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Whether you have a favorite team or are just there for the food and friendship, tailgates are a fun and delicious way to party during cold weather months. If you've volunteered to host the tailgate, there are a few key ways to keep yourself organized so that you can enjoy the party, too. We turned to two experts, Taylor Mathis, author of The Southern Tailgating Cookbook ($23.71,, and Linden Ellis and Sara Raffa, founders of party supply company Coterie, for their best tailgating tips and tricks.

test kitchens favorite grilled chicken
Credit: Armando Rafael

Planning Ahead

Our experts all agreed that most hosts leave too many tasks to be done at the actual tailgate; instead, they advise getting as much done at home as possible. "Shape your burger patties, cut your cheese and tomatoes, and wash your lettuce in advance. It's a lot more difficult to do that out of the bed of your truck than at your kitchen counter," says Raffa. Mathis recommends packing all of the food you're going to eat first at the top of a cooler so that it's easy to access. "People often spend the whole time cooking and prepping versus actually enjoying the people they're tailgating with, so start small and don't bite off more than you can chew," he adds. Ellis and Raffa also advise asking friends and family to chip in with cooking, party supplies, or bringing beverages so that all of the responsibility doesn't fall on one person.

What to Pack

Food and drinks are not the only essential items to bring to the tailgate. Mathis recommends stocking up on sanitizing wipes, particularly if you're working with raw meat, plenty of paper towels to clean up messes, and trash bags. "Sunscreen, bug spray, and a lot of extra water. You remember to bring the booze, but it can get really hot and people get thirsty so bring water bottles," says Ellis. If there's a chance of rain, pack ponchos, rain jackets, and even a small tent to keep tailgaters dry.

Know the Location

If you're attending a tailgate, there may be certain restrictions about open flames, charcoal use, and even alcohol consumption, particularly on college campuses, says Mathis. Check the stadium's website to ensure that you're complying with safety rules. Additionally, plan where you're going to park (and if you need a parking pass) in advance. Parking lots fill up quickly and heavy traffic can lead to congestion on the roads outside the stadium; be prepared to spend time getting into the lot and finding a spot to set up.

Cut Back on Waste

From using compostable plates to drinking from reusable water bottles in place of solo cups, our experts have a number of eco-friendly suggestions. Mathis suggests using silverware instead of plastic cutlery and washing it at home after the game. Ellis recommends reusing aluminum trays that held raw vegetables or burger buns, which are easy to wash at home. Be conscious about recycling bottles and cans, too. "Having a well-marked bin for cans and glasses can make it really easy to be eco-friendly. It also doesn't hurt to toss the cans in the back of your car and recycle them at home," Raffa adds.

Show Your Spirit

Support your favorite team by choosing plates and napkins in their colors, or curate a menu inspired by the team. "If your team's mascot is a buffalo, serve wings. If it's a type of dog, serve hot dogs. Theming the menu keeps things interesting," says Mathis. Another way to show your enthusiasm is with a big balloon or banner, which also makes it easy for everyone to find their way back to the car after a bathroom break or the end of the game.


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