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Tailgating Party Ideas and Tips: Food, Recipes, Supplies, Decorations, and More

Rose is a full-time freelance writer who frequently writes about education, special education, DIY projects, food, Milwaukee, and more.

The University of Iowa Stadium before a football game, Labor Day 2009. This is an excellent location for tailgating.

The University of Iowa Stadium before a football game, Labor Day 2009. This is an excellent location for tailgating.

How to Throw a Tailgate Party

For more than a century and a half, tailgating has been integral part of many major sporting events in the United States. Of course it is most widely associated with college football, but many people also tailgate for other collegiate sports, professional baseball, outdoor weddings, and many additional events. Do it up right this season with the best tips and guidelines for supplies, set up, food, clothing, décor, and more. It can be overwhelming when you are first learning a tailgating area and don't have your routine and supplies down yet, but it will become more manageable with a few key pieces of advice and a little practice.

This article includes the following tailgating topics:

  • Tailgating History
  • General Guidelines
  • Supplies
  • Food Preparation and Serving
  • Tailgating Recipes
  • Clothing, Accessories, and Décor
  • Entertainment
Just as ballparks have changed throughout history, so has tailgating.

Just as ballparks have changed throughout history, so has tailgating.

Brief History of Tailgating

  • One of the earliest tailgating events that was recorded occurred during the Civil War. It took place at the Battle of Bull Run in 1861. When the battle began, Union civilians came with baskets of food and yelled, "Go Big Blue!" Their efforts were a means of support and encouragement for their side in this impending battle.
  • Another notable event in tailgating history took place in Texas in 1866. Rancher Charles Goodnight converted a U.S. army wagon into a portable feed wagon in order to help cowboys mobilize their meals. This invention was deemed the chuck wagon, after the chuck beef cut. The chuck wagon revolutionized the ranching industry and became one of the earliest versions of the tailgate set up that is still used today.
  • The first tailgate before a sporting event took place in 1869 at the very first Princeton vs. Rutgers football game. At this time, the game shared many characteristics of current rugby with 25 player teams and three different player positions. The biggest influence that this event had on the future of tailgating was the scarlet-colored scarves that some Rutgers players and fans had fashioned into turbans to distinguish themselves from the other fans.
  • Ever since that Princeton/Rutgers game, tailgating has become a staple component of many types of sporting events. Instead of turbans, fans choose jerseys, t-shirts, caps, and body paint. Modern coolers and grills have replaced the original horse-drawn wagon. Throughout the years, the fans' enthusiasm and team spirit have remained strong.

Source: History of tailgating: A time-honored tradition ( - link no longer active

A decorative thermos or water bottle with your name on it will make it easy to distinguish your drink from the others in your group.

A decorative thermos or water bottle with your name on it will make it easy to distinguish your drink from the others in your group.

General Tailgating Tips

  • Bring your own labeled glass. If you have a large group and/or multiple people drinking the same beverage, it can be easy for drinks to get mixed up when people set them down somewhere. Use a water bottle, thermos, or other personal glass with your name on it to avoid mix ups.
  • Laminated check list. If you tailgate often, it can be helpful to have a check list for each event. Create a permanent list of the regular items that you need and make a laminated copy. As you pack up your items, check them off with a dry erase marker. Then you can wipe them all off and be ready to go for the next event.
  • Store regular gear in large storage bins. Keep all of your tailgating equipment in large storage containers during tailgating season so that it's easy to grab what you need when it's time to get ready for an event.
  • Learn the tailgating area. Not all parking spaces are created equal. Get tips from fellow tailgaters and take away from previous experiences to get the best spaces.
  • Don't forget to clean up afterward. Be courteous to your neighbors and the hosting stadium by taking all of your garbage with you after tailgating.
  • Dress in layers. No matter what the weather it is, you will not regret having at least one extra layer that you can take off or put on as needed. The temperature can change significantly during a long period of tailgating, particularly early or late in the day. Additionally, you never know when a cold or warm front will come through the area unexpectedly.
  • Consider both pre-game and post-game tailgating. Plan to arrive at least three to four hours before game time for pre-game tailgating. Some people choose to tailgate for an additional hour or two after the game. The post-game option can be a great way to celebrate a victory (or drown your sorrows over a tough loss) and avoid some of the post-game traffic.

Source: Tailgating Tips, HowStuffWorks Top 5 Tailgate Tips

An E-Z UP canopy or pop up tent is perfect for tailgating.

An E-Z UP canopy or pop up tent is perfect for tailgating.

E-Z UP tents are not expensive and with proper care, will last for multiple tailgating seasons.

