A day of tailgating starts with a good plan and the right mindset. Become a parking-lot MVP with these tips for the perfect football party.
Sports inspire a host of traditions, but few are as beloved and revered as a football game tailgate complete with the smell of brats, a diving catch onto the hood of a neighboring car and the mix of music genres. Possibly one of the best pregame activities of all time, tailgating combines food, drinks and football with a rallying community of fans.
The job of the tailgate guest is easy: Show up, grab a burger, pound a beer and fling a football. But the job of the tailgate host is considerably trickier. In order to throw a successful parking lot party that makes guests forget they have tickets to an actual game, you’ll have to pull out all the stops, which can be an undertaking. These tips will help make the process easier.
What should I bring?
Besides the food, beverages and condiments of your choosing, there are many other tailgating accoutrements to consider. As with any party or gathering, it’s better to over-prepare than to be caught off guard. Here are the necessities:
• Ice: Bring as much as possible; you can’t have enough.
• Trash bags
• Paper towels
• Foil: Bring double the amount you think you’ll need.
• Wet wipes and hand sanitizer
• Charcoal: Bring extra, especially if it’s a windy day.
• Propane or butane tank
• Tongs: One for raw meat, one for cooked meat.
• Bottle openers: And a few extra, as these tend to disappear.
• Plastic baggies
• Disposable plates, cups and cutlery
• First-aid kit
• Jumper cables
• Car phone charger
• Extension cord
• Portable fire extinguisher
• Portable tables and chairs
• Duct tape: Roughly 90 percent of the problems that come up, including that mouthy fan of the other team, can be solved with this gift from God.
Days before the tailgate
Make a list of everything you need to bring. Divide it into categories: food, drinks, cooking accessories and utensils, tableware and miscellaneous. Check off each item before you leave on game day to make sure nothing is left behind.
Look into the rules of the tailgating venue regarding where to park, grilling practices and alcohol consumption. Know what to expect before arriving.
Prepare what you can in advance. Form burger patties the night before the game and pack them between layers of wax paper. Start cooking chili or pulled pork in the slow cooker. Marinate meat and skewer it if you’re making kabobs. Slice and package burger toppings such as lettuce, tomatoes, onions and cheese. Freeze water bottles to use both as ice in the cooler and for drinking water.
Choose your guests carefully. Anyone you feel you “have” to invite is someone you probably shouldn’t invite. Find another time for paybacks or fulfilling obligations. Assuming you’re going to have a few couples, you should start with a small group that’s comfortable with each other, adding a couple of new people to freshen things up. If you want, you can give guests food or decorating assignments to make them feel more a part of things.
Morning of the tailgate
Pack the coolers. Ideally, you’ll have three: one for raw meat, one for cooked meat and sides, and one for beverages. Be sure all items are chilled and packed in watertight containers. The denser you pack your coolers, the colder they’ll stay.
Check your list. Then check it again. Then one last time before you leave. And don’t forget the tickets.
At the tailgate
Pick a good spot. Select a location that’s easy to find, near a bathroom and close to other tailgaters. The earlier you show up, the better your options will be. Plan to arrive three to four hours before the game starts.
Set up your base camp and start grilling. Food should be ready two hours before the game starts, leaving you and your guests enough time to eat, clean up and head to your seats.
Be respectful of the location and to other tailgating parties. Don’t leave garbage behind, avoid getting belligerently drunk and limit smack talk to the rival team’s fans. Your group and space should exude class and a fun atmosphere. And don’t look too comfortable. Tired-looking people reclining everywhere in chairs makes others wonder why any of your guests even bothered to leave home that day.
Tired of flies and unwanted bugs hovering around? Keep your drink bug and debris free by turning cupcake wrappers upside-down over the opening of your drink. Shove a straw through for easy access. Protect your food with picnic nets. Remember you didn’t invite them and germ carrying bugs can ruin the look of your party.
If you’re in the middle of a crowd, help your friends find you by flying a large helium balloon attached to a long string. Send your guests directions the night before if you know where you’ll be. If you have to wing it, send directions as soon as you park so that you’re not bombarded with texts and calls while trying to set up camp or cook.
When it comes time to pack up, be thorough. Be sure all trash is thrown away in a designated place and that all coals or fires are extinguished. To make cleanup faster, bring your dishes and utensils in a plastic tub. Line the tub with a trash bag and put all the dirty dishes back in when you’re finished.
Deck out your tailgating area with decorations that represent your team. Hang pennants, and color coordinated tablecloths, plates and cups in team colors. Making Jell-O shots in team colors (or the rival’s “blood”) is another fun way to show your spirit.
Tailgating is not just hanging out for a couple of hours in a parking lot; it can last an entire day. Break up the lull and get everyone on their feet with some yard games. You could always purchase some game sets, but with a little effort and the help of some power tools, you can build your own. Building a few sets of cornhole boards and ring toss games is easier than you think. Or you can keep it casual with homemade diced darts made with giant foam dice. A high-stakes giant-sized balancing block tower game is a sure way to ramp up the excitement. In any case, a bit of friendly competition creates the perfect ice breaker for any gathering.
And finally, you know what’s more fun that postgame traffic? Postgame tailgating. Fire that bad boy grill up again or just relax and complain about all the bad calls your team got while everyone else sits in cars trying to get away.
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