Tailgating before a football game is a quintessentially American experience. The festival-like atmosphere of these parking lot parties is one of my favorite ways to introduce new people to the sport and kick back with my fellow fans.
And you don’t even have to go to the game to do it! You can just drop in, party awhile and go on your merry way. Last weekend I ran into my cousin Brandon before a NDSU Bison game in Fargo. He’d been tailgating for a few hours with friends and he settled in to watch the game at a northside bar as we headed into the Fargodome.
If you’re a tailgating veteran, you probably won’t need this list. (But please give us your tips in the comments below!) But if you’re new to football, want to try a low-key tailgating party, set up at an away game for the first time or just like a good party, here are a few ways to maximize your tailgating fun.
If you’re cooking, arrive three to four hours ahead of game time so you have plenty of time to set up, eat and tear down without rushing. If you’re just taking in the ambience, try to show up at least two hours before kick-off to allow time for parking, walking to the parking lot and getting to your seat without rushing.
Yes, you can usually drink alcohol while you tailgate, but make sure you know the rules before you go. Some facilities restrict alcohol to certain lots or require beverages to be consumed in plastic cups, so check the website before you go.
Then pack your cooler! Beer is a classic choice, but pre-mixed cocktails or Jell-O shots in your team’s colors can be fun too. Or stay warm with hot cocoa, coffee or apple cider. These are great on their own or with a splash of something stronger.
Prepare And Pack Ahead of Time
Cut meat and cheese, chop vegetables, patty the burgers, marinate meat, assemble the skewers, get the condiments, dishes, utensils and napkins all in one place the night before. If you can cook anything beforehand without sacrificing flavor, do that too. You’ll have more time to eat, relax and mingle and game day won’t be as stressful or rushed.
Plus, have you ever tried to prepare food in a parking lot when your fingers are freezing? It’s not pleasant and if you’re using a knife, it can be downright dangerous. Make it easy on yourself and plan ahead.
Use Separate Coolers
If you’re just bringing drinks, all you need is one. If you’re packing food though, it gets more complicated. Keep the drinks in one (and label them, if you can), the food in another and keep any raw meat separate in a third so it doesn’t cross contaminate everything else.
You can even use an empty cooler to keep food warm. Just heat clean bricks or large stones in your oven at home, wrap them in foil and make yourself an improvised warming oven.
Tailgating can be an hours-long or even a day-long event, so keep drink plenty of water. It’s especially important if it’s warm out or if you’re drinking alcohol.
If you’re low on ice or ice packs, freeze water in plastic water bottles before you go. They will keep everything cold and when it melts, you’ll have a cold drink.
Wear Your Colors
Tailgating is a group expression of team spirit and it’s fun to get into the action. If the game is a one-time thing, ask a friend if you can borrow some of their fan gear or pull something in the team’s colors from your existing wardrobe. (Since you’ll be wearing a jacket while you’re tailgating, something small like a hat, scarf or gloves can do the trick)
If you think you’ll be back again, want to blend in once you’re in the stadium or will use the item in your everyday life, then invest in a cool sweatshirt, jersey or a fun layering piece like a quilted vest. Most stadiums will have a spot where you can buy fan gear once you’re inside, but you can also shop the college book store or local sporting goods stores before you go.
Learn About The Game
My friend Simon once turned to me after a Bison touchdown with an ear-to-ear grin and yelled something like, “I have no idea what’s happening, but this is fantastic!” He’s from the UK and that was his first game.So you don’t have to understand football to enjoy it, but it helps. Tailgating is a great time to do it. Sure, you could Google the rules of the game, but your new tailgating buddies can explain the basics to you.
If you already understand the basics (or you’re a hardcore fan who finds yourself drinking next to the opposing team’s fans) ask about what’s unique about their team. You might learn about traditions, chants, cheers, special songs or other crowd participation stuff that will make you feel like part of the crowd. If you’re talking with the opposing team’s fans, this builds good will and sportsmanship. Either way, you could learn some cool trivia or great stories.
I’m obsessed with the prefect layering pieces. This cozy, reflective jacket that the crew from RefrigiWear gave me will work for tailgating and for winter hiking and biking too.
Dress For The Weather
Fall weather can vary a lot from region to region and game to game, so it’s smart to wear a few more layers than you think you’ll need and take them off if you have to. Start with a comfortable, breathable base layer and add on shirts, vests and jackets from there.
If it’s warm, make sure your clothing is comfortable and pack a hat and plenty of sunscreen.
If it’s already chilly when you leave the house, don’t forget to wear warm socks and bring a hat and gloves. You’ll be outside for longer than you may be used to and the wind in a parking lot can be relentless. It’s no fun to stand around with a full beer and be miserable because your ears and fingers are freezing.
Bring the Three Bs
Even if you bring nothing else, make sure you pack the three Bs: a bottle opener, your beverage and a bag. Somebody always forgets their bottle opener (last time it was me!) and you’ll be a hero if you have one handy.
A beverage is nice, but a bag for clean-up is a must. Be sure to leave you parking space as neat as you found it.
Make The Rounds
Experiencing the tailgating atmosphere is half of the fun, so even if you love the people you’re tailgating with, take some time to make the rounds and meet some new friends. Listen to the marching band play, throw a football around, take advantage of games and activities for the kids or maybe even play a game of bean bags (or corn hole or whatever you call it!) with the people across the way.
Even just walking around and checking out everybody else’s tailgating set up can be interesting. The energy is contagious.
How about you?
What are your best tailgating tips?
Which teams do you cheer for?
What’s your best tailgating story?
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