Tailgating Like a Boss

With the NFL already in preseason and college football about to kick off, it’s time to go over the basics of tailgating. I have a lackluster record in the kitchen, but I have never lost while hostessing a party. My tailgating days began in the parking lot of Nashville’s LP Field in 1999 when Monday Night Football cameras caught us cruising the parking lot in an old fire truck. In 2001, I began life at Ole Miss and embraced The Grove experience. Ten acres of land, tens of thousands of happy tailgaters.

the grove ole miss


Things that make a successful tailgate: enough food and drinks for friends and strangers and happy dispositions. Ribbing is perfectly fine and part of the fun, but remember to mind your manners.


I have learned a few lessons and made plenty of mistakes along the way. Here are a few tips to help you tailgate like a boss:

1. PLAN AHEAD Sounds obvious, but life gets in the way. Don’t find yourself in a time pickle you can’t get out of. I have had to make last second phone calls to restaurants and sweet talk my way into a catering order. Having someone else make your food saves time, but you still have to pick it up, keep it from going funky, and pay for it. Tailgating can get expensive in a hurry, so be mindful. If you have friends chipping in, assign everyone a job. “You bring plates, and plasticware,” “You bring a starch.” “You bring something sweet.”

2. BE PREPARED Your buddies might laugh at you, but they won’t be when someone eats too many hot wings and needs TUM TUH TUM TUM TUMS. Here are a few things you definitely shouldn’t leave at home:

  • First aid/disaster preparedness kit – pack a small plastic container with antacids, Immodium (hey, butt problems are a billion times worse when your only option is a porta-potty), Tylenol/Advil/Excedrin (don’t mix with alcohol, please), band-aids (pack a few extra because heel blisters happen), alcohol wipes, hand sanitizer (USE IT, PLEASE), sunblock, A ROLL OF TOILET PAPER (trust me), ponchos (if you have them, it won’t rain)
  • Things you might need –  extra cooler with at least one bag of ice, extra bottles of water (good rule of thumb is to double what you think you’ll need, especially for early season games), non-alcoholic drinks, cigarette lighter power inverter, bottle opener, cork screw, scissors, pocket knife (make sure you don’t bring it to the stadium), small fire extinguisher (especially if you plan on grilling), trash bags, fans (battery operated or for the Pinterest fans… cute cardboard on a stick), a gallon jug of water if you plan on grilling, wet wipes

3. BE A GOOD GUEST Ask your hosts what they need. If they say “nothing” then you should still bring something. Fun cocktail napkins. A bag of chips. A friend of mine made commemorative plastic cups for one game. We still use them. If the rule applies for a dinner party, it also applies to a tailgate. Don’t be a mooch. Bring some hooch.

4. KEEP IT SIMPLE I know you have an opportunity to show off your portable culinary skills, but there is no reason to stress yourself out. Taylor Mathis’s new cookbook The Southern Tailgating Cookbook has tons of simple recipes (Southerners are known for their tailgating fare) and there are a few things you can whip up that are easily portable and hassle free. A sandwich plate is always a winner, and just make sure you hold the condiments. If you don’t have a generator or use of a power outlet, chaffing dishes and Sterno can help keep things up to temperature. I served chili and put together a baked potato bar for a November game and everyone went wild (also STARCH). I baked the potatoes in the oven while I was getting ready to leave my house, and when they were done I stored them in a hot/cold carrier bag. 

5. WEAR YOUR COMFORTABLE PARTY SHOES AND HAVE FUN Tailgating is an opportunity to connect with old friends, meet new people, and have a good time. Make sure you come prepared with a fully charged cell phone.

the grove girls ole miss


At my tailgate party, friends and strangers are always welcome. The more the merrier! How about yours?


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About Emily Gatlin

Emily Gatlin is a former independent bookstore manager turned freelance writer. She writes about books, blunders, and noms at A Prose For Emily. Follow her on Twitter: @emilygatlin.