College Football Tailgating: The 28 Must-Haves for a Great Tailgate

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistJune 10, 2011

College Football Tailgating: The 28 Must-Haves for a Great Tailgate

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 30:  Fans tailgate at EverBank field prior to the game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Florida Gators on October 30, 2010 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    So, you’ve got your tickets to the game, and you and your buddies decide you are going to tailgate before kickoff.

    Maybe it’s your first time to celebrate within sight of the sacred stadium, perhaps you haven’t had the chance of doing it in years or possibly you are an expert who is there at every golden opportunity.

    Regardless, this is an event worth carefully planning for because even if you tailgate at every college football home game, at the very most, you will only get eight precious shots at getting it right.

    The following slideshow provides a checklist for the college football tailgater, who, regardless of their experience level, is serious about celebrating the 13 greatest days of the year...every college football Saturday.

Folding Chairs

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    The folding chair is a bare minimum for the tailgater; if nothing else you’ve got to have a place to sit down behind your vehicle in order to participate in the festivities.

    The chair needs to fold down, should come equipped with a cup holder, and you should be as comfortable as if you’re flying first class.

    The chairs look even better when and if they are obnoxiously emblazoned with your team’s colors and logos, especially if you are venturing into enemy territory.

Folding Tables

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    Another item that lays the foundation of a good tailgate is at least one high quality folding table to hold the cornucopia of pre-game bounty.

    If you are going to do it right, you may need a couple of tables of varying sizes, but somehow they must all fit into either you or your buddy’s vehicle.

    To add some spirit to your quest for functionality, many on- and off-line retailers offer tables especially made for football tailgating and decorated thusly.

3. Canopy

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    The next step up in furnishing your tailgate setup is the portable, pop-up canopy which not only provides shade and protection from unsavory weather conditions; it makes you look even cooler and more extravagant.

    Again, up the ante if you can get a canopy with your school colors and logo included.

4. Spirit Wear

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Auburn Tigers fan Stan White poses outside before the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game between the Tigers and the Oregon Ducks at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christi
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    This is one of the times, as a sports enthusiast, that it really is important to consider “what to wear.”

    Indeed, home or away, you need to be completely clad in your team’s colors complete with whatever over-the-top variations you can possibly manage.

    Beads, spirit hair, construction hats, jerseys, tights, whatever it’s your job.

    Gird your loins with pride and arm yourself with spirit; go forth fully clad bold and proud fan...this is your day!

5. Flag

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    I know no more stirring sight than that of the flags of the home team waving in the gentle breeze of a fall Saturday afternoon.

    More majestic and meaningful than tall sails floating peaceful in the bay or the eagle in flight over a purple mountain; the college football flag is hung with passion and serves as a soulful signal, calling a mighty fanbase to arms.

    One of the best options to make this happen is the flag pole pictured. It is 11-feet tall and can be either attached to a 2” hitch receiver, or it can be secured under the tire of the car (the “drive over” option).

6. Freedom Grill

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    The grill is the centerpiece of the serious tailgate, and though there is a wide array of fine products offered for the cooking of meats, the Freedom Grill offers several benefits that, in unison, are hard to match.

    First, this thing doesn’t go in your car (though it could), it hooks to any 2” trailer hitch receiver and features a steel arm that swings out when you grill (keeping the fire away from your vehicle) and swings back in and locks securely in place when you go down the road.

    Secondly, this is no little flimsy grill; it is solid as a rock and has a 16,000 BTU burner and 352 square inches of cooking space.  It is fired by the green propane canisters you use for camping which are inexpensive and readily available.

    Third and key to the tailgate is you don’t have to wait for this thing to cool down before you put it your car before or after the game, just keep cooking until the last second and lock it back in place and you are golden.

    The price tag is high. At minimum you’re looking at $250, but it’s built to last, and you can use it for other less important stuff like family gatherings and camping.

