Oh, there's a game today? You can still score with creativity and a little planning.
- Stop by the convenience store for a disposable cooler, drinks and prepared foods.
- Keep food portable, says Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe, author of The NFL Gameday Cookbook (sandwiches and pizzas, for instance). You'll have fewer supplies, so less mess.
- Know the lay of the land. Grab a map for the best routes, spots for food and drink and pit stops.
- Microwave your eats in the student union, then duck into the college bookstore for team towels or blankets.
- Once you're set up, don't be afraid to scavenge. Beginners typically bum off fellow fans, says Mike Herchel, co-founder of gatortailgating.com, a tailgating site for fans of 2008 national champion the University of Florida. (Bring extra bags of chips or six-packs to break the ice with a trade.)
The fight song has been in your head all week, and you started prepping last night.
- Show up three or four hours before the game to claim a hot spot.
- Know who's doing what, says Dr. BBQ. Assign tasks like grill master, garbage collector and bartender.
- Have a game-day kit with everything from first-aid supplies to toilet paper and ponchos, Herchel says.
- Bring two coolers (one for drinks, one for perishables) and a grill, Herchel says. Pack tables, tents, chairs and, if you have one, a portable TV. On a given Saturday there can be over 50 games, says Andrew Reed, a contributor to sportsillustrated.com's Tailgate Report Card -- you don't want guests wandering off for updates.
- Taking inspiration from teams, mascots or cities, theme your spread. Tint drinks with food dye and opt for individual apps (so everyone's not crowded around a bowl of Guacamole).
You've been wearing a team jersey since diapers and can recite stats like the ABCs.
- Take enough food for before and after the game, says Dr. BBQ. It'll make the parking-lot-exodus traffic jam much more fun.
- Have checklists of what needs to be done, packed and cooked, says Reed. A list of guests' phone numbers is also handy.
- Bring more of everything. Think multiple TVs, towable smokers and grills, and hammocks for pregame naps, Herchel says.
- Fanatics are all about the finishing touches. Reed would add a freestanding bar, too. If you really want to be the Clark Griswold of tailgaters, throw in a shade canopy and synthetic turf.
- Organize some tailgating activities, says Herchel. A ring toss, trivia game, horseshoes -- whatever keeps people entertained until those ribs are smoked to perfection.
- CLEAN AS A (REF'S) WHISTLE
- Have plenty of garbage bags. Tape them to trees and tent poles, keeping them off the ground so they don't attract bugs.
- Clean as you go. Done with tongs and ladles? Wash and stow them away now. It'll save crucial minutes later.
- When draining melted ice water from the coolers, reserve some for rinsing nondisposable items, hands and faces.
- Scrape down grills before heading to the game, but save the major cleaning for when you get home.
THE NOON START: A PRIMER
Who starts their tailgate when the sun comes up? We do! Make the most of the wee morning hours with these time-saving tricks.
- Choose groceries that do double duty. Salsa will work for Scrambled Egg Burritos with Tex-Mex Salad and with chips; sausage can star with eggs and with peppers in hoagies later.
- Cook ahead. Assemble breakfast casseroles, like Mini Ham and Egg Casseroles or Cheddar and Chile Egg Casserole (bake them off in the morning) and stock up on heat-and-eat goodies like Cinnamon Raisin Rolls.
- Pack (checklist in hand). Don't forget coffee and blankets or space heaters for the morning chill.
- Set the alarm to play your team's fight song -- it'll make 5 a.m. more bearable.
- Make early-morning calls to the notorious snooze-button slappers in your crew.
- Mind the time: Allow an hour for breakfast, prep and packing and a half hour for setting up the tailgate.
- Prioritize! Set up The Original Bloody Mary, mimosas and coffee first.
- Leave the last half hour of the tailgate for cleaning and getting to the stadium.
STEAL THESE TIPS
Behind every player, there's a coach. When your sport is tailgating, ultimate tailgater Rusty Thompson, co-founder of gatortailgating.com, has all the guidance you need.
"My first tailgating memory involves a bucket of KFC and a pregame show on the radio,' Thompson says. “Now we have a smoker the size of a trailer and flat-screen HDTVs, and arrive before 7:30 a.m.” Start small (and party alongside some established tailgaters) before moving on to the tent with a power inverter and a grill. Just scope out other 'gaters' MOs and trade recipes and tips.
Join 'em & beat 'em
Establish a theme that reflects where you are and who you're playing. For example, when the Gators last played Louisiana State, Thompson's menu featured a low-country boil and lots of Cajun cooking. It's a creative way to amp up the team spirit and befriend the "enemy."
Be prepared “Bring everything you think you need, plus 12 more things,” Thompson says. Remember, once you've parked, you can't leave. The week of the game, designate one spot at home for stockpiling items, and go through them as you pack. High on the don't-forget list: extra gas for the generator, jumper cables and an extra set of, well, everything (to feed those less-experienced tailgaters).
Dress the part
In a word, comfortably. You'll be on your feet, in front of smoky grills, around cars, under the sun or in the rain all day. (Thompson plans for a pre- and postgame total of 12 hours of tailgating -- then there's the game.) And bring an extra set of clothes: There will be BBQ spillage.
If your heart isn't in the game, then you're just having a cookout. Include one menu item or activity that will give you that game-day buzz. For Thompson, it's a Bourbon Meyer (3 parts sweet tea to 1 part Jim Beam), named after University of Florida coach Urban Meyer.
OUR FAVORITE TAILGATE DISH