A banner that shows a close up image of a grill in a backyard with text over it that reads, 'How to Master The Ultimate Tailgate'.

How to Master the Ultimate Tailgate

Tailgating is an American experience through and through. The idea of driving your biggest car to a parking lot and camping there for hours just to eat and watch a football game has evolved into a time-honored tradition, one with many regional variations across the 50 states.

If you’re looking to get in on this tradition, we’ve got plenty of BBQ tips for football games here, including a tailgate packing list, links to our best portable grills, easy BBQ prep ideas, and tailgate safety tips.

Tailgate Packing List

The first step for a proper, fully stocked tailgate is preparing food and equipment for your tailgate ahead of time. You can technically operate a tailgate out of the back of your pickup truck if you’d like, but if you’re looking to settle in for the long haul, you’ll likely need some additional equipment. 5 must-haves for your tailgate packing list are below:

  1. Canopy
  2. Chairs for Everyone
  3. Tailgating Games
  4. Food/Drinks
  5. Portable Grill

A canopy is a great idea to provide some shade from the sun or any bad weather. Be sure to pack a few chairs as well–the game may bring you to your feet, but you’ll need time to take a load off in between rounds of brats.

A small group of young people outside all dressed to cheer on a sports team and are all smiling and laughing.

It’s always a good idea to bring some games with you to keep everyone occupied during the tailgate. It will vary depending on the age and interests of the attendees, but some popular tailgating games include bags/cornhole, card games, Giant Jenga, beer pong, flip cup, and more. You could also bring a frisbee, football, baseball, or volleyball with. Our 2021 Guide to Safe and Fun Summer BBQs has a great list of outdoor game ideas.

There’s also plenty of food prep you can do to make sure that game day runs as smoothly as possible. We’ll get into specifics down below, but the key point to remember is that the more food you have prepared in advance, the fewer variables and tasks you’ll have to contend with on the big day. For that reason, we recommend getting as many sides and fixin’s done in advance, and save the true grilling and smoking for when you’re ready to serve.

And don’t forget the drinks! Make sure everyone stays hydrated, even if it’s a cooler fall day. Bring a couple of coolers to the tailgate: at least one each for your food and drinks. If you’re showing up far earlier than your guests (not a bad idea, given how difficult it can be to find a good parking spot), consider asking guests swinging by later to bring ice or replenish drinks and snacks. Tailgating, like football, is a team effort, right?

Best Portable Grills

Close up of portable grill outside with burgers that are almost done getting cooked.

You will need a portable grill that’s gas, charcoal, or electric for a proper tailgating experience. Choosing the best freestanding grill is pivotal for a good tailgate. Though you can’t bring your full kitchen to the game, you can still bring plenty of essential equipment with you. BBQ Outlets stocks a lot of portable grills, including several gas options from Blaze’s Professional LUX line. Napoleon also offers several portable propane and electric grills, including some that come on a wheeled cart. You can read more about both brands of portable grills here. If you’re setting up early and smoking your food, you can also tote along your Kamado Joe Smoker.

We’ve just introduced a new brand to our store: HitchFire. HitchFire two-burner propane grills are designed to fit any standard car hitch, and have an 18 inch by 22 inch cooking surface that’s perfect for feeding a small group (roughly 10 people.) Like a versatile wide receiver, the HitchFire can pivot and swing wide to create some separation from your trunk bed or detach and set up in open space when necessary.

The other benefit of a HitchFire is it won’t take up valuable trunk space, meaning you have more space for games, food, or whatever other extras you wanted to bring to the party. The HitchFire is built rugged for adventure grilling, so definitely check it out if that’s your scene!

Best Tailgating Foods: Easy BBQ Prep Ideas

Like any other American tradition, tailgating has plenty of regional inflection. A good tailgate at UCLA is likely to include smoked tri-tip, while LSU’s tailgates may include local delicacies like smoked ponce for the, ahem, thick-stomached.

But there are some grilled tailgating foods that most, if not all sports fans can agree on. These include hot dogs or bratwursts, burgers, and an ice-cold beverage.

In need of some easy BBQ prep ideas? Consider soaking your brats in beer overnight, to impart a more complex flavor. Any light beer will do. On the day of the game, you can kick the flavor up a notch–and prevent dried-out brats–by boiling the brats in a cast-iron skillet or dutch oven directly on your grill, then transferring them to the grates for a quick sear over high heat. That way, you get the grill marks that are so essential to a properly grilled bratwurst while making them juicier than if the brats had just gone straight from package to fire.

Two food safe containers to store food in that have pasta salad and other fresh veggies and oats and pasta in them.

For side dishes that are easy to prepare the night before, consider a simple pasta salad. All you really need is a few vegetables like broccoli, cucumber or fresh greens, onion, tomato and a pasta that will hold onto its companions, like a large shell. Then sprinkle your favorite salad dressing over top and maybe some crumbly cheese, and store in a big container overnight!

Many tailgaters also appreciate a big batch of wings come game time. Wings don’t necessarily require a lot of advance prep, but be sure to season them before setting them on a gas portable grill set to medium heat. Flip them every five minutes or so, then after 20 minutes hit them with a good barbeque wing sauce and voila! A tailgate staple ready to feed the masses.

Tailgate Safety Tips

There are plenty of important precautions to take when tailgating responsibly. First and foremost: if there’s alcohol, make sure your party has a designated driver. 

Also be sure to keep an eye on any actively cooking elements. If you’re going for a gameday turkey fry, remember to keep an eye on all that hot oil and turn off the fryer when not in use.

Man standing at a grill outside near cars with his friends behind him as they tailgate and he cooks food.

Grills are no different: keep an eye on the fire at all times. You’re also better off keeping any cooking elements at least six feet away from your vehicle. It’s also smart to keep a fire extinguisher and first aid kit on hand–there’s no telling what rowdy fans can get up to.

Finally, practice standard food safety etiquette. Cook your meats properly, and keep your hands and workspace clean.

We’re sure these BBQ tips for football games will help you have an excellent tailgating experience. See you out on the field!

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