Tailgating 101

Wyatt and Gracie on Game Day for UM football.

When I first started dating my now-husband Zeke in 2002, a widower with three little girls, he promised me one date night a week. His time was limited, but this was his commitment to me and our budding relationship. Fast forward to the Fall and Football season rolled around. Our “date nights” consisted of attending University of Miami Football games at the Orange Bowl, for which he had season tickets next to his Dad.

After a couple of weeks, I had to inform him that I didn’t consider attending a football game a “date night”. The food at the stadium was lousy and half the time, it wasn’t even at night. Since he wasn’t giving up his season tickets, he started making me dinner at his house on Sunday nights, which was a fine compromise. Even though a “date night” with three little girls underfoot was not always peaceful or romantic.

Now that we have no kids at home, every night can be a date night, and we’re still attending University of Miami Football games, although now at Hard Rock Stadium. Somewhere along the way, we gave up the horrible stadium food and started Tailgating before the games. My sister Kelley gave us a UM tent and we brought a folding table and chairs for the tailgate. Zeke even recently got a bigger car to accommodate all our Tailgating paraphernalia.

The first year of Tailgating, however, was trial and error. Since I’d never done it before, I had to try and remember everything that was required to Tailgate. Inevitably, some important items were forgotten, leading me to start making a list of everything I needed. There was one time we asked our friends Brooks and Sharon to the game. I brought three kinds of dip, but forgot the chips. What’s a dip without chips? John Schild, my brother-in-law, went out and bought a pack of Tostitos from a fellow tailgater for ten bucks, which saved the day.

Last week, while Tailgating, we had two people come up to our Tailgate who had forgotten items. One forgot the gas tank to start his grill- a pretty basic necessity. He offered to pay, but Zeke gave it to him for free. The other guy borrowed Pam spray for the grill. He brought it back with some grilled steak bits on a plate, a good trade in my book.

While it is a lot of work, everyone is in a festive mood at a Tailgate and, if you have a successful Tailgate, the day isn’t a total loss, even if your team loses. Which brings me to my blog today.

Tailgating 101.

First, The Basics.

A folding table, chairs and a tent. I usually bring a throw-away tablecloth, with some clips to hold it in place.

A Grill. Don’t forget the gas attachment.

Grilling items– Spatula, tongs, a pot holder and lighter to light the grill.

Serving bowls and serving utensils.

A knife. You never know when you might need it.

A Cutting Board. Also comes in handy.

Cups, Napkins and Cutlery. I usually use paper and plastic, but bamboo or stainless cutlery could be used as well.

Paper Towels. Really come in handy, as do wipes.

Toothpicks come in handy, depending on what you’re serving so I just keep them in my picnic basket.

Hand Sanitizer. To wash off those nasty germs.

Drinks, in a cooler full of ice. Beer, Wine and Prosecco or whatever you want to drink. I like the little bottles of Prosecco for Tailgating. Apple juice and water for little Tailgaters and teetotalers.

A Beer Opener.

Coozies. For the beer.

I also like to pick a Theme for Tailgating.

Recently, we visited Tuscaloosa, Alabama for the Ole Miss vs. THE University of Alabama game. Country Club there serves the opposing team’s food, which I think is a nice idea, but we’re trying to represent the U here!

As such, Chilled Stone Crabs with mustard sauce, Grilled Lobster Bites or Shrimp Cocktail would be much appreciated for a 305 crowd. One time we grilled Mahi and made Fish Tacos on flour tortillas, with slaw and spicy mayo. Skirt Steak with rice and black beans is a great idea, as are Cuban Sandwiches with croquettas and mini-flans. The drink of choice for these meals: Mojitos or Rum and Coke. Or Beer. You can never go wrong with beer at a Tailgate. It’s pretty much the official drink of Tailgating.

Sometimes games are at noon! For that Tailgate, a Brunch comes in handy. Mimosas, Bloody Marys or Cold Brewed Coffee with Bagels, Smoked Salmon and cream cheese are perfect fare. Or you could fry some eggs, bacon and sausage in a cast iron skillet. Fruit salad would be a welcome and healthy touch. For one noon game we made Huevos Rancheros, with refried beans and fried eggs on corn tortillas for Breakfast.

For October, I think Sausage Sandwiches with mustard on Pretzel Bread would be delicious, with some Beer Cheese (which is orange) and celery sticks. I like to have something green and orange at every UM home game, since it is the U’s colors. Serve the sausage sandwiches with an icy cold Octoberfest Beer; dessert could be an Apple Cake, cut into squares, Pumpkin Bread or Maple Donuts. Very Fall-y!

