Stock a Cooler
Whether you're serving 4 or 40, chances are you'll need more than one cooler for optimum tailgating. Here's how to organize: Designate one cooler for drinks and one for food. Beverages can be sorted into alcoholic and nonalcoholic sections, while food items are best layered in menu order. For example, breakfast burrito fixings on the top, after-game dogs and condiments on the bottom. This makes for easy reaching!
Editor's Tip: Do preparations like cutting bars or splitting buns ahead of time to avoid extra work at the tailgate. Also, pack according to the estimated guest number to help save space -- just be sure to include a few extra servings for any new friends!
Ready a Portable Grill
The MVP of your tailgate? The grill, of course! No party is complete without one, so make sure it's the first thing to hit the trunk. Portables are easiest to pack and go, but small charcoal grills also do the trick. A bag stuffed with grill essentials (tongs, lighter, propane, oven mitts) will also be super handy.
Pack Serving Ware
We know it's silly, but simple items like serving ware are often overlooked. Creating a tailgate checklist will ensure your pals don't go without plates. Other must-haves that make our list: hand sanitizer, moist towelettes, paper towels, and garbage bags.
Bring a Bread and Chip Basket
Crunched chips? Not this time! Stash your smashables in a protective basket to avoid any mishaps. Think buns, muffins, cupcakes, and more. Double-check that the basket is in a safe, secure place before you hit the road, such as on top of the grill or nestled in a nearby seat.
Use Aluminum Foil Pans
Whether you're cooking scrambled eggs over the grill or bringing make-ahead brownies and bars to share, aluminum foil pans are perfect for game day. They're light, grill-friendly, and can be conveniently tossed after using. Head to your local grocery store to pick up a bundle before the big game.
Do a Condiment Check
Always keep condiments on deck. Fill small containers -- like Mason jars and squeezable bottles -- with condiments you use at every game, and keep them ready to go in the fridge until game day.
Make a DIY Tablecloth
So you want to be a top tailgater? Go all out by making your table look as good as the food on it. It's easy! A long sheet of kraft paper turns into a football field when lined and numbered with white tape or paint. It gives your spread an all-star look -- and makes for easy cleanup!
Editor's Tip: It's best if you tape the paper onto the table top before packing it away in the car -- this helps avoid any crinkles or bends in the paper.
Create a Beer Bar
Appeal to of-age fans with an assortment of cool beers in a convenient bucket. With fun fall flavors like pumpkin and apple, seasonal brews are sure to score you big points. Set them out alongside salty mixes like roasted nuts and pretzels. Don't forget a bottle opener!
Set a Cider and Cheese Spread
Bring the foodie in you to football with fantastic hard cider and cheese pairings, plus simple nibbles. Ever had blue cheese with a tart crabapple cider? Or homemade fruit-and-nut bars made with toasted walnuts? This sophisticated spread offers a nice alternative to beer and pizza.
Get the free cider and cheese guide
Make Bloody Marys
It's never too early to get your game on. Round up the crew for a delicious pregame cheers starring your favorite morning cocktail: the Bloody Mary. Be bold by swapping the standard celery stick for a skewer of olives, pickles, or even beef jerky. Just don't forget the ice!
Editor's Tip: Some campuses don't allow hard liquor in their lots. Be sure to check your team's codes online before you stash a bottle in your cooler.
Bake Cinnamon Rolls
Wake up, early tailgaters! Your morning game just got a whole lot sweeter, thanks to homemade cinnamon rolls. Bake a batch in an aluminum foil pan the night before the game. Come morning, break them out for a quick warm-up on the grill. Enjoy!
Our Best Fall Recipes
Make Easy Tailgating Punch
This punch was made for tailgating. Shake up a blend of frozen citrus and berry concentrate in a plastic jug to chill overnight. On game day, tote the jug in an insulated cooler alongside bottled ginger ale and ice cubes. Once unloaded, mix together at the tailgate site. Orange and lemon slices add a touch of sophistication.
