Recipes and Tips to Tackle Tailgating for the Win

Gridiron and grills. Field goals and food. We have tips and recipes for a fall football parking lot party that scores.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning if you follow the link and make a purchase, Yummly makes a commission.

Fall means football for most colleges across the country. Right now the reigning champs (and current #1 ranked team) are the Clemson Tigers. Clemson also happens to be my alma mater. It's a deeply Southern school and if you've ever heard the old adage "Football in the South isn't just a sport, it's a religion," I can say, with some authority, that it is true.

Southerners take food and football seriously in equal measure. At every home game, tens of thousands of people get dressed up and head to parking lot at Death Valley (Clemson's football stadium) — not in costumes or orange and white, but in their 'Sunday best.' I spent many a Saturday in pearls with a date donning a jacket and tie because pearls and ties were the price of admission to the spectacular tailgate parties. I've witnessed and experienced what makes a great tailgate party so I'm passing along some tips and recipes to make your tailgate party memorable this football season.

Special Equipment

If you want to go beyond chips and dips for your menu, you might want to pick up some special equipment. You don't have to, but having warm food on a chilly fall day spent outdoors makes a good party great.

Slow Cookers

If you want hot food at your tailgate party, a slow cooker is a good heat source. However, they do require an electrical outlet. Your car's cigarette lighter may be the only choice for power, but using a regular slow cooker might not be the safest option. Consider a 12v portable slow cooker designed with cars and safety in mind. If you have one of those, you open yourself up to a whole world of tailgating recipes for your parking lot party. A good cheesy dip, Texas chili, or even Buffalo chicken dip can now be added to the menu, but there are so many more edible possibilities with the slow cooker beyond the traditional chili recipe.

Worcestershire sauce, sweet onion, salt, brown sugar, brown sugar and 13 more
chili powder, jalapeno, bacon, yellow corn, green onions, mayonnaise and 2 more
diced tomatoes and green chilies, chopped cilantro, sweet onion and 6 more
onion powder, chili powder, garlic powder, ground cumin, kosher salt and 9 more

Mini Grills

You can tailgate without a grill, but they sure do make parking lot picnics more fun. You can find mini charcoal grills as well as tabletop gas grills that are easy to transport and set up. But before you make a purchase, you should check the rules where you plan to set up camp. At some colleges, like the University of Virginia, charcoal grills are not permitted, but propane grills are fine (but if you're tailgating in Charlottesville, do not forget your champagne flutes).

Of course, we know that you're thinking about burgers and hot dogs, but there are a lot of other tailgating foods that you can throw on the grill.

white cheddar, bacon, jalapenos, beer, cracked pepper, salt, cheese
minced ginger, boneless skinless chicken breast, pineapple juice and 12 more
ground beef, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, garlic, salt, dinner rolls and 1 more
salt, paprika, parsley, green bell pepper, salt, olive oil, cilantro and 16 more

Portable Food Warmers

If there are finger foods you want to make ahead of time but still want to serve warm, you can use a portable food warmer. They look kind of like coolers, but come with a cord that plugs into your car cigarette lighter or a generator, similar to the portable slow cooker. This is a game-changer for serious tailgaters because, it means you're not bound to grilling or slow cooking when you're doing recipe research. This means if you're cheering on the Michigan Wolverines, you won't have to miss out on fried chicken, and you can do things like casseroles, macaroni and cheese, and sheet pan sandwiches.

honey, hawaiian sweet rolls, swiss cheese, dijon mustard, ham and 1 more
butter, elbow macaroni, eggs, salt, sour cream, sharp cheddar cheese and 1 more
dough, spaghetti sauce, jalapeño, fresh parsley, frozen meatballs and 1 more
buttermilk, cornstarch, unsalted butter, salt, maple syrup, honey and 11 more


This might sound excessive, but for the safest tailgate set up, bring three coolers. Use one cooler for raw meat, another for prepared food, and a third for drinks. Keeping raw meat separate prevents any cross-contamination — you don't want juices from the raw meat to leak onto your drinks or prepared food. Additionally, because drinks tend to move fast at tailgate parties (and the constant opening and closing of the cooler causes the temperature to fluctuate), having a separate cooler for the food allows you to control the temperature a little better.

Instant Read Thermometer

If you're using a grill or serving anything hot, make sure to bring an instant-read thermometer so you know you're cooking and serving everything at a safe temperature. Federal food safety guidelines recommend the following safe cooking temperatures for meat and poultry.

