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Top 10 Football Tailgating Food Ideas

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Football Tailgating Food Ideas

Football season is great.  Just being in the presence of 80,000 screaming fans cheering on their team is an experience you just don’t get from sitting in front of the TV watching the game from your recliner. Nor is eating a delivered pizza from the box while you watch the game anything like the real experience of smelling and enjoying savory grilled meats and drinks before the game.  A real sports enthusiast knows the game begins hours before the kickoff and it involves the time-honored tradition of lugging ice chests and chairs to stake a claim to your spot, preparing your football tailgating food ideas in advance, and then executing the plan under your own tent or at the rear of your parked vehicle.  Tailgating, my friend, is the holy grail of football. It’s a party that lasts all day and may actually be the most important part of the whole experience.

Since it so heavily involves the preparation and consumption of food, the event known as tailgating must have originated in the South. What probably began as a simple sandwich and cold drink from a cooler in the trunk of a car has evolved into a range of venues spanning the simple, time-honored grill and cooler at the back of the pickup to spectacular tented canopies replete with chandeliers and fine china.

Today much preparation and planning go into preparing and serving tailgate recipes. But in spite of all the new recipes touted as the best each year, these time-honored staples of the tailgate will never fade.

The Food

  1. Ribs

If you didn’t bring any, don’t talk about how good yours are.  If you do bring them, you’ve got lots of choices. There are my favorite- tasty pork baby back ribs with less meat,  pork spareribs – a little larger from the belly or side of the pig, country style ribs with no bone, larger beef ribs, and short ribs which should be first cooked in a crock pot before smoking. Make your own special sauce or mix it up with several different choices.Grilled pork ribs

  1. Burgers

Don’t leave home without them.  Everyone is happy with a burger – and you can even bring veggie ones for your vegetarian friends.   Just remember to bring various cheeses, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, relish, pickles, veggies, peppers (and anything else you find interesting), and let your fellow tailgaters design their own delight.

  1. Sausage/Hot Dogs

Nothing says “welcome” quite like the offer of a bite of grilled pork sausage.  I’ve seen grown men stand around a pit for hours talking and eating sausage straight off the grill.  Throw on a few pre-boiled potatoes, onions and mushrooms and folks will be line at your tent.  For others, a freshly grilled hot dog thrown on a bun with spicy mustard makes their day.  Add some mayo, relish, ketchup, chili, and various other ingredients and you’re headed toward tailgating success.

  1. Grilled Chicken

Don’t be put down for grilling chicken – its an art form of its own and one of the easiest meats to prepare.  Marinate your chicken the night before – or even up your game by making chicken skewers.  A great tailgating food idea is to incorporate pineapples into your chicken skewer or just stick to the basic pepper, onion, potato or zucchini skewer.  Mix up your own barbeque sauce or add an extra touch to a bottled sauce and you’re on your way to a successful grill.

A favorite of home based football game parties, chicken wings can also be enjoyed at a tailgate.  Marinate the wings the night before in your favorite bottled or homemade marinade, and grill them just as you would a chicken breast.  They won’t be fried, but they’ll be smoky and delicious.

  1. Chips/Dip

The moment you’ve set everything up and start getting the meats ready, someone is going to want something to munch on.  You can go healthy with vegetable and fruit trays, but inevitably what your guests are trying to find are the chips.  Surprise them by making extra special dips such as an artichoke dip, a spicy chicken or catfish dip, or a taco dip.  Round the chippers out with crackers, blue corn chips, and other specialty varieties to create a pre-meal taste adventure.

  1. Chili or Gumbo

In the South, gumbo is served all year long and it’s certainly a game day staple if the temperature drops.   Similarly, either beef or white bean and chicken chili can be made the night before and then brought in a crock pot.  No muss, no fuss and the food is ready to serve.  Some fans like to go the route of Fireman’s Chili, but it’s probably best to avoid making it your only choice.  Just have a couple of bottles of hot sauce handy for the stout of stomach.

  1. Pulled Pork/Pulled ChickenPulled Pork Sandwich with Cheese

Putting those crock pots and slow cookers to work before the game is a sure plan for success.  Just like chili and gumbo, a pulled pork loin or a whole chicken can be cooked beforehand and brought to the game ready to shred and eat. Add some rolls, perhaps a selection of cheeses to include in the roll, a spicy coleslaw and barbecue sauce and you have the makings of a great meal.

