One of the best parts of a game day tailgate is the delicious smell of brats, ribs, burgers, and other BBQ delicacies floating through the air. It’s safe to say that tailgating and grilling go together like a touchdown and a 2-point conversion!
Tailgates Like a BBQ Pitmaster
Oh, in this metaphor, that makes you the BBQ quarterback at the center of the action.
So if you’re planning on flexing your BBQ skills next time you’re at the game, read this before you tie on that grilling apron. Whether you’re a novice or a pro behind the grill, our guide will help you become the culinary king (or queen) of the game day lot.
Planning Your Tailgate
Tailgates might look like spontaneous get-togethers, but in reality, the best tailgate parties are often the best-planned ones. The more you can plan your tailgate barbecue in advance, the easier it’ll be to get all of the pieces in place in time.
These are the essentials of planning a tailgate cookout that every pitmaster should know:
- The Grill: Most pitmasters’ weapon of choice for a tailgate is a smaller, portable grill. Gas, charcoal and wood pellet grills can all produce great game day food — just make sure that it’ll fit in your vehicle. If you’re using a pellet grill, you will also need a source of electricity.
- The Food: This is what it’s all about for a game day pitmaster, so it’s what you’ll want to spend the most time on. Make sure you’ve got a cooler to keep meat cold before you cook it, and bring a little bit more than you think you need. Pro tip, partially cook your meals before you get to the event in order to speed things up on game day!
- The Drinks: Cold beer and tailgate cocktails are the adult beverages of choice for most people. Expert tailgaters know to keep plenty of water on hand to keep everybody hydrated. Nobody wants to sit next to the guy who had a few too many before the game, so bring water to keep your wits about you! Maybe throw in some sodas or juice if there’s going to be kids around!
- The Guests: Coordinate with the folks you want at your tailgate ahead of game day. Finding out you’re missing a key ingredient or tool is an easy way to ruin a tailgate. Plan out who’s riding in which car, and what everyone will be bringing. (Oh, and make sure everybody’s got tickets!)
- The Supplies: A pitmaster needs the right tools at hand, so make sure to pack essentials like your BBQ tool set and your sauces and condiments. In addition, bring serving gear like disposable cups, plates and cutlery. Lastly, make sure you’ve got a trash can. You’ll be surprised how quickly trash builds up at a tailgate, and you don’t want to be stuck bringing all that home with you!
What’s Cooking? Choosing Game Day Recipes
Choosing what to cook is an important part of a successful tailgate barbecue. The best tailgate recipes have some things in common:
- Shareable: A great tailgate recipe makes enough for everybody to savor the flavor. Cooking in big, shareable batches is a big part of why game day delicacies like ribs, wings and hot dogs remain so popular year after year.
- Simple: Tailgating is a good time to break out those tasty-but-simple recipes that don’t require extensive concentration or elaborate prep work. Looking for more complex flavors? Try preparing as much as you can ahead of time, par cooking meals, mixing sauces and cutting food in order to get ahead of the game.
- Filling: A hearty, filling tailgate recipe will help keep you and your group going all game long. Plus, it’ll prevent you having to shell out for the expensive and often sub-par stadium food. Leave the salad at home, go with something carb and protein heavy to beat down a big appetite.
- Flavorful: Tailgating is about cutting loose and enjoying life. That’s why a lot of pitmasters favor bold, flavorful BBQ sauces and rubs for their tailgate recipes. Don’t be afraid to try something new, it’s always a great feeling when someone finds a new favorite flavor at your tailgate!
6 Tips for Tailgate Pitmasters
Bring some extra fuel along.
Nothing will ruin a tailgate faster than running out of fuel for the grill. Make sure to bring along extra propane cylinders, charcoal briquettes, wood pellets or whatever fuel you use. If you’re tailgating in cold weather, remember that your grill will use more fuel than normal and if you use charcoal, remember that you’ll need a place to safely put out and dispose of the hot coals afterward.
Use technology to grill smarter.
Grilling might bring out the cave person in all of us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use the latest tech! A great grill thermometer, for example, will help you get your meats to exactly the right temperature. WiFi pellet smokers are another excellent choice that allow you to step away from the grill to mingle with your friends and fellow fans, all while monitoring your food from a mobile app.
Don’t go it alone.
Tailgating is a team sport. Work with the other folks in your tailgate group to get essential supplies organized, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Many tailgate pitmasters have friends and family bring sides so that they can concentrate on the main event, or they have everyone chip in to bring essential gear like tables and chairs. You’ll get a lot farther by working together!
Practice makes perfect.
Try your recipes out at home before you take them to the tailgate. It’ll give you a better idea of how long everything takes to cook, how many people each recipe can realistically feed and other knowledge that’s crucial for a great tailgate barbecue. It’ll also help you perfect the recipes so that they’re guaranteed to knock everybody’s socks off on game day and make you the most popular pitmaster in the parking lot.
Set up a tailgate grilling kit if you tailgate frequently.
If tailgate grill sessions are a regular part of your life, create a grab-and-go kit that you can throw in your vehicle when it’s time. Include all of your essentials like a BBQ tool set, grill fuel, plasticware and any non-perishable sauces and seasonings you want to always have on deck. This way, you won’t have to continually find and pack up your home grilling supplies — or worry about losing your favorite spatula on the road.
Can’t make it to the game? Try homegating.
Homegating is the art of throwing a tailgate in your backyard. It can be tons of fun with the right preparation and the right group, and it can save you a ton of money on things like stadium parking and game tickets. A homegate party is also a great choice if you want to cook on a type of grill that’s not practical to transport, such as a kamado ceramic grill. Just remember that if you’re hosting a homegate, you better have a big tv to watch the game with everyone!