Perhaps you've seen the commercial in an insurance company's popular "mayhem" series where a car goes up in flames after a tailgate session before a big game.
In his haste to get into the stadium, a buddy didn't get the grill quite extinguished and then packed it near the warehouse-shopping size can of lighter fluid. Disaster inevitably followed.
So, Tailgate Tip No. 1, don't be that guy.
Tailgate Tip No. 2, read this. Sure, other guides are available. But seriously, how useful is this tip found in one online collection of wisdom:
If you're going to a big outdoor event that bans alcohol, go early and bury whatever you want to drink in the dirt. Then dig it out when you return.
Tailgate Tip No. 3, don't do anything that involves burying stuff like a pirate (even if you're at an East Carolina game). You don't need a shovel or thousands of dollars worth of equipment to have a good tailgating experience. Of course, if you get invited to someone's RV that's equipped with big screen TVs and cooking surfaces more elaborate than your favorite neighborhood restaurant, by all means, accept. (That's Tailgate Tip No. 4.) But if you're doing the hosting, you can keep it simple and still have fun.
First of all, Tip No. 5 is make a list. Take it from someone who used to write papers and then go back and make the outline to match, this is an instance where having a written plan is useful. It will keep you from eating potato salad with your fingers or trying to uncork a bottle of wine with a spork. While making the list, assign responsibilities to your crew. Put one person in charge of the cooler, another in charge of utensils and related hardware, one in charge of entertainment (music, cornhole essentials) and so on. That way you're not stressed by trying to manage too much in one morning.
Speaking of too much in one morning, don't wake up on Saturday and decide "I think we should tailgate today." The only way
that will work is if you're OK with eating a bucket of chicken in your car while listening to the radio. Instead, do some prep work ahead of time—load the grill, make sauces in advance, chop and shred, wrap and pack—anything that can be done early should be. (Tip No. 6!)
Tips No. 7-14 are, like tailgating itself, all about the food. Items that don't require a fork or spoon are good in the quest for simplicity. Along with meats on a bun, think about alternatives such as a pear-and-chicken sub, a chili-cheese wrap or barbecue burrito. Skip buns entirely and use biscuits for mini-BLTs or extra tasty slider-style sandwiches. They're easy to handle and encourage guests to sample a variety of offerings. Skewers are a good choice as well, letting you do everything from a meat-and-three on a stick to all veggies or fruit. Speaking of which, avoid having a total meatfest by including some vegetable and fruit selections. Also, avoid having an Emergency Carefest by including a meat thermometer in your cooking gear.
Of course, you don't have to limit yourself to utensil-free dining. Potato salads and cole slaws are staples, especially around these parts. But don't settle for basic ones. If you're going to force your guests to pick up a fork, make it worth their while by dressing up the dishes. The accompanying recipe, for example, is a proven crowd-pleaser.
Keep desserts light. Immediately before sitting in a stadium for three hours is not the time to serve Nana's Ooey Gooey Caramel Brownie pie. You don't want your group looking like it's on a casting call for a Maalox ad.
The Final Tailgate Tip: Remember, even if your team loses the game, you can still win the tailgate. Just ask anyone from the University of Mississippi.
Variations of this are floating around, but this recipe (courtesy veteran tailgater Lisa Felkins) has been tweaked and taste-tested over several years.
1/2 head of green cabbage, sliced thin (or 2 bags angel hair cole slaw)
4 green onions, sliced
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 package ramen noodles, oriental flavor
Mix noodle seasoning with the oil and vinegar. (Increase amounts for a wetter slaw, but keep 2-to-1 ratio.) Toss with the cabbage and green onions. Smash noodles into small pieces (a hammer works well) and add them to the cole slaw. For crunchier noodles, wait until ready to serve to add them; otherwise they absorb the dressing and you will have soft noodles and need more dressing.
Curt Fields is associate editor for the INDY. Reach him at email@example.com.