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14 Tailgating Hacks That Score

table with football food and football decorations

Football is a time-honored tradition among Americans—and do you know what is almost just as cherished? The tailgate before a football game. The ultimate pre-game party, fans gather outside stadiums and in parking lots to eat, drink, and get hyped up for the main event. Whether you’re new to game day celebrations or are a seasoned tailgating pro, these football tailgating hacks, easy food ideas, and comprehensive packing list will make you feel like a winner—regardless of the score. 

Where Did Football Tailgating Originate?

Some experts say the first-ever football tailgate took place in 1869 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, at the inaugural college football game between Princeton and Rutgers. Newspapers reported that fans enjoyed champagne and food that was grilled at the “tail end of the horse,” and that’s how the beloved activity got its name. Others say that Green Bay Packers fans invented the term in 1919 because they would sit in the beds of their pickup trucks and watch the game around the field. Either way, the practice is over 100 years old.   

Keep up with touchdowns, tackles, and everything in between with our guide to football rules for beginners.

14 Tailgating Hacks Everyone Should Do 

Don’t drop the ball at your next tailgate! Here are 14 tried-and-true football tailgate must-haves and hacks that’ll make you the game-day MVP.  

  1. Prepare in advance & check the rules. 

Shop, pack, organize, and coordinate plans with friends a few days in advance. Also, check stadium guidelines for any key rules and regulations about parking, setup, and gathering. 

2. Make yourself easy to find.

You’ll need to make your spot stand out among the crowd. Use colorful accessories, balloons, and streamers so guests can locate you in the parking lot. 

3. Label your coolers.

A tailgate essential, your cooler should be well-stocked with plenty of options. Separate beer and alcoholic vs. non-alcoholic beverages and label what’s inside. 

4. Freeze water bottles.

Frozen water bottles double as ice packs for your cooler. 

5. Use fitted sheets as tablecloths.

Skip the cloth and plastic tablecloths and use a twin-sized fitted sheet instead. They’re reusable and eco-friendly and will stay secure when it’s windy.

6. Bring a speaker.

What’s a party without music? Bring a wireless and weatherproof speaker with an upbeat playlist to immediately elevate your setup. If you forget yours, pop your phone in a cup to amplify the sound. 

7. Get to know your neighbors.

The more, the merrier! Get to know your tailgating neighbors—no matter which team they’re cheering for. You never know when you’ll need a jump or to borrow a bottle opener.

group of football fans tailgating in parking lot

8. Create a handwashing station. 

Sometimes, hand sanitizer isn’t enough. Make handwashing simple by filling an empty laundry detergent dispenser or cooler with a waterspout with warm soapy water.

9. Make your own trashcan.

Trash bags tied to corners of tables can be a pain. Invest in a portable trashcan or repurpose a pop-up mesh laundry basket with a trash bag.

10. Bring games.

Games add to the fun and help pass the time. Pack a cornhole set or frisbee or football for people to toss around.

11. Have a dirty dishes tub.

Station an empty lidded plastic tub or cooler at the end of a table to collect dirty dishes, cups, and utensils. It’ll make post-game cleanup a breeze and won’t make your car messy. Or provide disposable plates and cutlery.

12. Use cupcake liners as lids.

Keep drinks leaf- and bug-free with a cupcake liner. Place one upside down over your cup or can and pierce a straw through the bottom. 

13. Contain your condiments.

Store your condiments, like ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, and mayonnaise, in a cardboard six-pack holder so they stay in one place. 

14. Keep food simple.

Your tailgate doesn’t have to be gourmet. Stick to finger foods, like hot dogs, hamburgers, and bite-sized appetizers. 

Food Ideas for a Tailgate Party  

football party appetizers

Everyone knows food is the best part of a tailgate! Here are easy football tailgate food ideas that are sure to score with your crowd. 

Football Tailgate Appetizers  

Everyone will be a winner with these apps: 

Football Tailgate Side Dishes

These side dishes are touchdown-worthy: 

Football Tailgate Dips  

These dips will be the true star of the tailgate: 

Slow cooker recipes are always a hit, too! Check out these fall slow cooker recipes.

Tailgating Items List

Wondering what to bring to a football tailgating party? Use this comprehensive tailgating items list and packing checklist to prep for the big day.

SET-UP

  • Folding tables
  • Tablecloths 
  • Folding chairs
  • Umbrella, tent, or canopy 
  • Team gear 
  • Bungee cords or rope 
  • Jumper cables 
  • Balloons & decorations 
  • Extension cord

FOOD & DRINKS

  • Drinks
  • Water
  • Food & snacks 
  • Bottle opener & corkscrew 
  • Coolers
  • Ice & ice packs 
  • Koozies
  • Condiments 
  • Seasonings 
  • Utensils 
  • Serving utensils
  • Plastic cups
  • Plates & bowls 

CLEAN-UP 

  • Cleaning supplies
  • Napkins & paper towels
  • Trash bags
  • Trash cans 
  • Plastic containers & zip-top bags 
  • Hand sanitizer 

COOKING

  • Thermos 
  • Grill 
  • Grilling tools
  • Grilling mitt or potholders 
  • Aluminum pans 
  • Can opener 
  • Meat thermometer 
  • Foil or plastic wrap

OTHER

  • Flashlights 
  • Rain gear
  • Generator 
  • Propane or charcoal 
  • Matches & lighter
  • Games
  • Portable speaker
  • Sunscreen 
  • Bug spray 
  • Fans or heaters
  • Blankets 
  • First-aid kit 
  • Duct tape 
  • Tickets & parking decals 

Tackling Your Football Tailgate Like a Pro  

tailgate before a football game shouldn’t be stressful—it’s all about having a good time with friends, family, and fellow fans. With these football tailgating hacks, football tailgate party foods, and a complete packing list, you can tackle your tailgate like a pro!