Patrick Montgomery is no stranger to tailgates. The former Ranger-turned-entrepreneur lives in Kansas City, Missouri, home of the Kansas City Chief’s Arrowhead Stadium and the Kansas City Royal’s Kauffman Stadium. “Both are renowned for their tailgating,” he says.
What’s more, Montgomery owns KC Cattle Co., which specializes in wagyu beef. The company sells tailgate bundles complete with burgers, hotdogs, and even bacon-cheeseburger bratwurst.
KC Cattle Co. is gearing up for a busy season as football fans head back to the stadiums. However, tailgating is part of many events, “from sports to concerts, weddings—even gatherings at your home,” says Luke Lorick, founder of National Tailgating Day and the Tailgating Challenge, a site dedicated to the activity.
As his site demonstrates, it takes more than food to pull off a successful tailgate. Just ask Jill Abbott, race director for the Winterthur Point-to-Point in Wilmington, Delaware.
“Tailgating is fun, and we all need that back in our lives,” she says. “The most important thing is planning. Tailgating does not have to be a lot of work if you plan and pace yourself as far as the preparations—in other words, don’t wait until the last minute because it can make a long day longer.”
So, dust off your coolers, break out your portable grills and consider these tailgating tips.
PICK A THEME
A common thread can help you select the menu and décor. During Abbott’s 23 years at Winterthur, she’s seen the gamut, from the musical “New York, New York” to the song “Hot, Hot, Hot,” which included a black Suburban covered in chili peppers. Both are examples of “extreme tailgating,” she says.
The team is the theme for Eddie Jackson, NFL star-turned Food Network chef and “chief recipe officer” for Beef Loving Texans, the Texas Beef Council’s retail website.
“I may be a little biased,” says Jackson, who went to the University of Arkansas, “but red and white is the way to go.”
CREATE A MENU
If your friends prioritize a prime space, you may need to bring breakfast items for an early start.
For breakfast or dinner, grills are a staple at sporting events. “There’s nothing better than the smell of beef on a grill,” Jackson maintains.
You don’t need anything fancy. Montgomery has cooked food for 10 people on a $30 Weber.
Lorick suggests portable grills, such as the Ukiah Drifter, which has a Bluetooth sound system, or a disposable CasusGrill.
For large events, Montgomery has smoked meats for 100 on a tow-behind custom smoker. Jackson also appreciates a smoker for big tailgates. “Nothing draws a crowd like a Texas-style smoked brisket,” he says.
As for the food, KC Cattle Co.’s tailgate bundles make it easy to provide an assortment of protein. But don’t limit yourself to meat. Lorick makes grilled portobello pizza, using the mushroom as the “crust.”
Not into grills? Consider foods you can eat with your hands — no utensils needed. Fried chicken, sandwiches and subs are options. Turn to supermarkets for sides, such as potato salad.
You can never go wrong with a fajita bar, Jackson says. Cook, dice, and shred in advance.
KEEP IT HOT OR COLD
Like a grill, coolers are mainstays. Jackson brings one for cold drinks and another for hot brisket. Many recommend a third for clean ice.
Lorick, who’s tested a plethora of coolers, recommends soft coolers or backpack versions so you can bring your libations to other tailgates. The ultimate on-the-go cooler is the motorized Cruzin Cooler, which you can drive.
“Driving your cooler to other tailgates will turn heads and bring fun to the next level,” he promises.
For hot food, bring slow-cookers and warming bags. Or heat bricks in an oven, wrap them in foil and line the cooler’s bottom, Abbott says.
When it’s in Kansas City, Montgomery brings a fan, which he plugs into a vehicle’s 12-volt standard plug. In winter, he packs a propane-diesel torpedo heater. “Just keep it away from attendees who may have overindulged,” he advises.
In the South, a canopy for shade is a must, Jackson says. Indeed, whether it’s hot or cold, a canopy protects guests and food from the elements.
Clothing will also affect your comfort level. When it’s hot, Jackson packs extra T-shirts. Once the temperature drops, he takes a light jacket. In cooler climes, extra clothing and blankets can help warm you up.
MAKE IT FUN
No tailgate is complete without cornhole, Jackson says. Paint the boards with your favorite team’s logo.
But there are many other games to try. Lorick, who also founded National Yard Games Day, rated the top 10 yard games. Tic Bag Toe, a combination of cornhole and tic tac toe, came in at number one.
PACK A TAILGATE TOOLBOX
Forgetting bottle-openers or utensils can put a damper on the day. You’ll be glad you packed the following:
- Foldable table (pack it first and put other items on top, Abbott says)
- Tablecloths, linens, or napkins
- Paper towels, wet wipes, and hand sanitizer
- Cutlery, serving spoons, tongs, glasses, and plates
- A serrated knife, wrapped in napkins and plastic
- Ice buckets and/or separate cooler for ice
- Portable grill, if allowed, and supplies, such as spatulas
- Bottle-opener and corkscrew — tie it to the cooler
- Koozies to keep drinks cold
- Extra cups
- Marker to put the guests’ initials on their cups
- Camp chairs
- Umbrellas, blankets, sunscreen, spare clothing
- Bungee cords
- Saranwrap, foil, garbage bags and freezer bags for leftovers
- First Aid kit
- Waterproof flashlights
- And, of course, duct tape