From high school football games to professional NFL games, and NASCAR races to soap box derbies, we’re a nation of tailgaters. And whether your parking lot party is a simple affair featuring burgers and hot dogs or a more elaborate occasion starring grilled beef tenderloin, here are some tips for making your pre-event celebration a winner.
Pack it up
When packing your car or truck for your tailgate party, use this handy checklist to be sure you’ve covered all the bases.
- Setting up: Tarps, ropes or bungee cords, chairs, tables, tablecloths, team decorations
- Cooking: Grill, charcoal, lighter fluid, matches or lighter, oven mitts, cooking utensils
- Serving: Serving trays and spoons; paper or plastic plates, cups and glasses; flatware; bottle opener; ice and cooler; toothpicks; condiments; salt and pepper
- Food: If your cooler is large enough, pack the meat on the bottom, topped with side dishes and appetizers. That way you can pull out the appetizers easily upon arriving at your tailgate space.
- Cleaning up: Water (for dousing hot coals), trash bags, plastic storage bags (for storing leftovers), pre-moistened hand wipes
- Staying safe: First-aid kit, sunscreen, bug repellant, fire extinguisher
- The event: Tickets, binoculars, camera
Menu planning and cooking
- Prepare as much food as possible before your party. Limit the items to be cooked on the grill to one or two.
- Include side items, such as pasta salads, sandwich spreads, and salsa with chips and vegetable strips.
- Consider offering only “finger” foods or foods that are served in bowls, such as chili, soups or jambalaya. It’s difficult to slice a steak or chicken breast on a paper plate. If you plan to serve beef, chicken or pork, consider slicing it to serve sandwich-style with hot rolls.
- Cookies and brownies are easier, and neater, to serve than frosted cakes and pies.
- Bring extra food to share with your tailgating neighbors.
- If the weather is particularly cold, plan to serve a hot beverage, such as mulled cider, hot chocolate or coffee.
- Arrange your serving table so that food doesn’t sit in direct sunlight. And be sure to discard any food that has been sitting out two hours.
- Remember to preheat your grill. Charcoal needs at least 30 minutes for the lighter fluid to burn off completely and to get hot enough for cooking.
Grilling safety tips*
- To prevent flare-ups in the parking lot, make sure the grease collection system of your gas grill is clean. Use a new drip pan every time you tailgate.
- Keep the grill at least 2 feet from any combustible materials, especially your car.
- Never use a grill that wobbles, leans or is unstable.
- After tailgating, turn off the gas grill and let it cool completely before packing it up.
- If using charcoal, wait until the coals are completely cool before discarding them. Dispose in a fire retardant container, such as an ash can. Never transport coal ashes in your car.
* Adapted from Weber Stephen Products.