The time honored tradition of eating and drinking together in the parking lot before a big game (or a concert) has become serious business. Tailgates are now often coordinated events in and of themselves, and they can be more fun than the game itself—especially if your team doesn’t win that week.
There are certain foods, such as Buffalo wings, chili, deviled eggs, and even veggies and dip that people expect to be at a tailgate spread. You’ll find them in this list, but you’ll also find a few unexpected dishes such as a cheeseball, candied bacon, and a sandwich that’s so good it will blow away a plain old hoagie or sub.
Best of all, this list will make it easy for you to answer the question, “What would you like to bring to the tailgate?”
Bacon and Blue Cheese Guacamole
Anyone can bring store bought bland guacamole to the tailgate. Save your friends from that and whip up this super flavorful bacon and blue cheese guac. Tip: Keep the bacon on the side and mix it in right before serving so it’s nice and crispy when the first tortilla chip dips in.
Buffalo Chicken Chili
As the weather gets colder, chili becomes one of tailgating’s staples. Switch it up a bit with this version that uses chicken breast (feel free to use already cooked rotisserie chicken). Fire-roasted tomatoes and green chiles add a lot of flavor but not a lot of heat. If you want more heat, you can spice it up with additional hot wing sauce or diced jalapeños. Or have those on the side for people to add themselves.
Made with pickle juice in place of the vinegar, this slaw is the expected side for burgers or dogs, but with an unexpected twist. It’s also great on top of pulled pork sandwiches, and you can make it ahead of time up to 2 days.
Grilled Chicken Nachos
If you’re firing up the grill at the tailgate for burgers or ribs, make sure to leave room on the grates for these BBQ chicken nachos cooked in foil. Prep all your ingredients at home including the sour cream mixed with BBQ sauce that’s drizzled over top to make it easy to throw this together in the parking lot.
Yes, there are several Buffalo type dishes on this list because when you think tailgate, Buffalo sauce is almost always a big part of the feast. This spin on traditional hummus is creamy and spicy. Celery sticks and carrots make perfect dippers.
Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese
Depending on how many people are at your tailgate, you might want to make two pans of this crowd-pleasing mac and cheese because everyone will want a taste, or five. Shredding your own cheese works best for this recipe, but you can definitely use pre-shredded cheese to make it quicker to put together.
Slow Cooker Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
Is it even a tailgate if there aren’t meatballs? Combine these easy-to-make meatballs with homemade or store bought sauce. Bring some provolone cheese and long rolls so your friends can fill up on meatball sub sandwiches before heading into the big game.
Texas Sheet Cake
When you bring a dessert to a tailgate, you have to bring a BIG dessert, enough for everyone in your group as well as the groups tailgating around you in case you make some new friends. This sheet cake is as big as Texas (sort of). People devour this moist chocolate cake topped with a layer of warm, poured chocolate icing made with cocoa powder and sprinkled with pecans.
Gooey Butter Cake
This butter cake makes 14 servings of crumbly, chewy, gooey, sweet, crowd-pleasing confectionary gold. Plan a bit ahead for this one. The cake is made with yeast. It’s not difficult but it needs up to 2 1/2 hours to rise, and it’s so worth it.
Korean BBQ Pork Ribs
Switch up your rib game at the big game by making Korean BBQ Pork Ribs. The sauce has a spicy sweetness and the grill adds a smokiness to the finished ribs. Parboil the ribs at home and then marinate them in a sauce—that quickly comes together in the blender—for up to 8 hours. At the tailgate, just fire up the grill, throw the ribs on, and have a little patience.
Do you want to be the hero of the tailgate? Bring candied bacon. Just 2 ingredients—bacon and brown sugar—bake together in the oven to create something that’s even better than the sum of their already delicious parts. Once cooled, you can eat as is. Or, if you’re having a Bloody Mary bar at the tailgate, candied bacon makes a great garnish.
There are many variations on deviled eggs, but the classic version will please everyone at the tailgate. This version mixes mustard, mayonnaise, and Tabasco with the egg yolks from the hard boiled eggs to give it a tiny bit of heat, but not too much.
Cranberry Apple Sangria
Perfect for fall tailgates, this sangria starts with a bottle of red wine. To it, you add cranberry juice, fruit, triple sec (such as Cointreau), cinnamon, cloves, and a vanilla bean. You need to make it at least a day in advance (which means you don’t have to rush on tailgate day), and you can double or triple the recipe depending on how many people will be celebrating before the game.
Homemade Veggie Dip
If you’ve volunteered to bring the raw veggie tray, watch how fast the crunchy vegetables disappear when you pair them with this veggie dip that’s easy to make and full of flavor. You can also customize it in several ways, including making it into a ranch dip by using buttermilk.
Slow Cooker Honey Buffalo Wings
You can’t have a tailgate without Buffalo wings. These wings are slow-cooked in honey Buffalo sauce and then broiled in the oven. Don’t forget the blue cheese sauce for dipping.
Peanut Butter Buckeyes
Peanut butter. Chocolate. Always a winning combination. These easy to make, no-bake buckeyes, named so because they resemble the nut of the buckeye tree, are considered candy. They’re super simple to make and this recipe makes 48 treats, perfect for a large crowd.
Gluten-Free Monster Cookie Bars
Monster cookies are oatmeal peanut butter cookies studded with chocolate chips and M&Ms. By making them into cookie bars, you save a lot of time. By making them with gluten-free flour, you have a treat that more people can enjoy at the tailgate.
Classic Potato Salad
Boiled potatoes, sour cream, mayo, green onions, celery, parsley, pickles, and bacon go into this classic potato salad that deserves to be at every tailgate as a supporting character to the burgers, ribs, wings, and more.
Pico de Gallo (Fresh Salsa)
Grab some fresh tomatoes, chili peppers, onion, and cilantro, and chop them up. Mix them together. Add some lime and good salt. It lasts up to 5 days but the longer it sits, the juicier it gets so we suggest making it the morning of the tailgate if possible.
Sure, you can buy hoagies or subs from a sandwich shop and bring them to the tailgate. But, if you want to bring the most delicious sandwich on the planet, full of olive salad and cold cuts—you need to make New Orleans muffuletta. The sandwich feeds at least 4. After it’s built, the sandwich needs to sit for at least two hours before eating. By the time you get to the tailgate, it will be perfect.
Easy Stuffed Stomboli
Start with pizza dough (make your own or use store bought). Top it with ham, salami, provolone, and mozzarella then roll it up. Bake, slice, and watch the crowd descend upon this easy-to-make Italian-American classic.
Classic Cheese Ball
We know cheese balls are usually associated with the holidays, but they’re a brilliant addition to a tailgate. They’re simple to make. You can make them up to a week ahead of time. People love them. And it just makes more sense at a tailgate than a fancy cheese board.
On game day, everyone is looking for a win. Everyone also loves homemade banana bread, especially this recipe, and making it is a great way to use up the frozen ripe banana you have your in freezer. Win-win, right?
Four ingredients. Five minutes. And you’re done making your contribution to the tailgate! This sweet and salty popcorn recipe yields six cups of popped corn. If you need more, make it in batches.