How To Have The Best Tailgate Party BBQ

Everyone loves a party and if the event involves lots of grilled food it’s even better.

Grilling food outdoors and socializing with friends and family is a great way to spend a sunny day.

On order to have the best tailgate party BBQ you’ll have to do some planning to make sure that things go smoothly. You’re also going to need to put some essential items on your shopping list.

What Is a Tailgate Party?

Group Of People On Tailgate Party

Tailgate parties have been popular for many years and they’re common at football and baseball games.

You’ll see people having tailgate parties at rock concerts and other outdoor events, too. In many cases there will be a large number of people having separate parties which makes for a great atmosphere in the parking lot.

A tailgate party is usually hosted from the back of an SUV, pickup or large car.

A small grill is set up on the unfolded tailgate where food is grilled. The grill may also be set up outside the vehicle if there’s not enough space.

As well as great grilled food you can provide guests with alcoholic and soft drinks, smoothies and juices. Snacks, salads and desserts are served to complement the grilled food and the parties usually last for many hours.

One of the great things about tailgate parties is that everyone contributes and does something to help.

If you're supplying the meat and doing the cooking a friend will supply the drinks. When everyone chips in it makes the event more enjoyable and it spreads the cost.

Planning and Preparation

The Guest List

When you plan to throw your tailgate party BBQ you’ll need to make a list of people you want to invite. When you have the numbers it allows you to buy enough food and drinks for everyone.

You’ll need to make sure you have enough plates, glasses and cutlery as well as paper towels and garbage bags.

When you’re drawing up your guest list it’s useful to ask people if they have any special dietary requirements.

A vegetarian isn’t going to eat one of your grilled steaks and you’ll need an option for them. Some people have allergies and food intolerances so it’s worth checking before the day of the party.

Make sure you’ve got some food that appeals to kids if you’ve invited any.

Children prefer finger food such as chicken nuggets, wings and potato wedges rather than a rack of ribs or a steak.

To accompany the finger food you could prepare some dips, snacks and sweet treats to keep the kids happy.

Preparing the Food

Taking Food From The Table

If you can, try to prepare some of your food before the party, allowing you to focus on grilling when you arrive at the venue.

Salads, dips and sauces can be mixed and prepared and placed in containers. Sandwiches, snacks, cookies and deserts can all be boxed up so they’re ready to serve immediately.

It’s worth preparing your meat before the party so that it’s ready to go on the grill when you’re ready to cook.

Trim your steaks to size, prep your ribs and make your fresh burgers the night before. If you are marinating meat this should be done 24 hours before the party in order for the meat to take on flavor.

Ensure you have all of the condiments you and your guests are going to need to accompany your grilled food.

Salt, pepper, ketchup and mayonnaise will be needed and a couple of hot chilli sauces usually go down well. BBQ sauce, mustard and cheese sauce will all enhance the grilled food.

Make sure you have some ice boxes to store your fresh food until it’s ready to be cooked. You’ll need one box for raw meat and another for your salads and prepared foods.

If you’re serving cold beers, wine and soft drinks you’ll need more boxes to keep everything nice and cold.

Get There Early

Getting to the parking lot early is essential if you want to secure your place for a tailgate party.

Parking lots fill up quickly for busy ball games and concerts and if you’re late you may miss out. 

It’s useful to take a couple of vehicles and park next to each other which gives you a decent sized area to have the party.

Getting there early allows you to set everything up in your own time so that you’re ready to cook.

Get the grill set up and lit so that it’s at the correct temperature to begin grilling when the guests arrive. Set up any tables and chairs you have and lay out the condiments and sides.

Make it Fun

The whole point of a tailgate party BBQ is to enjoy some grilled food and have some fun with friends and family.

Hang some flags up on your vehicle or decorate it in your team’s colors to brighten up the parking lot. Organize some games that everyone can play to keep the party atmosphere going.

Another way to get things going is to set up a sound system and play your favorite tunes. Getting people up to have a dance or a sing-a-long is fun and even the kids can join in.

If you decide to play music, don’t have it too loud and respect others who may also be partying in the parking lot.

What are the Best Foods to Grill at a Tailgate Party?

BBQ On Tailgate Party

When you’re grilling at a tailgate party it’s better to keep it simple rather than being a budding masterchef.

Grill foods such as burgers, hotdogs and chicken wings which are easy to prepare and cook.

Throw a few steaks on the grill or some spicy chicken thighs but steer away from complex recipes and cooking techniques.

Other foods such as chilli con carne, curry and macaroni cheese taste great when they’ve been heated on a grill. You’re able to prepare these dishes in advance and they only take minutes to heat up.

