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If you think a calendar year actually has five seasons — winter, spring, summer, fall and football — then you already know tailgating season is upon us. The fans, the football parties, the food, and everything else associated with game day make football season one of the most wonderful times of the year.
Whether you’re a tailgate party pro planning for the Super Bowl or you’re a newbie looking for some tailgating tips, we’ll get you prepped and ready for game time with this helpful tailgating playbook.
Prepare your shopping list. College or pro football games can be an all-day affair before you even get into the stadium. And some fans may not even go into the stadium, preferring instead to hang out in the parking lot to watch the game. (That’s why you may want to put “small flat-screen TV” at the top of your shopping list.) Make a list of all the items you need to buy — items like main and side dishes, tableware, and cold drinks — and hit the stores a week before game day. Then, two days before game day, take inventory. If you forget anything, you have time to run to the grocery store instead of scrambling to find the item at a gas station on the way to the stadium.
Decide what foods you plan to make. Will you serve hot dogs, hamburgers, steaks, barbecue ribs or something vegan? Your meat (or nonmeat) main dish may determine what type of grill, fuel and sides to bring. If you’re bringing potato salad, cole slaw, deviled eggs or other cold sides on a hot day, make sure you have plenty of cooler space to keep everything chilled.
Get your gear ready. By “gear” we don’t mean your football apparel — though that’s highly recommended too. What we mean is, make sure you have the grill and gear you’ll need in good working order and ready to go before you get to the stadium parking lot. Are you bringing a large smoker, a barbecue grill or a tabletop grill? Do you have wood pellets, charcoal, and lighter fluid or propane? Don’t forget your grill implements, like grilling gloves, tongs, spatulas, sheet pans and foil. One tip from grilling pros: Chimney starters are extremely helpful to get charcoal grills going without lighter fluid.
Do sweat the small stuff. If you don’t actually own a pickup truck and aren’t bringing a literal tailgate to your party, do you have enough folding tables to put everything on? What about cutlery, plates, drinking cups and napkins? Tablecloths? Did you pack a gallon or two of water, both to wash things off and douse a hot charcoal grill?
Because football games are held during a fall and early winter, tailgating weather can be a little mercurial. So on game day:
Keep covered if it’s rainy or snowy. Pack along a pop-up tent or two to protect your crowd from the wind or rain. Awnings are also great to provide some shade if it’s hot and sunny before kickoff. And because rain, snow and sun can all happen during your pregame festivities, consider a pop-up tent with sides, along with a portable propane heater.
Ice up your coolers if it’s hot. Get large bags of ice and keep them for game day in your home’s chest freezer, if you have one. Or freeze large blocks of ice in empty plastic milk jugs. But prechill your coolers a couple of hours before the game on game day before you store food and drinks in them. That way, your ice won’t melt quite as quickly because it doesn’t have to cool down both the plastic coolers and the items inside them.
Bring along the tailgate games. You have to bring along the obligatory pigskin, of course, to toss around the parking lot. But your crowd might also enjoy cornhole, washer pitching, ladder toss or flip cup. If you’re looking for something unique and have a bit of space, try fowling, which combines equipment from football and bowling and is a hybrid of horseshoes and cornhole.
Before you shepherd your tailgating party crowd into the stadium, you’ll need to do a bit of tidying up. A little cleanup beforehand also makes it easier for you to leave once the game is over.
Put down your pop-up. If a sudden thunderstorm passes through, you don’t want your pop-up to get picked up by the wind.
Careful with that grill. People often slide their small charcoal grill under their cars to keep them from getting stolen or run over. Others have simply dumped their coals out onto the parking lot before going into the stadium. But hot grills and their coals have been known to cause car fires at football games. Don’t be that person who catches vehicles on fire: Let your grill cool down safely before leaving it unattended, and don’t dump coals. The car you save may be your own.
Designate someone to be the key master. If someone’s had a really good time at your tailgate party, they might not be in the best condition to drive afterward. Before the game, ask everyone to agree to leave their keys in one person’s car; that person is the one to ensure everyone’s OK to drive. Or better yet: Carpool or rideshare to and from the game.
The typical college football season lasts around 12 weeks; in the National Football League, it’s now 18 weeks. Even if you’re only tailgating for home games, you’ll be dragging all your tailgating gear in and out of your garage for months.
Instead, consider putting everything in one spot: your climate-controlled storage unit. You’ll cheer when you see how easy it is to estimate the size of the storage unit you’ll need for all your tailgate party gear. You’ll even find storage units big enough to store your pickup truck (and tailgate too) when you’re not using it. Find a Self Storage Plus that’s close to you and your favorite football stadium.
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