Tailgating Supplies

  • E-Z UP Canopy or Pop Up Tent. If you will be tailgating regularly every year, a good tent is well worth the investment. Many canopy or pop up tents can be set up in ten minutes or less by two average sized adults. A number of big box stores and sporting goods supply stores carry them. Some places offer special deals during football season.
  • Plenty of plates, cups, silverware, napkins, serving utensils, and cooking utensils. Make sure that you have an ample amount of supplies for preparing, serving, and eating food. Most of these items don't take up much room. It's not worth skimping.
  • At least one or two coolers. For those who are bringing large amounts of food and drink, you may opt to designate different coolers for different items such as meat and beverages.
  • Portable grill. There are a wide variety of both charcoal and propane portable grills on the market that are excellent for tailgating. Determine what will best fit your budget, preferable grilling style, and typical tailgating group size. Many people who go with a propane option like to keep an extra propane tank on hand.
  • Folding tables. It is much more simple to keep all of the prepared food on a table than having to load your plates directly from the grill and Tupperware containers.
  • Portable chairs. It is easy to get focused on the food and other preparation and forget that you'll want somewhere to sit down for at least part of the tailgating event.
  • Wet wipes and Clorax wipes. Even if you aren't eating any foods that are particularly messy, inevitably there will be a few spills and other messes during any event.
  • Plastic trash bags. Keep the clean up process simple by bringing a large supply of trash bags.
If space allows, create a serving area for food so everyone can help themselves easily.

If space allows, create a serving area for food so everyone can help themselves easily.

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Guidelines for Preparing and Serving Tailgating Food

  • Allow ample time for marinating. If you will be marinating meat before grilling it, allow sufficient time for the marinate to do its work before the game. Make sure to keep it well packed in a cold space so that the meat doesn't turn.
  • Use aluminum foil for the grill. For those who are using portable charcoal grills, you can make the clean up and disposal process easy by lining the grill with foil before you start the fire.
  • Freeze water bottles to use as ice. Instead of packing your cooler with ice, freeze a handful of water bottles ahead of time and pack them in the cooler with the food. They won't water down the way that ice cubes do.
  • During hot weather, chill beverages ahead of time. Not only will chilling beverages ahead of time ensure that they stay cold throughout tailgating, but it will also keep the cooler a lower temperature for a longer period of time.
  • Appoint different people for different food jobs. If you have a large group, it may be easiest to give people specific jobs, such as grilling and serving drinks. This system can be helpful for the set up and tear down process as well.

Source: Tailgating Tips, 6 Tips to Tailgate Like an Expert

You can't go wrong with the classic grilled food choices for tailgating.

You can't go wrong with the classic grilled food choices for tailgating.

Don't forget the following items!

Condiments (i.e. ketchup, mustard)

Chips and pretzels

Classics such as potato salad and beans

At least one dessert

All-Star Chili Dogs

Great Tailgating Recipes

There are numerous tailgating recipes out there. You can search for just about any type of food and find multiple options. I've included just a few notable recipes and web sites to get you started.

Face painting is a fun way to pass the time before the game and to show your team spirit.

Face painting is a fun way to pass the time before the game and to show your team spirit.

Tip: Can't find the type of tailgating clothing that you want? Consider making it yourself! Many craft stores carry inexpensive clothing décor items such as blank shirts, fabric pens, and fabric puff paint.

Face painting!

Tailgating Clothing, Accessories, and Décor

  • Team jerseys, t-shirts, and sweatshirts. Shirts of any type are a great tailgating item. They are comfortable and can be layered for many different weather conditions.
  • Team sweatpants. Stay warm during cooler fall tailgating events by layering sweatpants over tights, leggings, or long underwear.
  • Warm weather accessories. Look for team gear or accessories with the team colors to keep you warm, such as scarves and mittens, during cold tailgating.
  • Caps and hats. Grab a baseball cap to keep out the sun or put on a hat on chilly days.
  • Overalls or coveralls. I had never seen team coveralls in abundance before I lived in Iowa City, but many University of Iowa fans wear them. I'm sure that fans in other cities do, too.
  • Face paint. Face paint is fun, simple décor option for people of many different ages. Many big box stores carry face paint colors for local teams during football season. Additionally, you can check university bookstores for team colors.
  • Body paint. Of course body paint remains a classic for sporting events. Take caution and consider whether this is a smart choice during colder games.
Cornhole or bean bags are a popular tailgating game.

Cornhole or bean bags are a popular tailgating game.

Tailgating Entertainment

  • Beanbags or cornhole. One of the most popular tailgating games in beanbags. Many people claim that the more you drink, the more fun it is. Head over to Cornhole-How-To for everything that you need to know about making your own boards and beanbags. There are lots of sets available for purchase, too.
  • Party games. Board games and other popular party games that don't require a lot of pieces, such as Catch Phrase, can be fun during tailgating.
  • Music. In the age of digital music, it is relatively easy and inexpensive to bring music that the entire group can enjoy.