Baked potatoes can also be cooked in advance and warmed up on the grill when the party starts.

What Type of Grill Should I use for a Tailgate Party?

Selecting the correct type of grill for your tailgate party is important and there are a number of things to consider.

You’re able to cook on charcoal or gas and both have their pros and cons. You’ll also need to think about the size of the grill, the design and how functional it’s going to be when tailgating.

Charcoal Grills

Charcoal grills are available in various designs and they’re ideal for tailgate parties. A small grill will fit on most tailgates or you may prefer to have one on a stand outside the vehicle. Once you’ve filled the base with charcoal and it’s up to temperature you’re ready to grill.

If you decide to use a charcoal grill there are a couple of key features that you should look for. Choose a grill that has adequate vents which allow you to regulate the cooking temperature.

A grill with a lid is also useful, your food will cook better and the grill will be easier to pack away. Choose a charcoal grill that’s made from steel rather than iron, which tends to rust quickly. 

Steel grills are easier to clean when you’ve finished cooking and stains can be removed with detergent and water. A steel grill usually cooks food better than an iron grill as it holds more heat.

Gas Grills

Man Using Gas Grill

Gas grills are suitable for tailgate parties and they’re easier to light and cleaner than charcoal grills. Gas grills need to be connected to a bottle of propane and they usually have an electronic ignition. 

If you choose to use a gas grill make sure the seals at both ends of the gas pipe are in good order before lighting.

One of the great things about gas grills is that they get up to temperature very quickly and you don’t have to wait for coals to heat up.

Gas grills are fitted with temperature controls which are accurate and easy to use. The majority of gas grills have a lid and you can fit accessories such as warming boxes and lights.

Gas grills are safer than charcoal grills and you’re able to kill the heat instantly if there are any problems or accidents. A charcoal grill takes hours to cool down but a gas grill will cool quickly.

Size Matters

The size of your grill is important.

It needs to be big enough to cater for the guests you’ve invited. If you’re only cooking for a couple of people then a small charcoal grill that fits on the tailgate will be adequate.

If you’re using a larger charcoal grill it’s better to have it outside the vehicle to give you more room to cook.

If you plan on feeding a large party of guests you’ll need a larger grilling area and here a gas grill may be the better option. Some gas grills have more than one rack, which is useful for keeping food warm.

Gas grills can be mounted on the tailgate, on a stand, or there are custom gas grills that can be attached to the vehicle.


There are a number of accessories that will make your life easier when you’re having a tailgate party BBQ.

It’s useful to have a grill that’s fitted with side tables so that you can rest your cooking tools on it. You are also able to plate up your food easily if the plates are stacked on a handy side table.

Many tailgate parties go on until late evening and having decent lighting is beneficial. There are grills that can be fitted with a light or you may prefer to use a separate light source.

If you need to light a small area there are efficient rechargeable lights on the market or you are able to run a number of lights off a generator.

It’s useful to have some plastic or fold-up tables and chairs so that you can eat in comfort. Decent folding garden furniture is sold in outdoor stores and they’re easy to transport and store away.

Plastic furniture takes up a little more room but it’s lightweight and easy to clean after the party.

Stay Within the Law

Rules Of Tailgate Party Parking

Before you go ahead with a tailgate party make sure they are allowed at the venue.

Some venues don’t allow tailgate parties and you could be asked to leave if you’re having one. Most venues do allow parties as long as everyone is responsible and well-behaved.

When you plan to have a tailgate party in the parking lot of a sports stadium or other public area, you should check the regulations.

Many venues have a curfew which is a time when the party has to end. This curfew is in place to allow the venue to clear the site and to make sure the parties don’t disturb nearby residents.

If you are going to be drinking alcohol make sure the venue allows this. Many places do allow drinking in the parking lot, but some don’t, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Some venues will insist that if you do drink beer it’s served in plastic cups rather than glass bottles for safety reasons.

Always clear away your garbage after a party, to keep the venue clean and tidy. If you leave garbage at the site you may be fined or barred from attending future games or concerts.

If you bag up garbage as you go it’s easier to keep on top of things and you can dispose of it when you get home.

Final Thoughts

Now you have some information about how to have the best tailgate party BBQ, you’ll enjoy your games and concerts even more.

The key to success is to be organized, keep things simple, and follow the rules.

Once you’ve mastered the art of tailgate grilling, your friends and family will be waiting by the phone for the next invite we’re sure.

About the Author William Clay

William Clay is a BBQ enthusiast dedicated to sharing his grilling (and overall cooking) expertise with FireFoodChef's readers.