    At the end of the day, you get what you pay for and this is the Cadillac of tailgating grills with a “reasonable” price tag.

7. Portable Power

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    Before you plan your actual tailgate menu you should consider how far your current power sources can take you.

    Can you manage with the gas or charcoal grill or will you need further energy options?

    Alternatives for more amps include an electrical outlet where the power is sourced from your vehicle itself (through what used to be the cigarette lighter port) or a full-fledged gas generator.

    You may not think its necessary, but if you are going to run a TV, computer or blender you probably need something to plug it in to.

    It’s all about giving yourself options...

8. Blender

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    The blender is an obvious advantage to those tailgaters who enjoy a margarita or another frozen concoction, but don’t forget that the modern blender is quite flexible and could be used for dips, guacamole or even a saucy concoction.

    And if you really want to be the supreme celebrant, check out the “Tailgator” which is a gas powered blender.

    Now that’s freaking cool.

9. Fry Daddy

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    Taking tailgating to an entire new and greasy level is the inclusion of a Fry Daddy or other deep fryer for creating crispy concoctions: fries, wings, onion rings, jalapeño poppers, the list is endless and delicious.

    Upping the ante on the fry scene would be bringing your propane turkey fryer where you could torch a bird or fry 17 pounds of mushrooms.

10. Sausage

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    The meat food group should be the primary culinary ingredient at the tailgate and to kickoff the festivities why not start at the very top?

    Sausage provides the tailgater almost every important nutrient necessary to carry him/her through a heavy day of celebrating.

    Grease and Meat.

    Whether it’s smoked, polska kielbasa, beef or can’t go wrong.  My own link of choice is deer sausage which is lovely and actually lower in fat than some of the less tasty options.

    Sausage is suitable as an appetizer, a main or a dessert.

11. Flank Steak/Fiesta Fajita Seasoning

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    Flank or skirt steak is a great option for grilling at any event, but it works especially well in a tailgating setting due to its versatility.

    Though you could do a fajita spread with the flank steak (with or without its dear friend chicken), this is a meat that stands very well on its own and is great as a finger food or as an entree. Grill, slice (against the grain) and enjoy!

    To prepare your meat, I recommend the “Fajita Seasoning” from the Fiesta folks in San Antonio.  It works best if you rub the flank or skirt down the night before with a healthy dose of the seasoning, throw it in the refrigerator overnight, and then grill it up on game day.

    I guarantee you that this will rival the sausage at your tailgate.

12. Chicken Breasts/Kroger Tequila Lime Marinade

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    Chicken is always a good option, especially if you are going to either pretend like it’s a healthy tailgate or actually have a healthy tailgate.

    The disadvantage is that chicken takes so long to cook, and it is frankly a little more tedious to get right, and the alternative, undercooked bird, just isn’t good.

    To prepare your poultry I recommend the Tequila Lime Marinade from Kroger or a variation there of. 

    This stuff performs well with chicken or pork, and if you marinate the meat overnight and then grill, it is very, very good.

    Another tip for using the marinade is reserving a bit and using it to baste the meat while it is cooking, which adds flavor and reduces embarrassing dryness.

13. Chicken Wings

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    Fry them, grill them or bake them before you come, but these tasty little treats can’t be left out of the complete tailgate.

    The other option with wings is just to buy them on the way to the game, which (unless you are a wing wizard) none of your fellow celebrants will mind one little bit.

    Stay saucy my friend.

14. Brats

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    You could rightly argue that brats could have been included in the sausage food group, but really the brat stands alone because it is the superior tailgating meat destined for a bun.

    Sure, hot dogs and hamburgers are good; but brats are great.

    Again, the grease and flavor don’t tell lies, and even if you feel obligated to serve burgers and dogs for your less hearty guests, throw on a few brats for the serious, natured tailgater.

15. Grilled Onions

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    Another item that could have been shoved into a sub category is the grilled onions, but placing these critical rations in another group undermines their overwhelming importance.

