6 Tips to Tailgate like an Expert

The college football season starts September 1, and the NFL is not far behind. While the college and pro teams don’t often cut deals on the high price of tickets, and cable and satellite providers won’t haggle over their TV packages, we can save you cash on the pre-game activities – namely, tailgating.

When it comes to partying in parking lots, the college teams can teach the pros. Why? Because no one tailgates like college football fans. I know this for a fact – I’m a senior at Florida Atlantic University in South Florida, where we’re opening our new stadium next month. The tailgating may rival the games themselves.

Self-proclaimed “sultan of tailgating” Mike Burdman, an event coordinator at my school, has been at it for half of his life. He’s 30, and has it all down to a science – and he’s so good at it, he went from an FAU student to an FAU employee who’s partly in charge of school-spirit activities.

“Delegation is key,” Burdman says. Tailgating is a team effort. From most important to least, here’s his advice for your tailgating team…

1. Appoint a “beer guy”

This vaunted title goes to the most reliable person in your group, as it can make or break the tailgate. All supplies can be found at Walmart.com, or at your local supermarket:

  • Get a cooler that can hold four 10-pound bags of ice. That should last the day.
  • Put dry ice in the bottom of the cooler, which keeps the rest of the ice from melting.
  • Get a second “auxiliary” cooler for drinkable ice (for cocktails and sodas).
  • Get a variety of beer. Burdman recommends a Heineken mini-keg. Popular Mechanics reported that these go for around $20 – or $2 a pint! Then some light beers for what Burdman called the “Sallies” and something domestic like Michelob or Budweiser for everyone else.

2. Find a “grillmaster”

Also an important position, this must go to a seasoned tailgater. The grillmaster, as the name implies, is in charge of the cooking:

  • A propane grill is the best for tailgating and only runs you about $40 at Walmart. On a budget? No problem. Grab two cinder blocks and the grate in your oven – you’ve now got a homemade grill. To make this work, you’ll need match-light charcoal, and a 12.5-pound bag goes for less than $14 at Amazon.
  • Don’t forget your tools. Walmart will sell you a grilling set, including spatula, fork, and tongs for less than $10.
  • Keep the grill going at 350 to 400 degrees; any more or less and you’re asking for undercooked hot dogs or burnt burgers.

3. Teach your tailgaters

You need tailgaters to have a party. Here’s what you tell them:

  • Bring your preferred meat with you. Don’t expect the others to know you hate, say, hot dogs but love bratwurst.
  • Whatever you bring, make sure there’s enough for you and some for others. It’s bad form to bring only enough for yourself.
  • Don’t forget bread and whatever plasticware applies to what you’re bringing. A hotdog with no bun is almost as bad as potato salad with no fork.

4. Recruit a tentman

Ideally, the tentman will be the most punctual of the team, as timing is everything:

  • Get there first and secure a shaded area, if the stadium parking lot has one.
  • Try to get the same spot every week. (Burdman has seen tentmen fight over spots – get there early and there’s no confusion.)
  • The average tailgating tent is 10-feet-by-10-feet, but when just a canopy runs at $110 and doesn’t last longer than a season, Burdman suggested making your own with PVC pipe and canvas.

5. Designate a “sauce and side boss”

Getting sauces and sides is really important and really easy, if you know what you need:

Condiments: Ketchup, mustard, wing sauce, and barbecue sauce. (Veteran tailgaters will bring their own specialty sauces for themselves and to share.)
Chips: Always get some sort of cheesy puffs, some sort of pretzels, and some sort of regular chips. But don’t get too much. One bag of each will be enough. “There’s nothing worse than having chips go bad by the end of the game,” Burdman says.
Potato salad and beans: Always a crowd pleaser.

6. Assign an “entertainer”

Finally, tailgaters need planned activities or they get bored. The entertainer ensures music is always playing and even some games are being played:

  • Music: Get a boombox or an amplifier to hook into your car. These can cost quite a bit, like GameStop’s portable tailgating system, so keep in mind you can just play through your own car speakers – just don’t forget to run the car every once in a while and recharge the battery.
  • Beanbag toss: This gets more fun the more you drink. It’s one of the most popular tailgating games, and for reasons we won’t delve into, it’s called “cornhole.” You can buy official sets with your favorite team’s emblem on them for way too much money, so the preferred method is building it yourself. CornholeHowTo.com devoted itself to helping you with every step.

Finally, check out 5 Tips to Save on Your Bowl Bash and 7 Tips to Finding the Grill of Your Dreams.

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  • Jake Bantz

    Solid tips, but if you want to see some professional tailgaters in a professional setting, visit Miller Park (Milwaukee Brewers) or Lambeau Field (Green Bay Packers of course) on game day. I’ve seen people lined up at the gates hours before opening just so they can get front row parking and as much tailgate time as possible.

    To top off similar tailgating amenities like those listed in the article above, at Lambeau there’s always some ‘big rigs’ with tv’s and sound systems mounted all over as well as a roaming polka band.

    I’m not doubting your college tailgating experiences, but just wanted to suggest a couple of places where it’s done right in the pros. I guess it’s not really surprising in a state known for cheese, beer and brats. ;)

    Dang I’m glad football is here, even though there’s actually some baseball excitement this year in Milwaukee. Happy tailgating everyone!

  • erik superman

    Haha great ideas here!!  My favorite part of tailgating is with my new “Tailgater”.  I got it through work at DISH network, and it is a mini-satellite I can bring with me to the game!!  It hooks up to my TV and 211k receiver, and only weighs ten pounds.  It comes in a durable plastic case, and the best part is there is no need to readjust.  The satellite automatically adjusts as you change channels.  Now you can catch the pre-game, other games, and keep up with scores WHILE you’re partying!  Very cool.  Check it out at Dish.com!