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5 Tips for Hosting a Tailgate Party

Tailgating has come a long way since November 6, 1869, when spectators lowered the buckboards (tailgates) of their horse-drawn wagons to serve picnic lunches from hampers at the first intercollegiate football game, Princeton vs. Rutgers.
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Photo by James Willamor via Creative Commons.

Tailgating has come a long way since November 6, 1869, when spectators lowered the buckboards (tailgates) of their horse-drawn wagons to serve picnic lunches from hampers at the first intercollegiate football game, Princeton vs. Rutgers.

Today, the real competition's on the asphalt, not the AstroTurf.

Americans are obsessed with tailgating, especially during football season. And if we didn't inherit legacy sideline tickets or stadium parking passes, no problem. We'll just host a party at home with epic seats, beats, and eats.

  • If you're a frequent tailgater, develop a master list/check-off system and laminate it. (Be sure to include "tickets" and "parking pass"!) You can't retrieve a forgotten item once you've parked and set up at the venue. Strategically pack your vehicle from front to back with the items you'll want first near the rear.

  • Ideally, you'll own duplicates of critical grilling equipment--tongs, grill gloves, chimney starters, etc.--so you don't have to cannibalize your home collection every time you host an off-site tailgating party. Store in a multi-drawer toolbox or clear plastic bin.
  • Assess your resources before you develop your guest list and menu. Most portable grills are relatively small; many have less than 150 square inches of cooking space versus 363 square inches on a standard 22-inch kettle grill. These compact units are best for direct grilling foods that take 30 minutes or less to cook; they aren't well suited to indirect grilling. Our advice? Practice using your tailgating grill at home when the stakes aren't so high. Decide for yourself what it's realistically capable of, then determine if you need a larger grill, or perhaps a second grill in your tailgating arsenal. Alternatively, you can build your menu around a large hunk of meat, such as brisket or pork shoulder, that you smoke or barbecue at home and bring to the party for reheating.
  • Foods that can be eaten out of hand work best for tailgating. You know what we're talking about: chicken wings, jalapeño poppers, nachos, or bruschetta. For the main event, think tacos or fajitas; pulled pork sandwiches; hamburgers or sliders; sausage subs; brats; kebabs; burritos; chicken or turkey legs; individual beef or pork ribs; cheesesteak sandwiches; you get the picture. Carry the portable theme into the dessert course as well: everyone loves s'mores.
  • Bring more fuel than you think you'll need. If burning charcoal, be prepared to douse and safely dispose of the ashes. (Do not leave any lit grill or live coals unattended.) Transport propane tanks, which tend to be tippy, in plastic milk crates.
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    Steven Raichlen is the author of the Barbecue! Bible cookbook series and the host of Project Smoke on public television. His web site is BarbecueBible.com.