Pinpointing the exact origins of tailgating is an uncertain business. Was it 1869 at Rutgers University or 1904 at Yale? Naturally, that depends on whether or not you are talking to a Yale or a Rutgers grad. However, there is no denying that from relatively humble beginnings, tailgating has grown into a sort of national phenomenon. Impromptu RV communities spring to life in parking lots and race track infields almost every weekend in America. These folks congregate to share their passion for sports, fun and most importantly, grilled meats. If you’re looking to join their ranks, here are some tips to get you started
Best Tailgating, North & South
If you want to experience tailgating at its best, just head south during college football season. Mild fall weather means kickoffs are scheduled later in the afternoon—and often at night—meaning tailgating fans have more time to work on their craft before game-time. For instance, the Florida- Georgia pre-game is billed as “The World’s Largest Cocktail Party” and while there doesn’t seem to be any serious contenders for that crown, there are no shortages of tailgating meccas from LSU to Texas to Ole Miss, where tailgating seems to operate at a whole other level.
While not blessed with the same weather as RVers down south, northern fans leave it all in the parking lot on game day. Happy Valley parking lots around Penn State look like RV dealerships during home games in an RVing tradition that’s been around almost as long as “Joe Pa” himself. And in NFL cities such as Green Bay, Chicago, Kansas City and Minneapolis, tailgating is elevated to an art form no matter what Mother Nature has in store. Still, it’s understood that most of us are going to loyally follow our beloved home team or cherished alma mater, regardless of their tailgating traditions.
Get the Specifics
If you’re a first-time tailgater or taking your show on the road to a new location, it would be wise to put in a call to the home team’s PR department or surf the web to check on their specific regulations. Some schools or stadiums heavily restrict the areas in which they allow tailgating, while others allow it seemingly every place you turn. Permit fees are sometimes charged and usually fall in the $30-$60 range. You should also remember that schools, stadiums or franchises don’t always own every parking lot around the stadium; it’s possible to face different sets of rules for tailgaters at the same game, depending on where you park. An ounce of research is worth a pound of game day frustration.
Plan Your Menu
Whichever game day party you decide to attend, getting your menu together will be your first order of business. You may want your menu to reflect the local cuisine. For instance, Vidalia onion dip is a favorite between the hedges at Georgia, just as Longhorn fans in Austin are partial to jalapeno shrimp wraps. Not surprisingly, most Green Bay Packer fans never miss an opportunity to boil something in beer before grilling; one fan we know even has a recipe for Game Day Beer, which most folks figure out without having to read the instructions. However, if “fitting in” is of little importance, bring whatever you like to eat—just make sure there’s plenty of it.
Make a List
Once you decide on your menu for game day, it’s wise to make a list of all the things you’ll need to turn your tailgate party into a success. “The List” is your game-plan. Review it, add to it, repeat. The more tailgating experience you get, the more refined your list will become.
Take It Outside
You could turn out a lot of bratwurst if you fire up the stove onboard your RV, but tailgating is an outdoor experience above all. You have to take your grub and fellowship outside to truly soak in the experience. That’s why you’ll want to make the grill (or smoker) the epicenter of all cooking activities, even for well-stocked RVs, since it provides fairly easy clean-up and access to the other party-animals outside the coach. Unleash your inner grill master.
Ice is Nice
You’ll also need ice, whether for daring tropical libations or soft drinks for the kids, and at least two coolers to cover all of your beverage bases. Believe me, your RV’s fridge will fill up fast and you might not want your friends or kids wandering inside your vehicle, pawing around your fridge for drinks. Such standards as aluminum wrap, wet-naps, disposable utensils and trash bags—even duct tape–-are crucial to your tailgating success.
Pull Up a Chair
Assuming you’re not blessed with a portable dinette onboard the rig, you’ll need some comfortable outdoor seating. Thankfully, you have a wide variety of options from which to choose, including everything from folding bag chairs to comfortable, oversize recliners, from which to watch all the pre-game festivities.
