Half the fun of attending or watching a football game is pregaming (and hopefully celebrating a win) at a killer tailgate party! For diehard and casual sports fans alike, tailgating is an essential part of game-day.
Of course, tailgating isn’t just for football. Many people tailgate before other sports events like soccer or hockey games – also shows and concerts, harvest festivals, and so forth. But, for this article, we’ll be primarily discussing football tailgate parties.
In this guide, we’ll cover what a tailgate party is, how to throw an amazing one, and some tips for success.
Let’s get started.
The actual definition of a tailgate party is a social gathering based around the back end of one or more parked vehicles. Traditionally, pickup trucks with the tailgate folded down were the mobile party bases, hence the name ‘tailgate party.’
However, you can do tailgate parties with hatchbacks, SUVs, RVs, trailers, or even a sedan if you really want to.
Tailgate parties usually occur for several hours before kickoff, and occasionally they continue afterward to celebrate a win or commiserate over a loss. Tailgating usually involves food, drinks, music, games, and decorations.
Truly dedicated tailgaters will often have at least one TV hooked up to watch pregame footage and check in on other games happening that day.
In some cases, people who don’t even have tickets to attend the game will still come out to the stadium parking lot just to tailgate and watch the game in the company of other fans.
Now, you might be wondering:
How do I throw the best tailgate party ever?
Here’s what you need to know.
The best football tailgate parties include most – if not all – of the following key elements:
Game-day food is an essential part of tailgating. You can choose to make simple no-prep snacks like chips and dip/salsa, crackers and cheese, store-bought appetizer trays, or order takeout/delivery.
However, part of the fun of tailgate parties is often grilling burgers, sliders, hotdogs, brats, kebabs, ribs, wings, corn on the cob, veggies, and so forth.
Other tailgate staples include chili, jalapeno poppers, baked potatoes, snack mix, nachos, cookies, cupcakes, candy, kettle corn, buffalo chicken dip, quesadillas, deviled eggs, walking tacos, pasta salad, etc.
You get the idea.
But what about tailgating for an early kickoff?
Two words: breakfast buffet.
Trade out the grill for a waffle maker and skillet, lay out a build-your-own breakfast burrito station, fry up the bacon or warm up some cinnamon rolls.
For many people, enjoying a few tasty alcoholic beverages is integral to tailgating. The easiest option is, of course, to throw a bunch of beers into a mini-fridge or cooler and call it good.
However, many people opt to go above and beyond, bringing pitchers of Bloody Marys or Micheladas for early games or even full bar spreads for evening games. Jello shots are also a popular option since they can be prepped ahead. Plus, they can be made in your team’s colors.
For early season warm-weather games, consider refreshing drinks like sangria, margaritas, spiked punch, or boozy popsicles.
If the weather is colder, opt for warm drinks like hot toddies, spiked hot apple cider, or hot buttered rum to keep party guests warm and cozy.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to have plenty of water and soft drinks on hand to keep everyone hydrated and feeling good – and not forgetting, the kids.
Especially for football tailgate parties, decor is a fun way to show your team spirit and get your party guests excited for the game. Some people go all out and purchase team-branded everything: tables, paper plates, plastic cups, flags, banners, folding chairs, canopies, doormats, etc.
However, this can get quite expensive. If you are tailgating on a budget, you can still create a fun atmosphere with plates and cups in your team’s colors, as well as DIY decor like mason jars painted to look like footballs or felt triangle banners.
You may also want to create a fun chalkboard or letterboard sign that announces the schedule for your tailgate party, the menu, drink options, kickoff time, and so forth.
Outdoor party games are a great way to keep the energy high at a tailgate party and entertain guests until the food is served or as you countdown to kickoff.
Cornhole is a classic tailgating game, but other good options include giant Jenga or Connect 4, beer pong, ladder golf, portable horseshoes, and other lawn games that don’t take up too much space or require lots of equipment.
Music is always appropriate at parties, and tailgate parties are no different. Bring some Bluetooth speakers to play music for your party guests.
