Tailgating expert Joe Cahn provides five guidelines for first-timers to help optimize their experience:
Keep it simple
One thing to keep in mind when trying to figure out a menu for a tailgate party is that it’s not a food competition. Julia Child is not coming to your tailgate; Gordon Ramsey is not there to yell at you while you barbecue. The simpler you keep it, the more time you have to spend with your friends and family.
“(Tailgating) is a time we get to visit with friends we haven’t seen in a while – and friends we never knew we had,” Cahn said.
Bite-sized foods like hot dogs and hamburgers are always the way to go, Cahn said. People at tailgate parties are usually standing around socializing with each other; they don’t want to sit down and try to cut food. Instead of grilling big portions of steaks, cut up the meat and make skewers.
If you do bring utensils, make sure that they’re plastic. Silverware from home is inconvenient to transport, and even more annoying to collect when people are finished.
Also consider bringing alternative food for people who are not meat eaters. Carrot sticks and granola bars are always good, but oranges and bananas are great options.
Keep in mind that football season kicks off during late summer and goes into fall and winter. It’s good to plan different menus for tailgating throughout the year. No one wants to dive into a bowl of chili when it’s 90 degrees outside.
Most importantly, when getting ready to tailgate, make sure not to overthink it.
“I always say that hot dogs with friends taste better than a 10-course meal cooked by the finest chef in the world (while) sitting down at a table with people we don’t like,” Cahn said.
Taking a minute to walk around to see what other people are doing is always smart. It is a great way to get familiar with the scene.
Make sure to wear the team’s colors. Tailgating is about meeting people, and nothing can strike up a conversation faster than rooting for the same team.
“There’s a difference between watching a Mardi Gras parade and painting your face and putting on a mask and walking around and being a part of it,” Cahn said. “Be part of the team.”
Plenty of fans who attend games in the Bay Area take BART, which prevents them from bringing tailgating essentials like grills and RVs. But according to Cahn, that shouldn’t be a reason to not join the party.
For people who take public transportation, bringing a small cooler filled with sausages or condiments to share with others is a good way to be part of the tailgate party. As long as you’re honest with tailgaters, they will often let you use their grill and invite you over, Cahn said.
If bringing a cooler is too inconvenient, pick up sandwiches from a deli close to the stadium or bring a bucket of chicken to share with people, Cahn said.
Some fans are unable to attend games every week. For some, tailgating at home is their next best option.
Sometimes tailgating at home can be a lot more fun than going to the stadium. Lines to the bathroom are shorter, and the fact that it’s a bathroom and not a portable toilet is a win in itself. It is more convenient to be at home, because things are more readily available. And rain or shine, the party goes on.
To boost the experience at home, have something at your house themed to where the team is playing if they’re on the road.
One of the most important things to remember while tailgating at home is to keep the food outside of the television room, Cahn said, because there is nothing worse than somebody getting up to get peanuts across the table blocking everyone else’s view. Food should be kept in a separate room or off to the side.
Cahn also recommends individual packs of chips so that people don’t double dip. Hosts may also want to consider putting trail mix in individual plastic bags so that picky eaters are not touching everything as they sort through a bowl.
As Cahn put it, tailgating is people bringing their backyard to another place. And the best compliment that tailgaters can give you is for them to invite you to their makeshift home in a stadium parking lot.
“The difference between friends and acquaintances is when you break bread with someone,” Cahn said.
Bringing a camera and taking photos of people cooking is also a good idea, because people love to share their recipes, Cahn said.
“Tailgating is the original Facebook, but when you friend someone in the parking lot, you get food,” Cahn said.