Other Green and Orange Appetizers I’ve made are baby carrots with snap peas, edamame and orange hummus, celery and sliced orange bell peppers. You could also make deviled eggs with chopped chives and orange caviar, if you want to get fancy.

Typical Tailgate Food like Hot Dogs and Hamburgers are always welcome with sides like Cole Slaw, Potato Salad, Baked Beans and Corn on the Cob. Make sure you keep anything that needs to be refrigerated on ice. We have a big cooler we bring for that, a Publix reusable bag for dry goods and a picnic basket for the tablecloth, serving utensils etc..

While I love chicken, chicken on the bone is hard to eat on your lap, so I would opt for a pounded-out chicken breasts, marinated and ready to grill and put on a bun. Don’t forget your fixin’s- like lettuce, tomato, sliced onions and condiments, if you serve sandwiches. One tailgate I did an Asian theme and served Spring Rolls, Potstickers, Lemongrass Chicken Wings, Beef Bulgogi and a Cabbage Slaw with Edamame and Cilantro.

Then, there was the year after the Pandemic, that Zeke was into all sorts of Kabobs on skewers, so we had Lamb Kofta, Chicken Breast Chunks and Vegetables on Skewers. Hummus was served with Pita chips for an appetizer and I served a Mediterranean Orzo Salad on the side. This worked out quite well, because most of the prep work was done ahead. I do like to relax and enjoy my own Tailgate a bit!

Of course, you don’t have to go all out for Tailgating.

For the first game of this year (against Miami, Ohio) we just got Subs from Subby’s and ate them with Chips in the car (while listening to Sports Radio). The second tailgate, I pre-cooked onions and bell peppers to go with Bratwurst, Knackwurst and Chicken Thighs we grilled. This made it easier since all we had to do is heat the onions and peppers up in the cast iron skillet. Rolls for the sausages, chips and fruit skewers rounded out the meal.

Another pre-made item that is great for Tailgating is Ham and Cheese Sandwiches on Hawaiian Rolls, which my sister Kelley has brought before. They are always a big hit and can be made ahead. While I love ribs, I don’t love them for Tailgating as they are too messy to eat easily. You don’t want Bar-B-Que sauce all over your Game Day outfit when you make your grand entrance!

Desserts should be easy to eat as well! Cookies, cupcakes or cakes cut into squares work great. Fruit Kabobs are also welcome, as a side or dessert. Served on bamboo skewers, clean up is a breeze. While Tailgating is typically about indulging, I always try to have something healthy on hand to eat. And while I usually like to recycle, for Tailgating I usually get items that can just be thrown away. Because it’s time to get to the game!

Bonus Points for:

Decorations on the table. Pom Poms, beads, etc.. I also have rocks with the U to hold down napkins.

A Speaker for Music. And a Game Day playlist: “Rock you like a Hurricane.”

Plates, cups, napkins with your team’s Logo.

A game to play, like Corn Hole or Football.

Most Forgotten Items:

Pam. Not a necessity, but you don’t want your food to stick.

Potholder. You can’t grab that cast iron skillet with your bare hands!

Garbage Bag. This is one thing I often forget.

A Lighter for the grill. “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”

Salt and Pepper. Everyone likes things seasoned differently.

Ziploc bags are good to bring to put leftovers in. I’m usually ready for a snack after a 4 hour game!

There is a start-up cost to tailgating, with the tent, chairs, table and grill. If you don’t want to invest in Tailgating supplies, my suggestion is the next best thing. Find a friend with a Tailgate and attend. Don’t forget to bring something fabulous to serve, so you’ll be invited back.

Go Canes!

Up Next: Fabulous Tailgate Cuban Sandwiches

Published by gleeguilford

Born and raised in Miami, the daughter of a pilot and stay-at-home Mom, I love food in all forms. My great grandfather opened the first Italian restaurant in Miami in the 20's, The Boathouse on the Miami river. I love exploring my heritage and linking food and recipes to personal stories. I've been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love and wrote restaurant reviews and news as the Miami Dining Examiner for three years. I love exploring Miami's latest hot spots, hole in the walls and institutions. I'm always looking for innovative ways to use the plethora of tropical fruits and vegetables South Florida offers, especially from my own garden.

Leave a Reply