Set Up a Dip Station
Behold the dip station! This table will surely be the hot spot at your tailgate, with dips including sassy salsas and warm and creamy spreads. Two to three dips is perfect for smaller groups, while larger parties naturally welcome more. Ask guests to bring their favorite to share! We recommend:
Bake Classic Soft Pretzels
Take your favorite salty mall snack to the tailgate. Bake a batch up to a month before game day (thanks, freezer!) to serve with a side of nacho cheese. Because of the special hot water and baking soda bath, the pretzels have more moisture than other baked goods and may get wrinkly during storage. Be sure to bake them long enough so the excess moisture evaporates and they turn a crisp, golden brown. Let them cool completely before storing in a covered container for up to 2 days.
Heat Up Classic Hot Wings
With amazing sauces and marinades -- ragin' Cajun, fiery chipotle, hot habanero, and more -- it's no wonder wings take the title of the most popular game-day food ever. Make them up to a week in advance and store in the fridge until it's tailgating time. Don't forget the napkins!
Grill Whiskey Barrel Burgers
Every bite of these ultrasavory burgers oozes with creamy whiskey-cheddar goodness. Infuse the patties with the special filling the day before. On tailgate day, tote them in an insulated cooler with ice packs, along with presliced tomatoes, lettuce, and red onion. Any leftover filling can be melted on the patties after their final flip on the grill.
Slow-Cook Baked Beans with Bacon
You had us at bacon. Get a double dose in this addicting make-ahead bean recipe. Half of the bacon goes in the slow cooker for a salty, savory flavor, and the other half gets sprinkled on top for a crispy finish. Thanks to your portable grill and a foil pan, you can make extra-fresh bacon right on site.
Game Day Slow Cooker Recipes
Grill Saucy Kansas City-Style Ribs
Think you're tough enough for these finger-lickin' ribs? Our ultrasaucy recipe is made the KC way: coated in a signature dry rub and slathered with thick, get-under-your-nails BBQ sauce. It takes about an hour and a half to grill these bad boys. Get them cooking first thing and let them bubble while you serve your drinks, desserts, and munchies. Trust us -- these overtime ribs are well worth the wait.
Make Smoked Macaroni and Cheese
Football players aren't the only ones out there with something to prove. Take tailgating to new and delicious heights with grilled mac and cheese. This recipe calls for two kinds of cheese -- blue and Gouda. The dish is then grilled atop a smoky water-soaked maple plank. Top with sliced chicken breast or serve alone.
Slow-Cook Beer Chili Deluxe
Surprise! Slow-cooked chili tastes even better with beer. Crack open a cold one, pour it into your slow cooker, and let the crisp, intoxicating flavors do their thing. We ditch ordinary chili toppings for zesty avocado-tomato salsa.
Editor's Tip: Use a car adapter for your slow cooker to keep your chili warm all the way to the lot. Just plug it into the power outlet of your car and turn it to warm mode.
Bake Fudgy Football Brownies
Football and brownies -- we couldn't think of a more beautiful team. Go homemade or use a boxed mix to cut down on prep time. The creamy vanilla frosting is super easy to make. Just fill a plastic bag, snip off a small corner, and pipe away. You can find the sport-shape cookie cutters at your local grocery or superstore.
Yum! Pumpkin Cake Footballs
Prefer cake over brownies? We've got you covered. These fluffy cakes are made with canned pumpkin and a slew of fall spices. And they'll make your tailgate table instantly cuter.
Seriously Amazing Pumpkin Recipes
Make Caramel Popcorn Goodie Bags
Halftime break time? Make baggies of this sweet caramel-sporting popcorn to boost energy for the second half! It's oven-roasted with salted cashews and whole almonds -- so you know you're getting the good stuff.
Decorate Fun Fall Cookies
Mad pastry skills at a tailgate? Now we're talking! Skip store-bought and make festive fall cookies from scratch. Half the fun is in the decorating. Pipe on frosting using autumn hues or, better yet, your team colors! Look for cutters in leaf, apple, and pumpkin shapes. Toothpicks help create the intricate designs.
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