New to tailgating? Here’s what you need to know

Last Updated January 2020

When football season rolls around each year, throngs of people congregate in stadium parking lots to prepare for their favorite teams’ games. Tailgating is a way for dedicated sports lovers to gather and celebrate on gamedays, and it has become almost a sport of its own.

Tailgating parties and traditions vary by region and fanbase, but for every team there is a devoted faction of weekend warriors who rise before dawn on any given gameday to craft the perfect tailgate experience.

Hosting a tailgate is not an activity for the faint of heart, but if you’re interested in starting your own gameday tradition, here are some fundamental tips to get you ready to throw your own football tailgate:

1. Think about parking

Before you even think about your tailgating setup, it’s important to look into parking as early as possible. This should be priority number one. You should look into the location where your tailgate will be in order to determine where you can park, what reservations you might need, and any site-specific rules.

If there are parking lot gates, find out when they open. If there’s a fee, make sure you have enough cash on hand. Taking these essential details into consideration will help to facilitate a smooth and successful tailgate so you can enjoy yourself without worrying about minor details.

2. Consult the weather

Check the weather the day before the game to ensure that your gear and setup will suffice for the expected conditions. Depending on your region and the time of year, you could face some extreme temperatures, so plan accordingly.

Taking weather into account, determine your projected setup time so you know what time to set your alarm and when to be out the door so you can prepare your site before friends arrive.

3. Stock up on basic tailgate necessities

Most seasoned tailgaters set up beneath a canopy to provide shade or otherwise protect themselves from the elements.

There are services that rent out gameday canopies, but if you aspire to become a ritual tailgater, you’ll save money in the long term by purchasing your own (see our shopping list below for recommendations). These can even be personalized with your team’s name and colors, or with the name of your particular tailgate or business.

Tables and chairs are another essential. Comfortable lawn chairs and a sturdy folding table for food are must-haves. You’ll also want to bring bags for garbage and recycling so that cleanup is simple at the end of the day.


The ideal tailgate is about efficiency and execution: the right food, drink, and accessories are necessary to pull it off.

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4. It’s all about the food

When it comes to food, the grill is the centerpiece of any tailgate experience. A portable grill will allow you to prepare everyone’s gameday favorites: hamburgers, hotdogs, and grilled veggies.

Depending on the season, crock-pot chili is another popular tailgate staple. And remember, you can never have too many chips and dips. Disposable utensils, plates, bowls, and cups are the most convenient option, because lugging home dirty dishware at the end of the day can be quite a hassle.

No matter what type of drinks you’ll provide for your tailgate, make sure to keep them cold with a sturdy cooler. Choosing one with wheels will make transport much more streamlined.

5. Transporting tailgate gear

Whether you’ll be parking your car directly at your tailgate site will play a significant role in determining your tailgate setup plan. After you’ve looked into your parking options and established a tailgating location, design a plan of action for getting your gear from the car to the party.

If you’re going to be parking off-site, a collapsible cart is a great way to travel between car and tailgate without having to lug heavy gear yourself. You might also consider asking attendees to bring things like drinks, ice, and food to reduce your load. Furthermore, if you’re going to park far away, factor this detail into your menu decisions; transporting a crock-pot dish could create a potential spill risk.

6. Constructing an atmosphere

Remember: although tailgating is a serious commitment, the overall goal is to have fun. After you’ve locked down all the necessities, think about the atmosphere you want to create.

Decorate your canopy with team memorabilia, provide lawn games, bring a Bluetooth speaker, or find other ways to personalize the space.

7. The perfect tailgate shopping list

  • Canopy: When it comes to a canopy, look for something that’s easy to transport while also durable. AmazonBasics makes a Pop-Up Canopy Tent that’s a spacious 10’x10’ and even offers UV protection.

  • Camping chair: Something foldable, lightweight, and sturdy is ideal for a tailgate. This Coleman Quad chair knows all your needs and even comes with a small cooler and cup-holders built in.

  • Folding table: This Cosco Adjustable Tailgate Table is perfect to store, setup, and take apart while offering plenty of space for food. If the table doesn’t match your color scheme, you can always cover it with a tablecloth in your team’s color.

  • Portable grill: Weber’s Jumbo Joe Charcoal Grills offer durability during all seasons, plus space for eight burgers to cook at the same time. It could even be used to keep your fingers and toes toasty come winter tailgate time.

  • Cooler: Since beverages are a fundamental component of a tailgate, you want to choose a cooler with a large capacity. Igloo’s Ice Cube Roller Cooler can hold 60 quarts and is also an affordable and effective option.

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