Great Midwest Locations for Tailgating


Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 19, 2013:

That's great, Dianna! I'm so glad to hear it. :)

Dianna Mendez on September 19, 2013:

It has been awhile since we joined in on a tailgate event. You have made me remember the good times we had. Your post is filled with wonderful ideas that will make the party fun.

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 18, 2013:

That's cool, Vicki! I appreciate the shares for the new football season.

That's awesome, Deb. :) We cheer for the Hawkeyes around here, too.

Deborah Neyens from Iowa on September 17, 2013:

I especially love this hub because of the picture of Kinnick Stadium. Go Hawks!

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on September 17, 2013:

Tailgating is huge at the University of Arkansas! I think I shared this before, but it's time to share it again for this year's football season!

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on June 03, 2013:

I'm glad that you were able to learn a few things from this article, Writer Fox!

Writer Fox from the wadi near the little river on June 03, 2013:

I never knew the history of tailgate parties before. Had no idea it was before the invention of the pickup truck!

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on November 01, 2012:

Thanks, Jackie! This article was a lot of work, but hopefully it'll be worth it.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on November 01, 2012:

Great informative hub, you put some work into this I can see. Looks great! Up and sharing.

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 27, 2012:

Thanks, Kelley! I'm sure that as your kids get older, you'll be able to do this again.

Cyndi C., that's awesome. :)

Cyndi, nice! Thanks so much.

Cynthia B Turner from Georgia on September 27, 2012:

I enjoy tailgating at games. So much fun. These are great tips for tailgating. Well written and laid out in an easy to follow format. Thanks for the info. Tweeted.

Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on September 27, 2012:

Had to come back and say that since I do a lot of tailgating, these tips are just so helpful! I'd read this before, but I always find something new or something that I had forgotten when I re-visit this hub. :)

kelleyward on September 27, 2012:

Wow this is impressive. So many fun ideas for tailgating. I used to do this in college and before kids. Maybe someday again I can participate. Love the hub. Voted up, useful, and pinned. Kelley

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on August 24, 2012:

Thanks so much, Carol!

Om, you will have to give it a try sometime. Thanks!

Om Paramapoonya on August 24, 2012:

I'm a huge football fan but has never been to a tailgate party. I really should give it a try. Thanks for the nice ideas, tips and recipes!

carol stanley from Arizona on August 24, 2012:

I know everything about tailgating now. This is a great hub and you really did a lot of research. Thanks for sharing all this information. Voted UP.

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on August 23, 2012:

Thanks so much, Julie!

Blurter of Indiscretions from Clinton CT on August 23, 2012:

A beautiful hub as always Rose. Excellent content, layout, the whole nine yards. Voting up!

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on August 23, 2012:

Haha Glimmer Twin. I am a huge list maker and would probably get laughed at for that as well. Glad that you enjoyed this!

Claudia Porter on August 23, 2012:

Great tips for tailgating although I would have to hide the laminated checklist so my group would not make fun of me for having yet another one of my organizational tools. Loved the history too.

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on August 23, 2012:

Thanks, Cyndi! I hadn't considered the history of it before I started researching for this hub. You learn something new every day.

Thanks so much, Susie! I'm glad that you enjoyed this.

susiebrown48 from Clearwater, FL on August 23, 2012:

What a well-written, well-timed hub. Thank you for broadening my horizons!

Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on August 23, 2012:

I love tailgating, but ya know, I'd never really considered the history of it. Thanks for the awesome history lesson! Very cool!

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on August 23, 2012:

Thanks, Edi! Yes, for sure about tailgating. It can be a great event on its own.

Thanks, Nancy! I'm glad that you enjoyed that. It's good to get verification about the freezing water bottles tip. I'm sure that would work just as well for camping.

Nancy on August 23, 2012:

That's quite a wealth of information! I loved learning that the first tailgating event ever was during the Civil War. How cool! And the tip about freezing water bottles to use as ice- my dad always does that when we go camping!

Edi on August 23, 2012:

Great list of tips Rose! You covered everything from prep to activities to the best foods!

Even if you're not into sports, the tailgating sounds like such a great time!

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on August 22, 2012:

Thanks, Carly! I hope that this will be a comprehensive resource for all types of tailgaters. I agree that when done right, tailgating can be a great experience for the whole family. It doesn't just have to be drunken debauchery.

I definitely agree. It's neat to see that collective spirit.

Carly Sullens from St. Louis, Missouri on August 22, 2012:

You covered just about everything relating to tailgating. This hub would be a great help for someone who is preparing to tailgate for the first time, and for the pros who need to brush up on their tailgating before football season this year.

I love how you included the whole family. Although, tailgating has plenty of drinking and bar-b-cuing men, it also can be a wonderful family event.

I think that is why fans and sports are so strong. They bring together a sense of community. Regardless if it is the pros, college, or high school teams, people come together to cheer on their favorite team and that bring comradery.

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