5 Classic Tailgating Menus to Wow Your Crowd

The party's in the parking lot! For fun-loving sports fans, tailgating before the game is as important as the action on the field. To help make your tailgate a success, we've pulled together classic tailgating food favorites and organized them into five menu categories, from kid-friendly hot dogs to a full-on taco bar.

But, before you load up the cooler, check out a few tips to help it all go as smoothly as possible!

Tailgating food
Photo by Meredith.

How to Make Your Next Tailgating Party a Fan Favorite

  • Know the rules. Do a little research so you know what time you can arrive (usually the earlier the better) and where you can park. Find out what type of grill is allowed (open flame or gas), and make sure your grill is clean and ready to go. Ask whether you'll need to pack all of your waste out after the game (bring a few heavy trash bags) and confirm that there will be potable water and toilet facilities available.
  • Prep ahead. Look for recipes that are easy to prepare ahead of time, minimize your hands-on time at the grill, and can be eaten with minimal utensils. Prep the majority of your recipes ahead of time, if you can. It's far easier to marinate, slice, dice, and skewer in the comfort of your own kitchen. If you have multiple coolers, pack raw meats in one cooler, ready-to-eat foods in another cooler, and beverages in a third. If you're short on space, make sure everything is wrapped tightly, with the raw ingredients on the bottom and ready-to-eat ingredients on top. Make your water do double duty: freeze water bottles to act as ice for your coolers, then drink the water once it's melted.
  • Get ready for game time. Set up a canopy to keep your food and guests out of the rain or sun, then put out some ready-to-eat finger food to keep folks happy while you fire up the grill. Add a few sprigs of fresh sage or rosemary to the grill to act as a natural insect repellent (which will also give your food a delicious smoky flavor)—but don't forget the regular bug spray and sunscreen as well! And once your items are hot, keep them at temp by placing them in covered disposable foil pans over indirect heat.

More: Explore our entire collections of tailgate-worthy recipes.

5 Classic Tailgate Menus

To kick off tailgate season, we've chosen five themes for crowd-pleasing tailgate spreads, complete with main dish, side dish and dessert. Feel free to add to add, subtract, or substitute to suit your tastes.

1. Kids n' Dogs

Fans of all ages enjoy game day, so make sure you have something to serve to the youngest of the cheer section with these kid-approved recipes.

Jan's Pretzel Dogs

Anyone can bring hot dogs, but why not go for extra points by bringing hot dogs wrapped in pretzel dough? You can bake them up ahead of time and serve them warm or cold. You can bet it's not only kids who will go for them in a big way.

Allrecipes community member abapplez found the recipe very easy to follow, saying, "Everyone absoslutely loved these! Followed the recipe and will be making these a lot during the upcoming football season. I was a little worried going in because I have very little (next to none) experience with yeast but the instructions are very well written and they were so much easier than I imagined." Watch the recipe video for more helpful tips.

Don't want to make pretzel dough from scratch? Look for frozen pretzel dough at the grocery store, or try using frozen pizza dough, too.

Jan's Pretzel Dogs
Photo by elinor3.

Serve Jan's Pretzel Dogs with:

  • Annie's Fruit Salsa and Cinnamon Chips Keep the kids entertained and prevent them from getting "hangry" with salsa and dip. If you're worried about your apples browning, either toss them in a little lemon juice after slicing, or take a tip from PHOOV, who waits until the last minute to slice her apples and add them to the fruit mixture.
  • Kettle Corn Old-fashioned kettle corn is a crowd pleaser for kids and grown-ups alike—and this homemade version is way better than the kind you might find in a box. For a caramel-corn flavor use brown sugar, and for a popcorn-ball flavor use white sugar, suggests SUE202.

2. Chicken Wingding

We're pretty sure there's a rule that states you can't watch a game without gnawing on chicken wings. We have 160+ chicken wing recipes to choose from, and these are one of our favorites:

Grill Master Chicken Wings

Show off your grill skills with classic chicken wings marinated overnight and finished in a spicy, buttery sauce. Rave reviews accompany this recipe, including this one from Allrecipes home cook SeattleFarmersMarketGirl, who calls them "perfect football food!" She, like many other reviewers, opted to bake them at 400 degrees (F) for 45 minutes, so you could do that, too.

Grill Master Chicken Wings
Photo by Margo Rodriguez.

Serve Grill Master Chicken Wings with:

  • Fried Mac and Cheese Balls Mac and cheese and is crowd favorite and goes great with chicken wings but it's hard to eat without utensils. This finger-food version is great with some added diced jalapeño peppers, according to popcook.
  • Texas Sheet Cake V Make enough rich, decadent chocolate cake for a crowd. Little Kirsten's Grandma suggests having "your frosting ingredients set out and ready to go" so you can spread it quick, as it develops a fudge-like consistency as it cools.

