Tailgating is Fun
If you're thinking about tailgating before the next football game, then you're in good company and in for a great time. A recent study by Ragu found that about half of all game goers enjoy the tailgate party before the kick off more than the actual game.
A good tailgating experience takes a little preparation and planning especially if you're planning to cook on site. Though a standard fried chicken or sandwich picnic is certainly acceptable and easier to pull off, there's just nothing like a big juicy hamburger hot off the grill on a crisp fall day, and you'll be able to enjoy amazing food as easily as if you rung 411 (or 118 118 for you Brits) to get takeaway delivered to your car.
Gotta Get a Mini Grill for Tailgating
Unless you drive a motor home, pick up or a super sized SUV, then the standard home grill is going to be a hassle to haul. Even if you have the space, it's a lot of work to pack up everything but the kitchen sink for one meal in the cement jungle. A mini grill simply makes more sense for tailgating.
There are a number of small travel grills on the market. My personal favorite is the Weber Smokey Joe. It's a little more expensive than other brands, but the design ensures good results, and the grill is well made and lasts a long time. We've had our little Weber for a number of years, and I don't expect to affiliate it anytime soon (if ever).
Deciding on the Menu
Grilling out and especially when the kitchen isn't a few steps away is pretty labor intensive, so don't go overboard. Don't plan to cook a whole pig or even racks of ribs. Big grill or smoker jobs are better for the backyard barbeque than the parking lot.
Hamburgers, hot dogs, or sausages are quick and easy to cook. Those are always good choices. Steaks, chicken, or pork chops are also doable though take more time and more maintenance.
Sides can be done on the grill, but they take up a lot of room. If you're using a small grill, you're likely to cook the meat in shifts unless your group is really small. If you try to do skewers or foil packs to round out the meal, then you're likely to be cooking through the game. So, stick with easy sides made or bought ahead.
Unless your grill is super clean, store it in a big black trash bag for transporting. You'll need the bag on the way home even if the grill is clean before pulling out. An extra trash bag for the cold coals also comes in handy after the game. You can carry the grill home filed with charcoal, but it's more convenient to dispose of those when possible. I'd also recommend a gallon of tap water in a jug just in case the coals are still hot after the game. Starting a fire in the nearest trash receptacle or in the vehicle on the way home is not a pleasant way to end the day.
Be sure to keep the meat cold until you're ready to cook, or you may spend some time in the bathroom later. Zip lock bags on ice work great for carrying meat especially if you're using marinade. Pour your "sauce" in the zip lock, add the meat, shake, and you're ready to grill as soon as the grill is hot (about 10 minutes after lighting). If you're using barbeque sauce or anything sugar based, store that separate and add to the meat about five minutes before serving off the grill, or the sauce will burn during the cooking.
Pack sides in separate containers. Meat juice will contaminate foods. This is why zip lock bags are really handy. You're not even tempted to put the grilled food back in the raw meat container where it can pick up bacteria, and your sides never come in contact with meat drippings.
You're not likely to be close a bathroom with sinks when tailgating, so pick up some antibacterial wipes. These are good for hand washing before and during the grilling. They also come in handy for a variety of clean up chores.
As far as cooking tools, be sure to pack hand mitts. Lodge makes great gloves just for grilling. Those are thicker and safer than home kitchen mitts and also save a lot of wear and tear on kitchen gear. Also toss in tongs and/or a turner. If you turn the meat with a fork, then you're letting the juices out. The food won't be as tasty.
Don't forget plates, napkins, and utensils. It's much more convenient to have toss away items, though that's not as earth friendly. Hefty Interlocking plates are my favorites. They are good for the meal and then nice for leftovers, since they lock together.
Handy Tailgate Barbeque Check List
-Grill (mini type)
-Charcoal (quick light)
-Charcoal Starter Fluid (if you don't buy quick light coals)
-Gloves or Mitts
-Jug of Water (for safety—make sure coals are out before leaving)
-Big Trash Bags (for disposal and for grill on the way home)
-Ice (packing ice and ice for beverages)
-Meat (in zip lock bags)
-Seasonings (salt, pepper, other favorites)
-Barbeque Sauce (put on right before meat is cooked through)
-Sides (keep those simple)
-Beverages (cans on ice eliminate the need for cups and clean ice)
-Paper/Plastic Products (plates, cups, napkins, utensils)
-Storage Containers for Leftovers (Heft Interlocking plates or zip lock bags)
-Folding Chairs (it's not fun to stand the whole time)
-Small Work Table (or use a big trash bag over the tailgate)
-Decorations (optional but fun—think flags, blow up items and so on)
-Music (boom box or car stereo)
-Toys (especially if you have kids—football, Frisbee, blowing bubbles etc.)
WHEW! That sounds like a lot to pack. The first pack-out is always the hardest. Once you've tailgated a few times and especially if you involve the whole family or friend crowd in covering the bases, it's easy to get it together for a ballgame tailgate-fest.
A Few Final Tips
Be sure to allow ample time to park, prepare, and barbeque. Some tailgaters arrive several hours before the game, but three hours works for my family. That's enough time to get everything done but not so long that the kids get exhausted before the game.
Know that you'll probably forget something. Learn to improvise and to borrow. Most fellow tailgaters are glad to lend a hand when needed. After all, it really is one huge, happy party before the game.
Relax and enjoy the experience. If you get hung up on having the perfect tailgate barbeque, then you miss the whole point. Hang loose. Have fun. You'll build memories that will last a lifetime.