    The properly prepared onion can complement any tailgating dish, including dropping them directly into your mouth straight out of the pan.

    My recommendation is to throw some butter in a pan, add the sliced onions (sweet or Vidalia are my favorite) and add your favorite seasonings (dry or wet) and slow cook them as long as you can wait.

16. Salsa/ Chips

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    It’s hard to imagine a properly administered tailgating affair that wouldn’t include some sort of chip and dip combination.

    Tortilla chips, potato chips, flavor variations of both and a wide array of dips should be considered, welcomed and heartily consumed behind the back of your vehicle.

    Though I’m a big fan of French onion dip, spicy bean dip and other store prepared dips, homemade salsa always has a special place at any game day table.

    Following is my sister-in-law’s recipe for salsa. The girl is not much of a football fan, but this delightful concoction has never done me wrong (unlike the Red Raider kicking game, which has definitely let me down on game day).



    Ripe Tomatoes, Medium Size


    1/2 bunch plus

    Fresh Cilantro, chopped


    1 plus

    Fresh Whole Jalapeno, Chopped





    1/2 chopped

    Large White or Yellow Onion


    2 cloves plus

    Fresh Garlic


    To taste






    Cooking Instructions


    Place whole tomatoes in a skillet with high heat.

    Blacken the outside of the tomatoes.  When tomato

    skins are black (mostly) then put tomatoes in a sealable

    plastic bag.  This is the part that roasts the tomatoes

    and gives them their flavor.


    In a food processor (or blender) combine onion, cilantro,

    Jalapeno, lime juice, garlic cloves and salt.  Blend to

    desired chunkiness and add tomatoes. 




    Blend a bit more and taste.  Add more of whatever ingredient

    you think it needs to suit your tastes.


17. Regional Side Dishes

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    For me items like cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans and the like are nice to look at but don’t do much for the beer soaked pallet.

    However, I know that every corner of these United States cooks up some delicious side dishes that make the stuff from the deli and KFC look ridiculous.

    If you are one of those lucky folks who have such a specialty, don’t just serve it up on game day, share it with your college football nation!

18. Condiments

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    And here is where you shouldn’t sell yourself short.

    If you are going to grill it, fry it, pour it and serve it, then, by gum, you should sauce it.

    Don’t be afraid to go beyond the normal fare of mustard, ketchup and mayo...throw in the Ranch, the BBQ sauce, the hot stuff, the jalapeños, the pepper rings, dry seasonings (i.e. Tony Chachere's), steak sauces, salsa Verde (Mrs. Renfro from Ft. Worth makes a hot little number) and whatever else floats your boat.

    Think big, think lots of bottles and jars, think of over the top taste and options galore.

    This is college football; you only get a few precious games per year to do this, so get serious.

19. Very Large Cooler

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    Laying the foundation for the beverage portion of the program is the right cooler, and this is exactly when size does matter.

    You will need a bigger cooler than seems plausible. In fact, you need a cooler that is so large that your spouse or significant other is actually offended by it.

    It should obviously fit in your vehicle, but just barely.

20. Ice

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    Regardless of the climatic conditions, the tailgate is the perfect opportunity to enjoy beverages that have been properly iced down.

    Whether it’s beer, soft drinks, water or wine, it’s better once it’s sat in a huge cooler of really cold ice for a few precious hours.

    Icing down your drinks is every bit as important as marinating your meat, and when you hear the distinct and tantalizing sound of the tab pulled on your first cold one, it will be worth lugging those ice bags out of the 7 Eleven, Circle K or Speedway.

21. Cold Beer

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Fans walk by the alcohol collection table before the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game between the Oregon Ducks and the Auburn Tigers at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by C
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Even if you don’t enjoy the deliciousness that is beer, you should be required to throw a couple into your cooler just to call it an official tailgate.

    Lager, ale, stout; dark, red, amber or golden; wheat, malt liquor or pale’s all beer, and it’s all good.

