There’s a slight chill in the evening air and the sun is starting to set a bit sooner each afternoon. The edges of the green leaves of summer are just starting to turn and chrysanthemums and marigolds are starting to fill plant nursery shelves. Among the signs that fall is just around the corner is the familiar sound of the coach’s whistle as football practices get underway. That sound means that football games are not far off, which means tailgate parties will soon be on the calendar!
For as long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed football. It wasn’t until I met my husband, however, that I got to experience my first tailgate party. We are avid University of Georgia Bulldogs fans and attend every home game and most away games. Sometimes before the sun has even risen, we are setting up our tailgate party, preparing for a full day of football fun ahead! Our main priority of any tailgate party has always been to focus on family friendly fun. We are there to build happy memories and celebrate our common love of football (and the Bulldogs) with our closest family and friends. This means a fun setting, good food, and a kid friendly environment!
Below are several of my favorite ways to make the most of an alcohol-free tailgate party! Also included are helpful recipe cards for some of my favorite tailgate food and a handy list of must-have items!
Decorate for Your Dry Drink Tailgate Party
One of my favorite things to do at any tailgate party is set the scene for fun! There are so many great items available for any team, but decorations don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. My set up consists of red and black décor, with a few footballs and UGA fan items mixed in for the theme. Most of the items are things I already have in my home and simply re-purpose on game day!
My front porch is a stand-in for our regular tailgate spot in this picture, but you can see how I’ve used themed items to decorate. Most everything on the table is from a dollar store!
Red chargers and black plates on risers will be used to hold yummy tailgate food (more on that later!) while balloon weights serve as the perfect decoration to hold down the plastic tablecloth, especially on windy fall days. Some silk flowers, battery-operated tea lights, Ugga statute (the UGA mascot) and football set the scene for the fun ahead!
Make Delicious Tailgate-friendly Food
One of the best parts of tailgating is the food! There are so many amazing recipes for football food. Whether you’re craving cheesy nachos, hot dogs on a grill, spicy chicken wings, or veggies with dip, there is an endless menu of things you could make. Some of my all-time favorite tailgate recipes are below!
Buffalo Chicken Dip
This is by far my favorite Buffalo Chicken Dip! It never fails to be a crowd favorite and I always have at least one request for the recipe. (Source: How Sweet Eats)
Hot Dog or Bratwurst Bar
One of the easiest tailgate lunches is a hot dog or bratwurst bar! Instead of hauling a grill all the way to the tailgate, consider using a crockpot to cook all your links. Simply place all the hotdogs you need (up to 48 will fit in a 4-quart crock pot) and cook on low for 4 hours or high for 2 hours! There’s no need to add water as moisture will release from the hotdogs, steaming them to perfection.
To serve, provide buns, shredded cheese, chopped onions, condiments and other unique toppings such as sauerkraut, jalapenos, or chow chow (a yummy southern relish mix) buffet style. If you’re really feeling fancy, you can have chili and melted nacho cheese available as well!
Pig(skins) in a Blanket
Pigs in a Blanket is a classic appetizer that never fails to please a crowd. This recipe kicks it up a notch with an egg wash and fun football shape! Follow the recipe below for a fun twist on this classic tailgate food. (Source: Delish.com)
Have Non-Alcoholic Drink Options
Since my family likes to keep things kid friendly and fun, we choose to tailgate with no alcohol. We always bring bottled water and usually a few sodas, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still have fun drink options too! Some of my favorite non-alcoholic drinks are below!
When the football games start at noon, that means it’s going to be an early morning tailgate! One of my favorite alcohol-free options is a play on the popular Mimosa. I use Sprite or sparkling cider combined with assorted fruit juices to make a yummy base. Orange juice, pineapple juice, and peach juice poured into clear decanters or mason jars are perfect pairings. I then have all kinds of mix-ins to kick it up a notch! Raspberries, blueberries, peach slices, and pineapple chucks are some of my favorites! Serving these in plastic champagne flutes will add a touch of elegance and fun to a morning tailgate.
Apple Pie Punch
Later in the football season is the perfect time to mix up a batch of Apple Pie punch for your tailgate party! This sweet concoction is perfect for when Autumn is in full swing and apples of all varieties are ripe for picking. Combine 4 cups Apple Cider with 1 cup White Grape Juice and 3 cups of Ginger Ale. Dice up some apples for garnish and you’re done! Serve in a large glass beverage dispenser or a food grade metal bucket for an extra pop of décor and whimsy. These are great individually served in mason jars as well!
It can be downright, miserably hot during some of our tailgate parties in Athens, Georgia. Few things are quite as refreshing as a cup of flavor infused water! Slice up cucumbers, lemons, and limes and place into ice cold water. I like to do this the night before using gallon jugs, so the water is ready to go the next morning! Before serving, pour through a colander or cocktail strainer into a cup of ice. Garnish with a sprig of mint and a straw and enjoy!
Plan Your Tailgate Setup Ahead of Time
My husband and his family have been using the same spot to tailgate for years, so scouting a location hasn’t been too hard for us. If you’re new to the tailgate scene or decide to tailgate at an away game, you’ll need to plan things ahead of time! Not only do you need to find a good spot, but there are several tailgate essentials you will want to pack to make the day go flawlessly. Below are some of my tailgate must-haves!
Create Some Tailgate Shade and Protection
We use two tailgate tents at our setup to sit under and they make a world of difference on hot days or when we have less than ideal weather!
Unless you’re tailgating with a power source, you will need a generator to plug electronic items into. Don’t forget to fill it up beforehand if its gas powered!
I like to bring extra cell phone chargers so that everyone has a nice, full battery before going to the game!
Bring Tailgating Entertainment
- At every tailgate we have a plethora of games available to play! Corn hole boards customized with your team’s mascot are a popular choice. A deck of cards or board game can also come in handy. I bought my husband a Georgia version of Monopoly that helps set the tone for our tailgate! Also, bring a football! You would be amazed how much time is spent tossing it back and forth in the parking lot.
- Television! Most every tailgate we host has a television with full satellite setup. While this certainly isn’t necessary, it allows us to watch all the football games going on during the day from the comfort of our tailgate.
Don’t Forget the Tailgate Necessities
- Folding lawn chairs. It’s worth the money to invest in a few good folding lawn chairs. Don’t forget to bring a few extra for those guests that may forget to bring their own or are just passing through!
- Décor and flags. I listed some of the decorations I use above for my tablescape, however we do bring additional items to decorate our tent and tailgate area. My husband brings two large UGA flags on an extended pole that go on his truck. These help to direct our friends what to look for in order to find us! I also have my family dress in their “tailgate best”. Georgia t-shirts, shoes, and peel and stick face tattoos are some of our favorite items!
- Fans and heaters. Depending on the weather, it’s helpful to bring an electric fan or patio heater for your tailgate!
- Trash bags with pop-up trash can. With all the yummy food and drinks, somewhere to dispose of trash is a must!
- Outdoor rug or mat. This year I will have a baby at some of the tailgate parties, so an outdoor rug to cover parking lot asphalt is an absolute must!
College and NFL football season is one of my favorite times of year and much of that has to do with the memories made during tailgate parties. I hope this article inspires you to make the most of your next tailgate!