cake
Cocoa Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Decadent Chocolate Leaf Brownies
Fall Fruit Rolls
Margaritaville Party Pie
Mini Fruit Cheesecakes
Orange Glazed Grilled Pineapple
Pear Coconut Crisp
Pecan Pie Bites
Pecan Pie Squares
Perfect Peach Cobbler
Rich Lemon Cake
Strawberry Lemon Turnovers
Sugar Crusted Meltaways
Swedish Oatmeal Cookies