You’ve dabbled in tailgating and you probably don’t even know it. Having a few beers out of the trunk of your car before you head into the game could definitely be considered tailgating. So now that you are a professional at that, maybe you’ve caught a glimpse of a tailgate at a neighboring parking spot and want to step up your game a bit.
It’s not your fault. Tailgating is addicting. The smell of a beer brat and a good burger sizzling over a fire is like a matador wearing a flashing neon red sign to a bull fight.
So, I thought I’d talk about the basics of tailgating and what you might need to set up your first tailgate. You’ve been warned though. This new “hobby” of yours can turn into a real time-suck if you are not careful. You’ll continue to want more at your tailgate as your group grows.
It’s a good idea to have a buddy or two that’s willing to handle some of the planning/setup so you won’t be spending all that valuable pregame time sweating profusely and setting up and not drinking a cold beverage.
A Beginner’s Guide to Tailgating: What You Need
So I’ll start off with a basic list of what you might need at your tailgate. These are pretty subjective and you’ll figure out what works best for you. It’s also a good idea to ask your spouse and tailgating buddies what they consider the must-haves of tailgating when you build a list.
The first tailgating item you will need to acquire is a good pop-up canopy. This can depend on what kind of space you have and what your tailgating venue will allow.
Basic: Getting one in your team’s color is good. Don’t be the guy with the random-colored popup canopy in the tailgating lot.
Advanced: Purchase one with your team’s logo on it and get your tailgate group’s name or motto stitched on the outside. You might also like walls on your canopy to cut down on the wind when it’s cold. These can be a game-changer with a chilly wind at your tailgating spot.
Accessories you might need with your canopy might include concrete blocks or weights to secure your canopy. If you’re tailgating on grass, you can secure the canopy with some decent metal stakes and some ratcheting tie-downs.
It’s always a good idea to secure your canopy, even if you have to tie it off to a few coolers or to your vehicle. If the wind catches these things and flips them over, most of them are going to suffer some damage and become useless.
The next tailgating item that is a must is folding chairs. You’ll want the folding kind to take up less room in your vehicle and there are a lot of different versions of these things out there.
If you are like me, you don’t spend a lot of time in a chair at a tailgate, so I’m not real picky with what kind of chair we have. My wife however, especially when she was pregnant with our kiddos, was a fan of the larger “zero gravity” lounger.
Take into account if you have any older folks that might want a little more comfort at your tailgate and plan accordingly.
Basic: Your average folding chair from a sporting goods store. Usually around $5, it has a back on it and if you are lucky, A CUPHOLDER! These will break from time to time, but they are cheap to replace.
Advanced: Larger chairs with reclining leg extensions. We are talking about comfort here, so maybe you want to purchase a couple of luxury chairs with your team logo on the back. They even make some that are extra wide with have high backs for added comfort.
The next item is an easy one you already might have a pretty good grasp of, (since you are reading this on website specializing in them) a cooler. You might start out with one cooler for your tailgate and adjust as you see fit. They also make good weights to tie canopies to and a decent place to sit if you run out of chairs.
Always separate your food from the ice with Ziploc bags. It’s also a good idea to have everything cold before you put your items in the cooler. Your ice will last much longer when it doesn’t have to bring down temperature of your beverages.
Basic: If you are not going to be out there all day (what?), maybe one of those crappy styrofoam or that old red cooler your dad gave you might do. But who are we kidding here? YOU ARE TAILGATING! GO FOR THE BISON COOLER!
Advanced: The Bison Cooler lineup. Find one that fits your group. Get one for drinks that the kids can dig their hands in 700 times and one for food. Go big time and add a custom lid graphic with your name on it so there is no mistaking who the king of the tailgating group is.
Another tip: Put a few wet kitchen towels in a Ziploc bag and drop them in your cooler. You can use them for cleanup, or if it’s really hot they can be used to cool someone down pretty quickly if needed.
The next tailgating item will talk about is a grill. This has a lot to do with what kind of food and how many people you will be preparing food for. If you are just starting out, getting one of those fold-up grills with the small propane canisters on them might work. They are extremely portable, easy to use and clean up and they cool down pretty fast.
Always make sure to bring a few additional fuel sources (propane canisters, bags of charcoal) as well. You can always reuse them later if it turns out you don’t need them.
Basic: Standard fold-up gas or charcoal grills. These will usually cook for a group of 15 or so and can be purchased for around $50 or less. They’ll take care of your basic hot dog and hamburger setups.
Advanced: A BBQ smoker. The holy grail of food consumption (in my opinion) is the smoked meat. It’s amazing how many best friends you acquire at a tailgate when you are blasting the rest of the parking lot with the smells of a huge brisket over mesquite. Have a huge group to satisfy? You might want to look into a smoker trailer that has a large cooking and prep area.
Make sure to allow adequate cool-down time to put them back in your vehicle. If you end up using charcoal, some stadiums will have hot coal barrels to dump your charcoal in when you are done with it.
The last item I’ll talk about is something to entertain your group. This might include tailgating games like washers or horseshoes, or a satellite TV setup for your group. Some people will be fine just hanging out with friends, while others will want to watch other games or events on while they are at your tailgate.
Basic: Washers, cornhole, ladder golf, etc. Lots of games out there to entertain your group. Sometimes just a football or a Frisbee might work. They also do pretty well keeping the kids busy too, just make sure to set them up away from the roaring flame you built on the grill.
Advanced: Satellite TV at your tailgate. This takes some additional planning and setup, but you’ll be pretty popular if there are other big games on during your tailgate. Want to really watch TV in style? Check out a custom tailgating trailer.
Other good items to might want to include in your tailgating checklist:
Folding table (a truck tailgate might work)
Water to wash hands with (a small cooler with a spout usually works)
Sanitizing wipes – Two words: porta-potty
Disposable gloves – helps when preparing food
Ziploc bags – for leftovers
Cleaning supplies – paper towels and a good kitchen cleaner usually will do
Anything else I’ve missed? Comment below and let me know what’s on your tailgating checklist.
About the Author
Brian Ruff is the founder and co-owner of Big Game Trailers, a custom tailgating trailer company that sells and rents out trailers in and around the Dallas Fort Worth area. Check out a lot more articles like these on their tailgating blog.