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25 Tips for Tailgating Success

With football season approaching, you’re dreaming of making your tailgate parties the star of the parking lot. Follow these 25 professional tips to take your tailgating to the next level!

1. Make a tailgating list.

You don’t want to get to the parking lot, set up, and then discover that you forgot paper towels or charcoal. Make a list of everything you’ll need, from prep to cleanup. If you tailgate a lot, laminate your list once it’s finalized. Don’t forget to include your parking pass and your event ticket!

2. Own duplicates of everything.

It’s a good idea to have 2 sets of everything you will use for tailgating, from grills and charcoal chimneys to grill utensils and spices. That way, you don’t have to take items from your home supply and risk leaving them at the venue.

3. Learn about the venue.

Make sure you know how to get into (and out of) your chosen parking lot and know the hours of operation. It’s also important to know the rules regarding all aspects of tailgating, such as trash and open container policies. No one wants to show up to a venue ready to grill, only to be told that tailgating is not allowed.

4. Prep as much as possible at home.

From chopping the vegetables to skewering the kabobs, you have more room and amenities at home than you will have in that parking lot. You can transport all the prepped food in storage bags or containers. Also, prepping before leaving home lets you enjoy some of the tailgating experience with your guests, instead of spending the whole day behind the grill.

5. Bring more than one cooler.

You’ll need separate coolers for food and drinks, as well as raw and prepared meats and vegetables. To avoid cross-contamination and food-borne illness, plan to bring at least 3 coolers: one for raw meat, one for prepared food, and one for drinks. If your menu includes vegetables, you’ll need to keep the raw meat and vegetables separate, as well. Also, ice can be a valuable commodity, especially in warmer, southern climates, so you may want to bring coolers just for ice.

6. Bring seating and shade.

Sitting on the tailgate is a thing of the past, particularly at larger tailgates, where most available surfaces are used for holding food. Make sure you invest in at least a few bag chairs or folding chairs, so everyone can be comfortable. Pop-up tents can also come in very handy.

7. Hydrate.

Bring frozen bottles of water. They can chill other items in the cooler, plus you’ll have cold water to drink once the ice starts to melt.

8. Bring bungee cords.

They have so many uses, from hanging paper towel rolls to hanging your tools from the grill. It helps to be inventive when you need to conserve space at a tailgate!

9. Stock up on essentials.

Make sure to get plenty of tailgating staples like disposable foil pans, plastic cutlery, carry-out containers, trash bags, and aluminum foil. These items can be invaluable once your tailgating season gets going, and if you stock up enough at the end of the season, you should be set for the whole year!

10. Plan your menu to conserve grill space.

Remember that portable grills have limited space, so you’ll probably want to choose foods that have a shorter cooking time. Another option would be to smoke a larger cut of meat (pork shoulder or brisket) before hand and bring it to the tailgate for reheating.: The smoke flavor is typically in the meat after the first 90 minutes of smoker time, so you can easily finish the cook on charcoal or gas at the event.

11. Plan your menu to be portable.

Again, since seating can be scarce, it’s best to choose hand-held foods for your tailgating menu. Since grill space is limited, hand held food allows you to cook several things at different times for a larger variety in your menu. It also allows everyone to sample foods throughout the day and helps with cleanup.

12. Bring plenty of fuel.

Make sure you are ready for the long haul with a fresh propane tank or plenty of charcoal. You should transport propane tanks in milk crates to keep them from tipping. For charcoal, make sure you are ready to put out the coals and have a safe way to dispose of the ashes. Never leave live coals or a lit grill.

13. Make sure you’re easy to find.

Guests should all have your cell phone number and a description of your parking space. It’s also a good idea to tie helium balloons (in team colors, of course) to your tent, so guests can find you across a parking lot.

14. Keep condiments together.

Use cardboard 6-pack holders to hold all of your condiments, so they can stay together on the table or be passed together. It’s also easier to find everything during cleanup if all the condiments are kept together.

15. Stay organized.

Keeping everything within reach can really cut down on prep time and stress. Try a small toolbox to organize your prep, grilling, and serving utensils.

16. Never underestimate the power of pest control.

In your drinks, cupcake wrappers can be turned upside-down over the top of your cup to prevent bugs and debris from getting inside. They should fit over most cups. To help with pest control in your tailgating area, you can throw sage or rosemary onto your grill coals. Either one will act as a bug repellent.

17. Control your trash.

Make sure you bring plenty of trash bags to keep waste under control. Know where the nearest receptacles are in the parking lot, and try a small laundry hamper or basket as a quick, easy trash can at your tailgating site.

18. Don’t forget the tunes!

Don’t worry about hauling a huge stereo to provide entertainment. Use your phone or iPod to play your favorites, then make these easy speakers from a paper towel roll and 2 cups to boost the sound. You’ll be amazed how easy it is!

19. Create unique, functional drink holders.

Use tube socks (with team-colored strips, obviously) as easy gameday koozies. Just cut off the foot and ankle part of the sock, and there you go! You could also attach small magnets to your koozies and stick them to the car when you need both hands for the grill or for eating that delicious sandwich.

20. Embrace the power of the mason jar.

Mason jars have all kinds of uses. Use them to layer dips, make bbq sundaes, store drink mixes, or even hold taco toppings. Their lids keep moisture out of the container in transport, and they have the added bonus of being trendy. You can even use them as glasses.

21. Keep bottle openers handy.

Tie one bottle opener to the handle of your cooler. It will always be nearby, and you’ll be less likely to forget it!

22. Clean hands are a must.

Fill an industrial laundry soap container with water to create an instant hand-wash station. Also, it’s a good idea to stock up on disposable hand cleaner wipes, so your guests can clean up in a snap.

23. Test new recipes beforehand.

It’s a good idea to make sure you have the proportions and cooking times right, so you can cook with confidence on gameday. Don’t leave guests hungry at your tailgate by starting a new recipe that may not be feasible.

24. Choose a theme drink.

Have plenty of options for your guests, but always choose a drink of the day. Bonus points if the drink happens to be in the appropriate team color and has a team-inspired name. Don’t forget the drink cooler!

25. Let your guests contribute.

If someone wants to contribute a side dish, let them. It takes some of the stress off your plate, and you’ll be able to enjoy the tailgate. And that’s part of the point, isn’t it?

Above all, remember that the point of tailgating is to gather your family and/or friends together to celebrate the team and enjoy the day. I hope these tips can help you worry less and enjoy more!

Tell us your best tailgating tips in the comments!

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