  1. Cold Fixings

The humble potato or pasta salad is the unsung hero of the tailgate. If you’re wanting to wow the next tent, add extras to the salad such as feta, blue cheese, bacon, crisp sausage and minced veggies to the mix.  No meal is complete without it and with all that meat, you really need a few carbs.

Football Themed Tailgating Dessert

  1. Dessert

No meal of this magnitude could possibly be complete without a selection of easily prepared and ready to eat desserts.  Try some football themed desserts such as Oreo Cookie Ball footballs, football Whoopie Pies (with or without added spirits), mini brownie football pies, or peanut butter football blondies made from a cake mix.

10.Beverages

It’s commonly said the main reason for tailgating is to enjoy having a cold one while grilling.  Another rule of tailgating, don’t bring a six pack of cheap beer and walk off with someone else’s whiskey.  Now that the food’s decided, the beverages must be selected.  Make certain to include plenty of water if the weather is warm, sodas for those not drinking alcoholic beverages, and drinks of your choice. Consume wisely and with respect to those around you.

Whether you’re a tailgate veteran or a newbie, following this concise list of football tailgating food ideas will get you pointed in the right direction and may even give you some additional “food” for thought in planning your next game day outing.

20 thoughts on “Top 10 Football Tailgating Food Ideas

  1. oh wow now I’m hungry! Just looking at your visuals is amazing. You really make a site visitor want to go and do this event, I can’t wait to show my wife this site as we both enjoy a good barbecue. I hope you will elaborate on some of these dishes around different cooking momethids and sauces etc. Looking forward to your next food post. Thanks, Kenny 

    1. Thanks Kenny!

      If you’ve never tailgated … it’s worth trying it at least ONCE and with friends!  It’s quite a different experience from the backyard BBQ since it involves a bit more planning, letting go of a bit more cash for some really great meats and sides, and having the opportunity to look around, get ideas from other tailgaters, swap recipes/stories, and taste morsels from someone else’s grill.

      Have fun!  

  2. What a great article and selection of foods for your football games. Are these types of days, the football tailgating at your local football? I know here in Australia if we go to a football game, it is a big day but at a big arena so we don’t have the luxury of setting up a tent or the back of the car. But I know local footy is a little different.

    So that is why I imagine this is local football for you too?

    1. Hey again Sharon. I really thought I’d already replied to your comment….but in essence, I understand that perhaps tailgating in your part of the world occurred at one point. We too have large football stadiums and immense arenas for sports. At the university level there are areas of campus near the stadium in groves of trees or specially designated parking lots specifically for tailgating. At the large venues, quite often there are special parking lots designated for these fun events as opposed to just parking. Although the thrill of the party is partially due to a common interest – football – the real fun is in walking amongst the many participants, viewing their setups, gathering new ideas and recipes, making new friends and finding old ones. It’s an event hard to replicate in any other way! Cheers!

  3. Great food ideas for a football match. My husband loves football and I will pass on these ideas to him , the vegetarian ones as we are vegetarians. However, he gets very nervous before a match and therefore will only drink beer ! He eats after the match is finished ! I liked what you have written about beverages – don’t walk off with somebody else’s expensive whiskey and to consume alcohol wisely and respect others around you . 

    1. Thanks Priya!  A few tasty morsels before the game also help alleviate the miseries of too heavy alcohol consumption – and also allow the fans to stay awake during the game.  There are loads of fabulous vegetarian alternatives for grilling – such as corn on the cob, zucchini/onion/potato skewers, and even tofu.  Of course, vegan sides are fabulous to go along and quite delightful.  Obnoxious drinking and behavior is to be avoided at all costs, I agree!

  4. What a great article and selection of foods for your football games.  Are these types of days, the football tailgating at your local football?  I know here in Australia if we go to a football game, it is a big day but at a big arena so we don’t have the luxury of setting up a tent or the back of the car.  But I know local footy is a little different.

    So that is why I imagine this is local football for you too?

