It’s a crisp, cool fall afternoon. The leaves are changing. The aroma of booze and burgers wafts through the air. All around you, the sense of anticipation is so palpable you can almost taste it—or the half-pounders on your grill. It’s Game Day. You’re in the parking lot of the stadium where your favorite team is about to play, surrounded by a few thousand of your closest friends. The beer flows. The BBQ roasts. And the babes? There’s nothing like it.
There’s no single party more exciting than the one that takes place all over the country on Saturdays and Sundays in the fall—tailgating. Whether you’re looking to make your virgin expedition into this sacred national ritual or you’re an All Pro TG’er looking to refine your beer-swilling, hog-grilling, and body-painting techniques, we’ve put together an MF-approved four-part plan filled with all the essential rules and tips to help you and your friends have the time of your lives, without trashing your now-fit body. No need to thank us, either. We’ll be there right beside you, getting our game on; so just offer us a beer.
1.) STAY IN SCHOOL
Most tailgating aficionados agree that parties on college campuses are far superior to NFL TGs. “It’s on a college campus, which gives it a great vibe, and sometimes, depending on the school, it can be a week-long event,” says Colin Cowherd, the host of The Herd with Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio. Don’t stress too much if you can’t make it to campus for the big rivalry game, he adds. “Obviously, Ohio State–Michigan may be a bigger party, but the fans don’t really take a week off. If you only get six home games a year, you schedule six big parties. And sometimes for those big games, you may actually drink less, because you want to be more lucid later when the game’s taking place.”
As a general rule, Cowherd says the best tailgates are in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). “The South was the last region to get professional sports, so college sports is just a bigger deal there,” he says. “College football has always been the one thing that the South has been able to compete in at the highest levels in this country, and it’s the thing they’re proudest of. Some people say football is almost as big as religion there, but it’s actually bigger.”
As rabid as the college fans are, they’re generally welcoming to outsiders and non-alums. “I find that the people who hold these events are really good people,” says Cowherd. “They want to bring you in and show you how good their food is. Southern hospitality rules.”
2.) GET BATTLE READY
Prep Your Car
Ready Your Ride: Hit the car wash, have your oil changed if necessary, and make sure all fluids are at their proper levels. Check your spare and throw in some jumper cables as well.
Buy an Inverter: Your cigarette lighter can be used to power a slow cooker, TV, stereo, or other small appliance. Just make sure your inverter is powerful enough for what you need—a 140-watt one won’t even run a blender.
Fly Your Flag Proudly:With a telescoping flagpole and a wheel stand that rests under your tire, you can set up your flag in five minutes. $200 for the flagpole and stand @ wonderpole.com
Make Sure You Can get Home:To prevent your battery from dying mid-party, disable your interior light if you’ll be keeping the tailgate open. And start your engine every once in a while if you’re using the stereo.
Prep Your Body
The Day Before: Work in 30 minutes of extra cardio and cut back on needless snacks to make up for all the calories you’re about to ingest.
That Morning:Kick off your day with two eggs, a whole-grain English muffin, and a cup of blueberries. The protein and fiber will help keep you fuller longer, so you’ll eat and drink less at the TG.
During the Game: Make sure at least one person in your car stays sober for the drive home. The rest of you can avoid a hangover by alternating beer with nonalcoholic drinks, like water or diet soda. Chew gum to keep from overindulging.
3.) WHIP UP THE TASTIEST (AND HEALTHIEST) GRUB POSSIBLE
Chips and Dip: Munch on baked chips and bean dip or hummus. To make a quick guacamole, mash together 2 ripe, pitted avocados; 3 tablespoons each of lemon juice, chopped tomato, and minced fresh cilantro; and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl.
Grilled Salmon:Place 2 pounds of salmon fillet, skin-side down, on a sheet of aluminum foil. Season with rosemary, a tablespoon of olive oil, slices of fresh lemon, and black pepper. Fold the foil together over the salmon, leaving an open space between the foil and the fillet. Seal the ends of the pouch. Place the pouch on the grill at medium-high heat; cover and cook for about 12–15 minutes or until flesh is opaque.
Meat-and-Vegetable Kebabs:Cut one pound of meat or chicken into 1-inch cubes, and marinate in a mixture of olive oil, crushed garlic, and dried basil and parsley. Make kebabs by alternately threading meat pieces with 1-inch pieces of red or yellow bell peppers and yellow summer squash and 3⁄4-inch wedges of red onion on six 12-inch metal skewers. Place kebabs in a container or wrap for later grilling.
Pulled-BBQ-Beef Sandwiches: In a slow cooker, combine one pound of flank steak with a bottle of barbecue sauce, coating steak well. Cover and cook on a high-heat setting for 7 hours. Remove steak, leaving the sauce. Shred meat with two forks. Return meat to cooker, and coat with sauce. Spoon mixture onto whole-grain hamburger buns. Top with sliced red onion, wrap in foil, and place in insulated bag.
Chili:Make chili at home with half the lean ground beef and twice the beans, and reheat in a heavy-duty aluminum pan on the grill. Serve as a main dish, or use to top reduced-fat hot dogs in whole-grain buns.
4.) JUST HAVE FUN
Tailgating Dos and Dont’s
DO arrive extra early. “Everyone seems to be at the gate three or four hours beforehand,” says Mark Solway, a die-hard Redskins fan and editor of TheHogs.net.
DON’T park without asking first. “You don’t want to take somebody’s spot who’s been parking there for years,” says Joe Cahn, who has been dubbed the commissioner of tailgating after 10 years of visiting every NFL and major college stadium. “Ask if that space is normally taken.”
DO eat as the locals do. In some cities, it’s best to leave the hot dogs at home. “San Diego has incredible Mexican food. When I’m in Kansas City, I barbecue. In New England, I eat lobster,” says Cahn, who dispenses more invaluable fan tips at tailgating.com.
DON’T blast your music. We know $10,000 was a lot of dough to drop on that booming sound system, but save it for a Saturday night on the strip.
DO mingle. “Tailgating is like walking through a thousand backyards. Say hello and introduce yourself,” says Cahn. “That starts a friendship.” It’ll probably land you a couple of cold ones and a bite to eat, too.
DON’T over-booze it. Nothing ruins a game-day appetite like the stench of someone plastered out of his grease-painted mind heaving up guacamole, hot dogs, chili, and Miller Lite.