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How to: Tailgate Like a Pro

How to: Tailgate like a Pro

DO IT RIGHT: THE TEAM IS DEPENDING ON YOU

Let's be honest, when it comes to tailgating, there's no real wrong answer. You can keep it simple and grab a bucket of chicken on your way to the stadium or you can go hardcore and start cooking hours in advance, smoking meats for the masses. Both options sound better than a day at work. But that's what tailgating is, isn't it? It's a celebration of a weekend passion; homage to our hometown heroes.

This party can start before noon, sprawl for blocks and even eclipse the grandiose nature of the game itself. With a little planning, you too can become a master of tailgating. It all comes down to four things: preparation, food, drinks and entertainment.

PREPARATION: KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

Location: Every stadium has different rules, so it's important to know what you're getting into before you go. Some stadiums allow barbeques, some allow kegs, some allow both and some allow neither. Most are somewhere in between. We went to the trouble to compile all of the basic information on this page. Bottom line: arrive early and follow the rules.

Friends: Beyond that, you'll need a few necessities to ensure a pleasant tailgating experience. Organize your friends and get people to volunteer food, drinks, assistance or all three. Set the rules. Will you provide drinks or is it BYOB? Make a list of supplies and help people help you. The more helpers, the less stress any one person has to deal with.

Equipment: If you enjoy camping, chances are you have all of the kitchen gear needed for a fun day of tailgating. Portable propane camp stoves and grills are rugged and built to travel. Pack your utensils in a plastic bin with a lid for easy transport to and from the stadium. Don't forget a trash bag!

 

FOOD: KEEP IT SIMPLE

Main dishes: Unless you're an Iron Chef, keep the menu simple. While BBQ staples like burgers and hot dogs are classic favorites, "simple" doesn't have to mean "basic." Slow-cooking ribs at the stadium might be possible for some, but you'll probably have more fun at the event if you bake your ribs at home and finish them on a grill at the party. If you want to go gourmet, try our Jerk Spice Rib Rack.

Other popular options include bratwurst (boiled in beer at home, ready for the grill), sub sandwiches, seafood kebabs, sliders and wings (again, pre-cooked at home and finished on the grill). As the temps drop throughout the season, consider making up a big batch of chili — it's a hearty meal that warms you up from the inside, and it can be made well in advance of game day.

Side dishes: There's no need to go gourmet here. Whether made at home or your local deli counter, side items like potato salad, macaroni salad and coleslaw travel well in a cooler and, if left on ice, will still remain edible after the game has ended. Of course, if you have the grill space and ample time to cook, we love grilled corn on the cob as a side to almost any meal. And you can't go wrong with the simplicity of chips and dips.

 

DRINK: IMBIBE WITH THE BEST

Stay hydrated: First things first — take it easy out there. Especially on hot, sunny days, it's important to drink a little water with every beer or cocktail you enjoy. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself. Don't be that guy. (Or gal.) Now that that's established, let's discuss the nectar.

Beer: This is the obvious, easy answer for tailgaters everywhere. From cans to kegs, the options are nearly unlimited. For the sake of variety, have a few growlers filled with your favorite microbrews and ciders.

Booze: Nothing says "game day" like a Bloody Mary with brunch. This noble cocktail has been taken to artful new levels over recent years, sometimes garnished with what seems like an entire salad bar. We've seen Bloody Marys loaded with bacon, pickled veggies, celery, olives, a cheeseburger, a crab claw and even a barbequed beef rib. But no matter how you dress it up, the basics remain the same: vodka, tomato juice and spices.

If you prefer your drinks on the sweet/sour spectrum (not to mention strong), give our Zombie recipe a try. You can mix a large batch of the ingredients together (except the ice) ahead of time and serve it up at your leisure.

Whatever you do, please drink responsibly. 

The Zombie

ENTERTAINMENT: GAMES BEFORE THE GAME

If there's one thing that sports fans love, it's competition. Be courteous to your neighbors, but break out these games and let the good times roll.

Ladder Ball: Two to four players toss medieval weapons (usually a pair of golf balls on a rope) at laddered structures with three rungs. The bottom rung is worth three points, the middle is worth two and the top is worth one point. The first team to twenty-one wins.

'Cornhole' or 'Bags': Depending on which part of the United States you're in, this game has different names. It's similar to horseshoes, but safer. Two teams toss six-inch square beanbags at a board with a 6-inch round hole cut in it. "House rules" apply, so scoring varies a little from game to game.