Tailgating is a uniquely American tradition, a pre-game social event found in the parking lot of almost every stadium around the country. In the winter, hundreds of thousands of fans gather around NFL and college football stadiums. In the spring, legions of NASCAR junkies crowd the infields of the race track. When summer rolls around, baseball fans roll out their best. It doesn’t matter when or where, if somebody is playing a game, I guarantee you there’s a party going on.
In fact, tailgating may be the ultimate party event. There’s a thrilling anticipation for the impending game that hangs in air as you gather your friends gather together and break out BBQ grills and coolers. It’s the perfect excuse to drink beer and gorge yourself unashamedly on Man Food. Salads are less than an afterthought here.
To experience tailgating at its best, you don’t need to be sitting in a parking lot with the temperature hovering around zero while you chomp down on a bratwurst. Invite your friends over to your house and grill some burgers and wings out in the back yard. Yeah, that’s tailgating. Host a Super Bowl party where your wife makes her famous white chicken chili and you make giant sandwiches. Hell yeah! That’s tailgating too.
Believe it or not, the first tailgate we know of happened at the Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. As luck would have it, the battle took place on a Sunday which at the time was the only day of leisure in the week.
Thousands of would-be spectators poured out of Washington DC to witness the first major land battle of the Civil War. Wagons were loaded down with a stunning array of whole cured Virgina hams, turkey, oysters on ice, fried chicken, soft-shelled crabs and cold pheasant. Naturally, champagne, fine wines and Maryland rye whiskey made the trip as well.
To me, this sounds exactly like the parking lot at a Redskins game.
Tailgating is the very definition of American regional cuisine. Even if the methods are similar, with the BBQ grill as the cornerstone of the party, what you’ll experience in Green Bay will be nothing like what you’ll see in Baton Rouge. The bratwursts are fired up in Green Bay, while the carne asada cooks in San Diego. Southern fried chicken is served up at Ol’ Miss, as lobster tails pop on the grills of Foxboro. What you eat is all about where you are, so the best way for us to explore tailgating in America is to check out the best tailgating cities in the country.
Kansas City is considered by many as the most fan-friendly NFL tailgating city in the country. 300 acres of parking lot with hundreds of special receptacles for disposing of charcoal, as well as enough port-o-potties for 70,000 people are a testament to Kansas City’s commitment to their fans partying in the parking lot, where fans begin to arrive on Friday night for the Sunday game. In a tradition started by his father, Lamar, current Chiefs owner Clark Hunt makes it a habit to stroll through the parking lot on game day to greet the fans.
As Kansas City is one of the four great BBQ traditions in America (along with Carolina, Memphis, and Texas) there is a lot of grilling and smokin’ going on. Ribs are king, but rib eye steaks are not far behind. Kansas City style BBQ sauce is the most popular sauce in America, with its shamelessly sweet and smoky profile it is downed by the gallon at Arrowhead stadium.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Pinto Ken, America’s ultimate tailgater. Ken Johnson has attended every Buffalo Bills game, home and away, since 1994. Including playoff games, that over 300 games!
He is most noted for his beat-up, yet still running 1980 Ford Pinto wagon which he still drives to home games in Buffalo. He uses the hood of the Pinto as a grill, which began as a search for the perfect wood-fired burger. Placing 2×4′s on the ground was awkward, so Ken just threw them on the hood of his Pinto for easy access. Once the hood was burned, Ken decided “what the hell,” and began grilling everything on the car. He also invented a filing cabinet he uses as a pizza oven, and is famous for inviting Bills fans to use the thumb hole of a bowling ball to down shots of alcohol. Well… until the NFL banned bowling ball shots in the parking lot.
At Seattle’s Husky Stadium, home of the Washington Huskies, one of the most unique features of the stadium is its proximity to Lake Washington. It’s no-brainer why Huskie fans invented the art of “stern-gating,” where grilling fish and meat while hanging out on your boat has preceded every home game for the Huskies since 1920.
The popularity of stern-gating grew by leaps and bounds during the peace-and-love generation of the ’60s & ’70s, and now thousands of people are transported by shuttle boat service from their boats to the game. As many as 12,000 people are on the lake at kickoff time, and many spend their weekend camped out on the boats outside the stadium.
At the University of Mississippi (Ole’ Miss), there is a beautiful walkway on campus known as The Grove, a 10 acre paradise of Oak, Elm and Magnolia trees.
On Saturdays during football season, this tranq1uil oasis in the heart of the university campus is transformed into one of the premier destinations for tailgaters in the South.