Of course, be mindful of your neighbors and keep the volume at a moderate level.
Not sure what music to play?
Search for tailgate party playlists on Spotify or other music streaming services.
Finally, there’s a certain amount of equipment that’s required for a successful tailgate party.
Drinks need to be kept cold, food needs to be kept warm, margaritas need to be blended, and the TV needs to be plugged in. And for all of that, you’ll need a power source.
Some tailgaters bring along gas generators, but those can be pretty noisy and smell like, well, gas.
Instead, you may want to bring along a quiet, odor-free alternative like a Jackery Portable Power Station.
Jackery Explorer power stations come in a range of sizes to accommodate the number of devices you need to power. They have numerous ports and plenty of juice to keep your tailgate party in full swing.
You can power a mini-fridge for drinks, a slow cooker to keep the chili warm, your TV, your blender, and so forth. Plus, you can charge your phone if necessary.
Want to know the best part?
Jackery Explorer power stations can be charged up either at home in advance, with a 12V plug in your vehicle, or combined with solar panels. With a Jackery Solar Generator, as long as the sun is shining on your tailgate party, you’ll have essentially unlimited power.
Beyond a power station and all the tailgating elements listed above, you’ll likely want to bring at least a few chairs, coolers and ice, blankets and hand warmers for cold game days, anything you need to prepare and serve food, and, of course, your team spirit.
Now that you know what you need to throw an excellent tailgate party, let’s cover some tips to help the whole thing go smoothly:
Some stadiums and tailgating parking lots do not allow alcohol and/or glass containers of any kind. So be sure to check ahead for these types of rules and any others that might affect your tailgate party planning.
The beauty of many classic tailgating foods is that they can be prepped ahead and then simply warmed up or set out when it’s time to eat. Doing as much as you can ahead of time will help you avoid stress on tailgate day and allow you plenty of time to actually enjoy your party.
Creating a designated tailgate toolbox is a great way to ensure that you don’t forget anything on game-day. This might include:
- Grill tools and accessories
- Hand sanitizer or wet wipes
- Paper towels
- First aid kit
- Bottle openers
- Rain ponchos
- Plastic cutlery
- Plastic cups
- Paper plates
- Plastic bags for leftovers
- Drink koozies
- Whatever else you might need
You can also create a DIY handwashing station with a 7-gallon water jug with a nozzle and a bucket to catch the wastewater. Set out hand soap and paper towels next to the station.
Bonus: This is especially helpful if you’ll be serving messy foods like wings or ribs.
Make cleanup easy by placing trash bags strategically around your tailgate party. That way, guests will know to toss their plates and cups when they are done, and you won’t have to race to clean up before kickoff.
And, finally, it’s always a good idea to arrive early to stake out your spot and get everything set up. Competition for tailgating spots can be fierce, so it may be a good idea to send two vehicles to the location super early so they can barricade either end of your party zone.
Now you might be wondering:
What if I’m just invited to a tailgate party instead of hosting one?
Well, like any regular party, it’s always polite to offer to bring some food and/or drinks. Usually, whoever is hosting or planning the tailgate party will put together a roster of who brings what, so there’s plenty of variety.
But, then again, some tailgating enthusiasts love nothing more than hosting – they might only ask you to bring yourself and a winning attitude.
No law says you have to have an actual tailgate involved for it to be a tailgating party. You can certainly have a backyard tailgate party if you don’t want to bother with getting up at the crack of dawn, packing everything up into vehicles, setting up a whole party zone, and tearing it all down to go home.
A backyard tailgate party might more accurately be called a watch party. But the sentiment is the same – good food, tasty beverages, lawn games, music, football, and good vibes.
Hut, hut, tailgate party!
Enjoy your favorite football team’s games even more this year by throwing some amazing tailgate parties with these tips and equipment recommendations.
Or perhaps you know someone who is hosting the next tailgate? Share this article with your fellow football fans. Go team!