FoodTypeInternal Temperature (℉)
PoultryAll poultry (breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, wings, ground poultry, giblets, and stuffing)165
Fresh beef, veal, lambSteaks, roasts, chops145
Pre-cooked pork and hamWhole ham, smoked sausage for re-heating165
Fresh porkCutlets, roasts145
Egg dishesFrittatas, quiches, casseroles165

Game Day Breakfast

If you've been to a college football game or two, you know that the pre-game picnic can start three, even four hours before the game starts. Part of the reason for the early start is just to claim a parking spot, but some people are just eager to get the party started. That means if kickoff is at 11:00 am, you can expect people to be heating up their grills at 7:30. In places like Madison, Wisconsin, don't be surprised to see people eating brats for breakfast to fuel the Badger cheering section.

At Clemson, one of the more popular breakfast items is the sausage biscuit — but not the kind you find at McDonald's in which you have a biscuit cut in half with a sausage patty in between. For these sausage biscuits, sausage (and sometimes cheese) is mixed into the biscuit dough before it's baked. It's the epitome of grab-and-go snacking. Things like sausage biscuits, regular biscuits, and muffins are good make-ahead recipes for your tailgating party breakfast so you have something to nosh on while the grill heats up. Here are a few more recipes to consider — some require the aforementioned special equipment, but they all score.

breakfast sausage, milk, bisquick, cheddar cheese
oil, ground ginger, kosher salt, lemon, dark brown sugar, warm water and 12 more
eggs, salt, frozen hash brown potatoes, shredded cheddar cheese and 3 more

Pre-Game Appetizers and Side Dishes

Chips and dips dominate the appetizer table. The main thing you want to consider when you select recipes is temperature: keep the cold items cold and the hot items hot with as little fluctuation in temperature as possible. Federal guidelines suggest hot items should stay at a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit and cold items should be held at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit and lower. The reason for this is that bacteria grows the fastest between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. That means if you have a hot cheese dip to go with your potato chips, it should be held in a slow cooker, while sour cream dip recipes should be held over ice.

onion powder, sour cream, Fisher Pecans, garlic powder, pepper and 2 more
jalapeno, salt, chili powder, lime, onion, ground cumin, garlic cloves and 1 more
mayonnaise, celery, pepper, red onion, salt, idaho potatoes, relish and 1 more
red chili flakes, salt, hot sauce, pimento peppers, pepper, cream cheese and 2 more
cream cheese, black pepper, fresh basil leaves, tortillas, grated Parmesan cheese and 5 more

Parking Lot Desserts

You can go nuts with desserts for tailgate parties because a lot of fall desserts are served at room temperature. That means fruit pies, cobblers, cookies, and bonbons are all fair game for your game day party. You may even be able to find college-themed tailgate recipes — Ohio State has its very own buckeye candies, so you might be able to find your school's dessert.

semi sweet chocolate, salt, unsalted butter, creamy peanut butter and 2 more
cream cheese, cinnamon, butter, sugar, apple pie filling, egg and 3 more
ground cinnamon, salt, unsalted butter, light brown sugar, plums and 9 more

Get the Parking Lot Party Started

Yummly has hundreds more tailgating recipes to explore. From kickoff to the final field goal, we've got your tailgating menu taken care of. And #GoTigers! (Sorry, 'bama)

cream cheese, almond flour, coarse salt, baking powder, large eggs and 1 more
salsa, cheese, muffin, corn tortillas, lettuce, taco seasoning and 1 more
cheddar cheese, bacon bits, mayonnaise, slivered almonds, cream cheese and 2 more
Hershey's Kisses, graham crackers, large marshmallows
sugar, lemon juice, butter, flour, lemon zest, eggs, flour, sugar
almond flour, baking soda, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, dark chocolate chunks and 5 more
olive oil, limes, salt, fresh cilantro, lime, cayenne pepper and 2 more
brat buns, bratwurst, light beer, mustard, white onion, sauerkraut and 2 more
cheese, enchilada sauce, extra virgin olive oil, refried beans and 3 more
greek yogurt, fresh dill, red bell pepper, crumbled feta cheese and 11 more
pickles, cheddar cheese, blue cheese, onion strings, bbq sauce and 2 more
burger buns, red wine vinegar, tomato, mixed salad greens, freshly ground pepper and 10 more