College football season is almost here, and that means only one thing to me: tailgating.
Tailgating is one of my favorite things about sports. It creates a festive atmosphere that breeds camaraderie with your fellow sports fans. I start looking forward to Saturday football games well before the season even starts.
Having a consistently good tailgating experience requires some effort though. A cooler full of beer doesn't always do the job and building on that is where things can get tricky.
As a veteran tailgater, here are a few tips that I've picked up over the years that will improve your stadium experience.
1) Know the rules at your venue of choice
This might seem like a minor consideration, but it really isn't. The stadium rules can drastically affect your game day experience.
Are there specific lots you need to park in to tailgate? When do the lots open? Can you stay in the lot with your stuff during the game? When will they kick you out of the lot after the game?
There is more to consider than just basic parking lot related issues too. Do they allow full size barbecue grills? What about kegs? How strictly do they enforce open container laws? Will they give you grief if you take up too much of the aisle space?
If you know the ground rules before you arrive, you can avoid a lot of problems that could ruin your pre-game fun.
2) Plan ahead
You can still have a good time if you simply try to throw everything together at the last minute.
The event, however, will generally unfold better if you put some thought and preparation into it. Our van is jammed with stuff when we leave for the game, so we're rarely lacking crucial items.
Coolers full of food and beverages are obvious, but there are plenty of other things you will need. Tables, chairs, and canopies help make things more comfortable.
If you're doing any cooking, you will need to remember lighters, spatulas, or tongs, knives, plates or bowls, and silverware. You might want to bring a TV or bags set for entertainment.
It helps to have a checklist, or at least double-check everything so you're not scrambling around the parking lot trying to borrow something.
3) Try to keep your food preparation to a minimum
You have to know your limitations that your tailgate creates. You won't have electricity or a kitchen full of gadgets, spices, and ingredients at your disposal.
Time is also a factor. The more time you spend preparing the food, the less time you have to enjoy your tailgate. Everyone will be in a better mood if you prepare your food quickly and in large quantities.
While smoking a brisket might give you the best meal in the lot, you will also have to baby-sit the grill for several hours. Ambitious barbecuing also might cause you to miss the game, which is unacceptable in my book.
That said, it really improves you experience if you have good, hot food instead of just chips and dip or cold sandwiches.
While it can be challenging to deal with the logistics and finances of providing that for a large group, it really adds to your tailgate.
We've had good results when we do a lot of the prep work ahead of time. It lets you be a little more adventurous with your food selections without drastically changing your game day cooking time.
This is especially useful for us because we only have about three hours before and after the game in Evanston.
Marinate your meat overnight and then simply grill it at the game. You can also grill your brats the night before and simply heat them up in a beer bath or make a pot of chili or stew and just warm it at the game.
You can still come up with plenty of interesting food options even with the limitations that exist when you try to party in a parking lot.
4) Try to be friendly with the other tailgaters
This is especially true with the other fans at your home stadium. Hanging out and making friends with other Northwestern fans is what makes the experience. Plus in the rare event that you forget something it will make it easier to borrow stuff.
Getting drunk by yourself or a few friends will be fun for a while, but finding a group to party with really enhances the experience. We've been in the same group for about 10 years and still have a blast.
The Northwestern season starts on Saturday, and I will be using these tips to have a great time as usual at Ryan Field.