3. Burgers and Brats

A party around a grill wouldn't be complete without burgers and bratwurst, which are easy and fun to cook while socializing. While the grill is hot throw on your sides and a dessert.

Blue Cheese Burgers

Crumbled blue cheese is added right into the hamburger meat, along with chives, hot pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard. Some reviewers doubled the blue cheese, or added more on top before serving, or even formed the patty around a ball of blue cheese. Whichever way you do it, you'll end up with burgers that definitely stand out from the rest.

Allrecipes community member gabbagabba says, "My husband's friends love these so much, that when they go away on one of their many 'mancations,' they always ask me to make some burgers for them to take along." She adds, "Don't forget to bring them out of the fridge about 20 mins before grilling them so that the burgers cook more evenly and don't burn on the outside." Watch the video to see how to make them.

Blue Cheese Burgers
Photo by Allrecipes.

Sheboygan Grilled Brats

Beer, brats, and balls are a winning combination. Serve these brats—grilled and then cooked in dark beer for extra flavor—on old-fashioned hard rolls.

DonMcG says, "Best brats ever! So says my brother who, until tasting these, claimed that the 'only' way to grill brats was to boil them in beer first. As sons of a former Green Bay Packer who have tailgated in the Lambeau Field parking lot several times, the argument was heated, but the outcome was never in doubt. These brats from FBFitz won the day!

Sheboygan Grilled Brats
Photo by Molly.

Serve Blue Cheese Burgers and Sheboygan Grilled Brats with:

  • Grilled Bacon Jalapeño Wraps Keep your friends' hunger at bay while you're working the grill with this spicy, savory, and creamy appetizer. With only three ingredients, these jalapeño poppers are super-easy to prepare. For even more flavor, add a bit of ranch dressing mix or Worcestershire sauce to the cream cheese, like home cook Babygirl77 did.
  • Barbecued Pineapple Keep the grill hot for dessert! Marinate pineapple rings with the spices and rum before you leave for the party, then toss it on the grill after the burgers and brats come off. Or, follow kabrimida's lead, who sprinkled "the dry spices on the pineapple, drank the rum, and called it a day."

4. Chili and Baked Potatoes

If the weather is cool on game day keep your friends warm with a pot of hot chili and warming potatoes.

Boilermaker Tailgate Chili

MIGHTYPURDUE22 preps and cooks this chili the night before and simply reheats it for serving. This chili has quite the kick, so play around with the ingredients to find your perfect spice level. (And if you're leery of serving super-spicy chili to kids or people who like milder flavors, don't be afraid to use a light hand on the spices and simply serve with hot sauce or minced jalapeños so people can add their own dash of heat.)

Serve Boilermaker Tailgate Chili with:

  • Super Loaded Chili Potato Skins Loaded potato skins offer up the best of both worlds, where chili meets baked potatoes. These potato skins are the perfect finger food to keep your friends entertained while waiting for the game to start.
  • Cornbread Muffins I Take your cornbread on the go with this version, which bakes in a muffin tin. To make it even more perfect for dipping into chili, take DC Girly Girl's lead: She swaps out the milk for heavy cream and adds canned corn for a richer taste and texture.
  • Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes After the cornbread muffins come out of the oven, whip up a batch of pumpkin spice cupcakes with warming fall spices. Several reviewers, including Gwenith Lammers recommend reducing the oven temperature to 350° F and baking for no more than 22 minutes.

5. Build-Your-Own Taco Bar

Looking for a twist to the traditional tailgating fare? Try a taco bar with all of the trimmings.

Charley's Slow Cooker Mexican-Style Meat

Get your slow cooker in the game and make a big batch of spicy meat for a DIY taco bar. Then all you have to do set out tortillas, onion, tomatoes, avocadoes, limes, cilantro, and cotija cheese. Friends can mix and match their favorite toppings to create the perfect soft taco, and as a bonus, these tacos are easy to eat with one hand.

Impish says it's important to return the meat to the pot after shredding because "it allows the spiced juice that has formed overnight to really get in that meat."

Serve Charley's Slow Cooker Mexican-Style Meat with:

  • D's Famous Salsa Wow your friends with homemade salsa at your tailgating taco bar. Jamee warns to drain the tomatoes before using to avoid a really runny salsa, and to only pulse it in the blender for a few seconds.
  • Seven Layer Taco Dip Janet Dufour has never had leftovers when she serves this dip because her guests "lick the platter clean." Make the dip the night before, keep it chilled, then let your friends snack while you set up the rest of your tailgating food.
  • Lime Bars These are similar to lemon bars, but made with tangy lime that perfectly complements tacos and beer. Steph recommends using the zest of the whole lime—not just the one teaspoon the recipe calls for—to add even more flavor.
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