How To Tailgate Like a Pro

friends tailgating
Photo: Getty
Throw a party bigger and better than the main event.

Get the Word Out

Unless you and your whole crew have season tickets, you'll need to plan ahead. Send out an email invite as soon as tickets go on sale. If you know your group is good for it, offer to buy tickets for everyone in advance. If your friends are flaky, it might be best for everyone to get their own. Those who snooze, lose -- or end up buying scalped tickets at triple the face value!

Plan Ahead

Check out the stadium website for rules about tailgating (particularly alcohol and food) and plan accordingly. Get your posse together a week before the event to discuss menu options and preferences. You'll save time and money if you avoid a tailgating free-for-all (10 bags of chips and no beer?). Delegate tasks and divide and conquer. Since you're the host, you might want to bring the main dish -- say barbecue spare ribs -- and provide the cups, plates, and silverware. Ask the others to bring easy stuff like sides and drinks.

Write a checklist of items a few days before the event and pack everything (besides the food and ice) into your car the night before. Necessities include plates, napkins, plasticware, bottles of water, bottle openers, grilling tools, a cooler, aluminum foil, and a picnic blanket. Bring along plastic bags for leftovers plus paper towels and garbage bags for cleanup.

Go Beyond

There are a few not-so-obvious items that can make or break the fiesta. Bring a stuffed mascot or balloons in your team colors -- hitch them to your car so everyone can find you easily. A boom box hooked up to an iPod preloaded with your favorite pregame tunes won't kill your car battery. And although the weatherman may predict a clear, sunny day, bring a portable canopy or vinyl covering just in case.

Claim Your Turf

To ensure a prime spot for your tailgating experience, arrive at least three to four hours early. Get close enough to the crowd so your friends can mingle with other groups, but avoid claustrophobic areas in between cars. Opt for a grassy area so you can sprawl out on a cozy blanket or set up a table for college-throwback beer pong. Park where there's a clear view of the stadium or arena to get your friends pumped for the event. This way, everyone can keep one eye on the stadium and one hand on a cold beer.

Spice It Up

Ditch the ordinary main course for an extraordinary one. Forget about the burgers and try an original dish like shrimp and fresh vegetable kebobs or spicy chicken fajitas. If your crew is serious haters when it comes to the competition, celebrate the matchup in a different way: Plan your menu according to your opponent's local cuisine. Here are some menu ideas based on NFL teams:

  • Philadelphia Eagles: Philly cheesesteaks
  • New York Jets and Giants: Corned beef and pastrami sandwiches on rye
  • New Orleans Saints: Grilled oyster po' boys
  • Green Bay Packers: Mac & cheese (with Wisconsin cheddar)
  • Dallas Cowboys: Smoked barbecue brisket
  • New England Patriots: Clam bake
  • Miami Dolphins: Cuban pork roast
  • Chicago Bears: Brats and Italian sausages
  • Arizona Cardinals: Carne asada tacos

If you're rooting for your alma mater, apply the same principle. Playing Boston College? Bring on the baked beans!

Remember that the food should be ready one-and-a-half to two hours before the game so you have time to eat, clean up, safely put out the coals, and walk (or run if you're feeling ambitious) to the stadium.

Keep It Flowing

Beer reigns supreme at the tailgate -- it's easy to carry and even easier to drink. Budweiser might be the King of Beers, but don't let that king reign alone. Buy a variety pack or a few six-packs for a fun assortment. The beer connoisseurs (microbrew fans) will spare you the lecture, and the rest of the gang (domestic light beer drinkers) will appreciate the new flavors. If you don't want to spend more (no guilt, you did plan the whole event), simply tell your friends to BYOB. The catch is that it must be a beer they never tried before. Whatever the plan, make sure there's enough booze to go around because the worst four words to hear at a tailgate party are “We're out of beer!"

Forget dashing to the parking lot to avoid gridlock before the game ends. Instead, grab your buds for a leisurely walk back to your spot to kick back, relax, and refuel (you've expended a ton of energy chest-bumping and high-fiving, after all). Break out the leftovers and cool brews while the other fans sit in traffic. Bask in the glory, replay, and relive the game -- fumbles, bad calls, and all. By the time you're ready to call it a night, the traffic will be long gone.