Tailgating 101

Interested in tailgating, but wondering how to get started? Check out more than 25 tips, including a primer for beginners, tailgating tools of the trade and food-safety advice.

10 things you need to know to get started

1. Pack up the car the night before with nonperishable food, tables, chairs, trash bags and all other supplies. Pack foods in reverse order so the last ones packed will be the first ones used.

2. Visit the game location ahead of time to stake out a good spot on game day. Parking at the end of a row can give you more space. Make note of the section letter and number, and distribute them to fellow tailgaters before the game.

3. Make sure propane tanks are full. Fill them at the beginning of the season and check them frequently.

4. Use separate coolers for raw meats and ready-to-eat food and beverages.

5. Instead of loose ice, freeze bottled water and put it in your cooler. Unlike ice, it won't melt and flood the cooler. It also provides cold drinking water after the game.

6. Ask all participants to bring ice to avoid running out.

7. Fly flags, balloons or other identifying markers so friends and family can easily find you in a vast parking lot.

8. Food should be ready at least two hours before game time to allow time to eat, clean up and extinguish fires.

9. Remove the ashes from the grill, keeping them in heavy-duty foil, and soak them completely with water before disposing of them in a noncombustible container.

10. Clean up after yourselves. Bring plenty of trash and recycling bags to properly dispose of all garbage, cans and bottles.

  • Use an insulated cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove food from the refrigerator and pack the cooler just before leaving the house.
  • Bring plenty of water, soap, paper towels and wipes to wash hands thoroughly before and after food preparation.
  • Keep all uncooked food on ice. Be sure to keep ice for drinks in a separate cooler from food. To avoid cross-contamination, use a spoon or other device instead of bare hands to scoop ice into cups.
  • Do not leave food sitting out for more than two hours. Refrigerate leftover food quickly and use within a couple of days. Wrap up leftovers using new foil, plastic cling wrap, resealable plastic bags, etc. Do not reuse foil, etc., that was used to cover raw meat and seafood.
  • Do not place cooked meat on the same surface (cutting board, plate, etc.) where raw meat has been unless the surface has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
  • Deli potato salad, coleslaw or baked beans should be eaten within two hours of purchase. Otherwise, buy them in advance and chill thoroughly, then transport in a cooler and reheat those that should be hot just before eating.
  • Take meat out of the cooler just in time to put it on the grill, and never take out more than needed for immediate grilling. Always keep the cooler closed.
  • Cook meat thoroughly. Use a meat or instant-read thermometer to ensure a safe internal temperature. Here's a guideline:
    Poultry -- 180 degrees F (breasts 170 degrees F)
    Beef, lamb, veal roasts/steaks -- 145 degrees F to 160 degrees F
    Burgers -- 160 degrees F
    Pork -- 160 degrees F
  • Grill safety
  • Never leave a grill unattended once it is lit.
  • Never attempt to move a hot grill.
  • Don't allow anyone to conduct any activities around the grill when the grill is in use, or following its use. The grill body is hot during the period of use and will remain hot for a period of time following its use.
  • Always keep your grill away from combustible surfaces.
  • Use bamboo skewers instead of metal, since they are disposable.Be sure to soak wooden skewers in water before use -- the moisture will keep them from catching fire while cooking.
  • Use long-handled barbecue utensils to avoid burns and splatters.
  • Wear clothing that does not have hanging shirttails, frills or apron strings, and use flame-retardant mitts when adjusting hot vents.

    Tailgating Tools of the Trade
  • Water (at least two gallons)
  • Ice
  • Food
  • Beverages
  • Condiments (hot sauce, mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, etc.)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Coolers
  • Kitchen tongs
  • Sharp knife
  • Spatula
  • BBQ sauce brush
  • Instant-read thermometer
  • Can/bottle opener
  • Corkscrew
  • Small cutting board
  • Stiff wire grill brush
  • Propane
  • Charcoal
  • Wood chips (hickory, mesquite or other)
  • Matches/lighter
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Foil
  • Resealable plastic bags (Ziploc, Glad Bags, etc.)
  • Plastic wrap (Saran, Reynolds Wrap)
  • Plastic forks, knives, spoons
  • Paper towels
  • Napkins
  • Plastic cups
  • Tablecloths
  • Large garbage bags
  • Cloth kitchen towel
  • Gloves (for food handling)
  • Oven mitts
  • Trivets
  • Pots and pans
  • Container(s) for any leftover food
  • Disposable aluminum pans
  • Premoistened towelettes/wipes
  • First-aid kit (aspirin, antacid, pain relievers)
  • Soap
  • Sunblock
  • Toilet paper
  • Tarpaulin
  • Blanket
  • Seat cushions
  • Folding table
  • Folding chairs
  • Radio
  • TV
  • Generator and extra gasoline
  • Extension cords
  • Flashlight
  • Pliers
  • Wrench
  • Batteries
  • Jumper cables (if relying on car battery for power)
  • Nylon twine
  • Bungee cords
  • Rain gear
  • Paperweights (to hold down paper plates, napkins, etc., on a windy day)
  • Drink holders (coozies)
  • Sources: Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association; Tailgating America; Sports Fans of America Association
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