Men, women and children congregate in parking lots across the country, enemies clink beer cans as they toss small bags of corn through a hole, munching bratwurst, potato salad, steaks, and the odd carrot or slice of watermelon. For the uninitiated, a bizarre anthropological ritual. But for millions of Americans across the country, living in red states, blue states, north, south, east and west, this is one of the year’s best parties. It’s tailgating, the All-American practice of partying before a big game. Football, both college and NFL, is far and away the most popular tailgating sport, but tailgating has caught on with basketball and other games, and even, in recent years, some weddings.
Here’s our guide to what people are eating and drinking in parking lots across the country, as well as travel tips for a few big tailgating destinations. (Special thanks to the tailgating bloggers we polled). So, let’s get started with the basic ingredients.
Beer, and Lots of It
Craft beer has completed its conquest of the U.S. by becoming an essential for tailgate parties. Companies like Dogfish Head and Rogue Ales (which makes a bew called Voodoo Doughnut Chocolate) make great beer. There’s even a craft brewing company called Tailgate Beer, notes Jonathon of sportshangover.com.
Some tailgaters are partial to locally brewed beer. Shane, from alabamatailgate.com sticks to beer brewed in his home state. Daniel Stuntz of lombardiave.com, has to record all the games because he lives in Japan, but still celebrates with favorite Japanese beer Asahi in a nod to his adopted country.
Atomic Buffalo Turds and Mudbugs
No, it’s not a menu created by a five year old boy – it’s tailgating food. Picnic favorites like hot dogs, hamburgers, and watermelon appear on everyone’s list, but parking lot cuisine gets really interesting when it gets creative, or you look at regional differences. A Mudbug, for instance, is another name for a crawfish, popular on the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Arkansas. Dave Lamm of tailgatingideas.com is a fan of the Atomic Buffalo Turds - jalapeno peppers stuffed with garlic cream cheese and wrapped in a bacon slice. If this spicy, gooey finger food appeals, check out our Recipe and prep instructions here. Bratwurst is a favorite hot dog substitute, while you will run across the occasional tailgater knocking back oysters and chardonnay, like Packers fan John Bley from Lombardiave.com.
Rites of the Tailgate
Tailgating, for diehard fans and master tailgaters, is a sacred ritual. Popular drinking games include beer pong, flip cup and cornhole (toss a bag of corn through a hole in a board). Fans paint their faces in team colors and get decked out in full team regalia.Look out for quirky “lucky sock” type rituals. We spoke to fans who raise an American flag before the team’s flag at every tailgate, like Jess of faniq.com, or Alexis of stylishgameday.com who won’t let a tailgate pass without a game of point pong…others wear the same shirt every game, or exclusively use just one mug. Regional differences abound. Kanjam, originally called trash can Frisbee, was invented in New York while Stump is rumored to be a favorite in New Hampshire.
The Biggest and Baddest Tailgates
Big tailgating parties overlap with popular travel destinations like Miami, San Diego, New York, Chicago and Boston. While not all stadiums are within the city proper, you can always find a convenient place to stay nearby.
The New York Giants tailgating scene at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, goes a bit wild with New York pride, with some fans bringing RVs and flat screen TVs to the party. If you’re on a bit of a budget and a New England Patriots fan, the MBTA will ferry you to Gillette Stadium in nearby Foxborough, MA, and then you can book one of the great deals on hotels in the city. Remember to pack extra warm clothes for both destinations, as football season is notoriously cold. Chicago fans are equally freezing, but you warm up with a grilled Krispy Kreme doughnut if you’re feeling adventurous.
Sun Life Stadium in Miami is well within the city limits – perfect for slipping away to the beach or for cocktails – and is close to a number of hotels. Look out for Cuban food at the tailgate – our favorite is Lechon, a savory pork dish. Our favorite hotel in San Diego near Qualcomm Stadium is the Marriott San Diego Mission Valley. Look out for local Mexican food in the run-up to the big game; you won’t be disappointed.
Check out our infographic below for a rundown on tailgating facts and destinations. Please note that cab fare in each city is the average within city limits…you’ll need quite a bit more moolah to get you to most stadiums. Cheers!
Download the full size Tailgating Infographic.