The Grove may be the classiest place in America for tailgating. Male students are dressed in suits and ties, while their girls are sporting their finest sun dresses and hats.
Many Southern families have held the same patch of grass at The Grove for decades, an honor ceded them by the ironclad rules of Southern tradition, which no interloper could ever hope to intervene.
In The Grove, fried chicken is served on silver platters, with flower arrangements and crystal goblets are overflowing with Bloody Marys and Mimosas everywhere. Only Philistines use tin foil trays or paper plates. Fresh blueberry muffins, homemade biscuits, marinated shrimp and crab claws, and iconic Southern deviled eggs can be found in nearly every tent. Sports Illustrated named The Grove the “best tailgating spot in America.”
My personal choice for best tailgating in America.
“Why the hell even go to the game?!” Alabama fans set up elaborate tents with not only the best of food choices, but with an array of high definition widescreen TVs to keep track of all of the afternoon’s SEC football action as they cheer for their home team.
They forgo the migration of fans into the stadium and keep their place in front of their TVs, successfully combining the raucous tailgating atmosphere of the parking lot with the comfort of their own living rooms.
Some of the most popular items are catered ribs and pulled pork from Dreamland BBQ, whose fans unabashedly claim this to be the best BBQ on the Planet. Its success at Alabama football games has led to an internet mail-order business to keep its legions of fans satisfied.
This is living, baby!
To round off our tailgating summary, I just had to include one of the most unusual foods I ever came across, courtesy of the those loveable and hearty fans from Soldier Field in Chicago. Grilled Krispy Kreme doughnuts! The most adventurous of fans will split these and use them as buns for an ungodly bacon cheeseburger… can you feel the heart attack coming on?
There’s probably no better place to start tailgating than with the home of the oldest tailgating tradition in the NFL – the Green Bay Packers. All recipes courtesy of PackersEverywhere.com
Packers Salad - Packer greens (broccoli), mini footballs (raisins), pigskin (bacon), and Packer gold (cheddar cheese) – all dressed in a sweet vinegar mayonnaise
Packers Grilled Mac & Cheese – cooked curly egg noodles with a selection of melted Wisconsin golden cheeses and green peas that is finished on our charcoal grill
Packers Veggie Tray – Yellow peppers, green peppers and cucumbers served with Wisconsin blue cheese dressing
Titletown Beer Cheese Soup – Wisconsin’s most famous starter, with creamy Wisconsin cheddar, potatoes and local craft beer
Bart Starr’s German Potato Salad – sliced red potato salad served warm with a bacon, beef broth and cider vinegar sauce
Paul Horning Stew - a rich beef stew in the classic American tradition with beef, potatoes, carrots, and peas in a rich, beefy tomato based broth
Frozen Tundra Chili – the best chili you’ve ever wrapped your lips around! Three kinds of beans, ground chuck, and Italian sausage in a savory sauce
BC & Al’s Bluegill Chowder – a rich and creamy fish chowder with fresh bluegill fish taken from under the ice at 5 am gameday morning!
Beer Brined Chicken Wings – lusty chicken wings brined in a savory mixture of beer and spices and grilled to perfection. Served with Wisconsin blue cheese dip and Frank’s Red Hot
Tub O’ Brats – the Wisconsin classic! Plump and juicy bratwurst grilled over charcoal to perfection and held in a warmed tub of beer, onions and butter. Served with ketchup, brown mustard, onions and kraut
Brats Sheboygan Style - the purists method for bratwurst consumption (“beer is for drinking, not for brats!”). Bratwurst sausage grilled over lump charcoal to smoky perfection, served two brats per buttered and grilled bun with ketchup, brown mustard, onions and dill pickle slices
Triple Bypass Brats – bratwurst simmered in beer, stuffed with sauerkraut and onion, wrapped in bacon and grilled to a crispy finish. Served on a brat bun with German mustard, more sauerkraut and optional cheese
Brat Burgers - the finest Wisconsin style bratwurst meat formed into burger patties and grilled to juicy perfection. Served on a pretzel bun with melted cheddar, spicy brown mustard and pickle. Kraut optional
Packers Pig Candy – ultra thick bacon cooked on the grill and glazed with brown sugar and maple syrup
Green Bay Krispie Treats – those loveable rice krispie treats tinted green for our Green Bay team
Hamburger Cupcakes - vanilla cupcakes stuffed with brownies topped with red, yellow and green frosting
Pizza vs. Tailgating, Regional Write Ups, Tailgating