Folding tables offer your guests and family a handy place to chow down on your grilled masterpieces. Not everyone wants to wander around with a burger in one hand and a brew in the other. Some tailgating delicacies require at least two hands to handle, plus you’ll need a spot to stack plates, napkins, disposable silverware and condiments.
Plan Ahead & Arrive Early
Public restrooms and Porta-Potties are the exception rather than the rule at most tailgating venues, so stock your bathroom accordingly. Treat your holding tank before you leave the driveway. Arrive with nearly empty holding tanks and full fresh water and fuel tanks (generator too). Professional-grade tailgaters arrive at least four hours before game time and some die-hard tailgaters like to set up the night before. Whatever your level of commitment, do plan ahead to avoid traffic jams and to snag a spot in one of the prime tailgating areas.
Since the goal is to actually enjoy your time bonding with other fans in the parking lot, do as much prep work before arrival as possible. Thaw the burgers, marinate the chicken, polish your Viking hat’s tusks, and ice the beer the night before to free yourself up with the more important chores of hoisting brews and tossing the pigskin around with your crew. While elaborate menus may earn bragging rights, it’s advisable to start slow with easy-to-prepare staples your first few times until you earn your tailgating wings.
You Can Take It With You
An RV offers unmatched storage capacity for tailgating, and that means you can bring virtually everything you could possibly need, including key cooking equipment, ingredients, clothing—even your bronze bust of Vince Lombardi. Adhere to your aforementioned list and it should keep you from accidentally leaving your giant foam #1 finger back at home.
Those heading north should remember to pack a few blankets with your team’s logo to help cut the chill. Snowsuits and raingear may be appropriate, especially later in the season. A foam football can easily kill a couple of hours and help work off some of the calories you’ll be loading on later. Last but not least is a big team flag to fly from your RV, both useful to send a message of who you’re cheering for, but also serving as a helpful beacon for those who might be meeting up with you later.
While it’s true that college and pro football are the main reasons tailgating is so popular today, we would be remiss not to recognize another hugely popular sport that has given tailgating a big shot in the arm. Unless you are new to the planet, you’re already aware that NASCAR is the fastest growing spectator sport in North America. With races scheduled as weekend-long events, track infields and campgrounds are packed with RVs, food and passionate fans that have come out to cheer for any one of several popular drivers. In short, many of these folks take tailgating to rare air, spending several days at the race venue.
Tailgating spots at most NASCAR events are actually sold on a per-event basis or even for an entire season if you prefer, with prices depending on amenities and proximity to the track itself. Again, this is serious business. Those requiring hookups should look at a campground just adjacent to the track, with shuttle providing the back-and-forth duties. It’s not uncommon for tracks to reserve space for tenters as well. Again, the set-up at every venue will be different, so be flexible and always call ahead of time for the specifics.
Regardless of who actually wins or loses the game or race, an RVer with a smart menu and a good tailgating strategy will drive out of the parking lot with some great memories, new friends and a full tummy.
And if you’ve got the rig, why not show it off to the opposition? Painting your motorhome silver and black in support of the Raiders, however, is up to you.
Top 10 Tailgating Tips
1. Don’t forget the tickets. (You are seeing a game, right?)
2. Don’t wear Cowboys gear to an Eagles game.
3. Don’t forget essentials: zip-top plastic bags, toilet paper, trash bags,bottle opener/corkscrew, ice and the obligatory football for tossing.
4. Clean up your site before leaving.
5. Allow hot coals to properly cool before depositing in the trash.
6. Two words: ant-acid.
7. Keep your charcoal dry and your matches drier.
8. Plastic resealable containers will save the day.
9. Always pity those who don’t tailgate—they’re missing three-quarters of the fun!
10. As my dad always says,
“There’s a fine line between juicy and greasy.” Grill accordingly.
The Top 3’s of Tailgating:
2. Florida State
Best Tailgating Foods:
1. BBQ pork, beef or chicken
3. Burgers, brats, or hot dogs
Best NASCAR Tailgating:
1. Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Indianapolis, IN)
2. Bristol Motor Speedway (Bristol, TN)
3. Daytona International Speedway (DeLand, FL)