    Among my personal favorites and recommendations:

    Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale

    Shiner Bock

    Sam Adams Boston Lager


    The Black and Tan (Guinness/Harp layered for your pleasure)

    Miller High Life (tall boys preferred)

    Stella Artois


    Labatt Blue (the stuff direct from Canada)

    Molson Canadian

22. Choice Beverages

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 30:  Fans tailgate at EverBank field prior to the game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Florida Gators on October 30, 2010 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Now it’s time to consider the “other” non-beer beverages.

    Those adults who do not enjoy the love of lager need to pack up their favorite bottles and mixers, the cork sniffer needs to pack up their favorite vino and the less hearty consumer needs to make adequate provisions for Mike’s Hard Lemonade, wine coolers or whatever tickles his/her fancy.

    The designated driver (and you’re going to need one), non-drinkers and under aged folks should be treated to a wide array of carbonated beverages, waters and other thirst quenching liquids.

    Again, ice everything you can (in your really, huge, big, enormous cooler).

23. A Football

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    The easiest and most appropriate tailgating amusement is easily provided for by packing one or several pigskins.

    Regulation balls are welcome, and so are other variations of all shapes, sizes and colors (Nerf, Vortex, etc).

    I realize that many folks will also want the game “corn hole” mentioned here, which is a fine game involving ramps with holes and bean bags, but my southern upbringing prevents me from recommending a game inappropriately called “corn hole” to a wide audience.

    Good game, bad name.

24. Television/Live Streaming Computer

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    The serious college football enthusiast will want access to scores and live feed of actual games while enjoying him or herself at the tailgate.

    Yes, eating, drinking and celebrating just outside of the actual venue is amazing, but, don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s a full Saturday of college football, and you need (and deserve) to know what’s going on, first hand.

    This is reason No. 103 to upgrade your iPhone, Blackberry or Droid to a “hot-spot” where you could have several laptops streaming different live games.


25. Trash Can

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    Though not as flashy as any of the other items on the list, you may need a collapsible trash can or at least some really big bags to take care of the monumental mess you and your fellow celebrants may make.

    Bringing your own saves picking trash up off the parking lot, out of your car and lugging it to the cans (if there are any) placed in the lots.

26. First Aid Kit

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    The tailgate formula is a fairly simple mathematical equation:

    Live college football anticipation + game day + meat + beer + friends + flags + new friends + burning stuff + where was that toilet + after party = tailgate.

    And, given that LCFA+GD+M+B+F+F+NF+BS+WWWT+AF = tailgate then tailgate obviously equals the potential for the application of first aid.

    Lacerations, suspicious lesions, digestive concerns, scrapes, burns, scratches, splinters, abrasions, sprains, muscle distress and headaches can all happen during the serious business of tailgating.

    Therefore, come prepared with a full kit of first aid items; and just like ice and cooler, think big.

27. A Designated Driver

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    If you are planning on really throwing down outside of your stadium of choice please find that selfless individual, that Saturday Saint, that football hero, who will agree to drive you all safely home.

    What might seem like an afterthought may be the most important item on this list.

28. A School Bus or Ambulance

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    And here we reach the apex of tailgating; the item that puts you above all of the rest, the possession that says you are the most serious fan and the most dedicated tailgater in all the parking lot.

    On the shoulders of greatness you envision something bigger and better, and then, throwing all caution, logic and sensibility out the window you bring something to fruition that only a brave genius could pull off.

    You purchase an old school bus or ambulance, you strip it out and make the custom tailgating machine, complete with your team colors and an on board keg-a-rator, that you have always dreamed of.

    And then, while the rest of us call you crazy and shake our heads and ask stupid questions about storage, insurance and maintenance, while your spouse threatens divorce; you get the satisfaction of watching us all go back to our regular vehicles, with our tails between our legs, wishing we were YOU.

    Excuse me sir, you are a legend and can I please ride in your college football liquor-bulance?


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