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Top tips to tailgate in your SUV or truck

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

Game day's more fun when you tailgate!

Whether you're tailgating before the big game or after a raging outdoor concert, the best way to make sure you have the ultimate party experience is to be prepared. Whether you're planning and adults-only evening or an afternoon of family-friendly fun, these tips will help you make the most of your big event.

Woman at tailgate party

It's an hour before kick-off and 42 degrees F. There's only one reason you're standing around in this weather when you don't even have tickets -- you're a fan. But roughing it in the tailgate lot doesn't have to be a grudge-match. All you need to make yourself comfy and have fun is a little know-how.

We've got spirit! Yes, we do!

First, you'll need to set the stage. You can relax in normal clothes with your besties (and central heat) at your house. Don't just throw on your favorite player's jersey. Add those extra touches like crazy team earrings (maybe even some you made yourself), face paint and more. You aren't the only one who needs a little pizzazz, either. You can buy magnets and streamers in your team's colors to give your vehicle a spirited makeover.

Make a playbook

You'll want to plan ahead to make sure you've got everything you need. If it's going to be cold, bring the necessary supplies to stay warm. Some stadiums have well-organized tailgating areas, which means you may have access to electricity. Find out before you go. You'll also want to make sure you've got comfortable seating, a way to listen to or watch the game (portable radio or TV and plenty of batteries -- don't use your car's radio or your battery could suffer). You may even be able to bring a portable generator.

You'll also need game grub. Buy one of the portable grills we like and make sure you have plenty of food for everyone in the cooler. Bring extra food, as you're likely to have party-crashers as you make new friends at the game. Don't forget munch-ables like chips and dips, pretzels and nuts. Bring a separate cooler (or two) for sodas, water and beer.

quick Tip

In addition to your designated driver, make one adult with an extra vehicle the designated gofer. She'll do runs for extra supplies or drinks as the evening goes on.

Gear up

You'll also need some tailgate-worthy gear. Tailgating is an extravaganza -- it's a bit of a competition to see who has the most comfortable (and often elaborate) setup. Think outside the box. Since you're going in a truck or SUV, you've got plenty of room to get a little crazy.

For example, instead of foldable chairs, consider bringing a lightweight couch (if you've got enough muscle coming along, it doesn't even have to be that lightweight!) If you'll need some shade, consider beach umbrellas or a portable awning. Print this checklist to make sure you don't forget anything.

  • Bungie cords/rope (to secure tent, rain tarp or flag)
  • Tent/tarp/canopy/umbrella/portable awning
  • Table cloths
  • Chairs/other seating
  • Grill/cooker
  • Gas or charcoal & lighter fluid
  • Matches or lighter
  • Ice
  • Coolers
  • Cooking utensils (spatula to flip burgers, cooking fork to stab brats, cooking spoon to stir chili, a good kitchen knife, etc.)
  • Utensils to serve food with, as well as those to eat with
  • Cooking pans/pots
  • Oven mitts, apron
  • Water (to drink or douse flame right before kick off)
  • Trash bags
  • Paper towels/napkins/wet wipes
  • Bottle opener/can opener/wine opener
  • Plates, cups
  • Table(s)
  • First aid kit
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Flag, flag pole, flag pole holder
  • Radio/TV
  • Plastic storage bags
  • Football, frisbee, playing cards, games
  • Blankets/hot pads
  • Serving tray(s)
  • Binoculars
  • Condiments: buns, cheese, onions, mushrooms, barbecue sauce, salt, pepper, hot stuff, ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce, cheese, pickles, onions, miscellaneous toppings, etc.
  • Camera
  • Rain gear/poncho, coats/jackets
  • Umbrella(s)
  • Non-alcoholic beverages (iced tea, fruit juices, soda) and beer (if it's allowed)
  • Kerosene or other portable heater
  • Sun block
  • Antacid
  • Game tickets
  • Toothpicks
  • Themed decorations

Check out these tailgating recipes

A skinny girl's tailgate
Kid-friendly tailgating recipes
Traditional tailgating recipes with a twist

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