    1. Hi Sharon,

      Our games also occur at large university stadiums and even larger sports arenas for the NFL/AFL.  Tailgating is a common cultural norm, so areas are actually designated for these activities as opposed to parking only areas.  Another person mentioned this used to be done in Australia, but has since fallen by the wayside.  Who knows?  You could start a new version of an old tradition?  It’s really lots of fun!

  5. Damn it, I’m a meat eater. Yes, experiencing a live football match is really great and have a lot of fun. We don’t ever noticed the time go on like nothing had happen. But, when watching a match, snacking is a must for me. And if there has someone sells meat-related food, I’ll buy as much as I can. Ribs and burgers are great for me. But, I need to control eating meat since I might have high blood pressure. Anyway thanks for this article 🙂

    1. Hey Amer!  

      The best thing about tailgating is that YOU control the type of meat (chicken is great for HBP risk factors), the seasoning (limit the salt), and the combinations you put together to enjoy your snack attack!  It’s like opening your own restaurant in  a parking lot and seeing who comes by and who shares what!  You gotta give it a try – at least ONCE!   (PS – get that blood pressure checked so you can enjoy many more games (: )

  6. when I think of a football match I automatically think of a good old greasy hot dog on the football stand. You’ve opened my eyes to all the different kinds of foods football fans would love to snack on as they watch a live match. I love the grilled chicken idea. 

    1. Some of the best grilled chicken is cooked in groves and parking lots across America!  Just something different about it that isn’t like the backyard BBQ!  Have you ever tailgated?  It’s quite an experience!!

  7. Football just isn’t the same without some super viewing grub…is it!  My favs are grilled wings…I do a dry chipotle rub with lots of cayenne, paprika, and herbs.  I now prefer these grilled ones over deep fried.

    My second fav is buffalo chicken dip with pita chips.

    I love some sausages and dogs too…anything on a grill just makes all the difference in the world.

    Thanks for a fun and entertaining article…I’m way hungry now!  ha!

    1. Football and food just go together don’t they?  And it’s an excuse to eat all those goodies we may try to avoid in excess at other times!  Buffalo chicken dip with pita chips sounds amazing…gotta try ’em!  I’m getting hungry too!!

  8. These ideas all sound great, nothing says “football food” more than hotdogs, ribs, grilled chicken skewers, and all this good stuff. Personally my favorite football food is chicken wings and pizza. Anytime I’m at a football tailgate I always bring some wings and it’s always a crowd pleaser. Chips and dips are also on my list of favorites, I never thought about using blue corn chips though, do they taste differently than regular yellow corn chips?

    1. Hey Kent,

      I personally don’t think the blue chips taste any differently, but they do add a splash of color – maybe team color?   I love to pot luck tailgate because it spreads the work, excitement and  expense around – and oh those flavor combinations that you just don’t expect!

      Bon appetit!

  9. I only just found your site, and found this post to be remarkably similar to an old style of getting out and about here in Australia.

    Many years ago we would be able to go to country football matches (AFL style here) and sit in the boot of our cars and watch the football (we call it footy!). A tradition which has sadly disappeared.

    Now that you have reminded me, what a fantastic tradition you have, and I like the style. Magnificent!

    Imagine the time involved in preparation for such an event. If you put in the effort then it is a really good idea to make it such an event. Tents and fine china, phew, that is serious stuff.

    I hope this tradition continues for many years. It is something I would love to witness and participate in when I eventually get to your country.

    1. Hey Steve,

      This is an awesome tradition with it’s own culture and rules – every team, location, and university is different, but in many ways alike.  If you’d like to read about some over the top tailgating, here’s an article you may enjoy https://www.foodnetwork.com/ho…!

  10. Such an awesome topic. You make me hungry,haha. I am truly football fan and player and what you said in the text above is very true. I enjoy to spend time with my friends watching football and preparing some delicious recipes. My favorite one is definitely grilled chicken with marinade. Do you think that some soup is good choice for this types of parties?

    1. Nothing beats a good chili, vegtable/beef soup – or in Louisiana – a fabulous gumbo!  When cold weather hits, a generous portion of a hot liquid is not only warming, but helps rehydrate the body due to alcohol consumption.  As far as the possibility of spilling a bowl of soup – I’d say it would be on par with getting BBQ sauce all over your hands and face!   Enjoy whatever you will – the experience is what you make it!

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