No matter what a team’s performance is on the field, one way to make sure hordes of folks rolling up to stadiums feel like winners is a solid tailgating experience.
Avid tailgaters like Tim Shanley have these parking-lot parties down to a science. His commitment to the pastime has earned him some serious recognition, including membership in the Tailgating Hall of Fame.
Born and raised in Chicago as a Bears fan, Shanley has missed only a handful of home games since 1984 — all the more impressive when you consider he moved to Austin, Texas, 11 years ago. He flies to Chicago for every home game and keeps his star tailgating status in peak form.
“It’s more than just going out to the parking lot and firing up a grill for me,” says Shanley, 59, a plumbing contractor.. “It becomes a lifestyle when you take it as seriously as I do,” he says, adding that “It’s family, it’s friends and it’s bonding.”
To help the rest of us reach his Pro Bowl level, Shanley offers these tips for a rocking tailgate.
Have a theme
Keep your team colors prominent on canopies, chairs, tablecloths and paper plates; and get opposing teams in the mix.
Is your team playing the Ravens? Grill up chicken wings and call them raven wings.
Think quick and convenient
Shanley strongly recommends finger foods for the party so that guests can stand, hold drinks and munch at the same time.
And keep the food coming in waves, making sure eats are on the table as soon as possible. That’s particularly important for guests who’ve already started drinking.
Use rubber gloves when preparing food, and change them after handling raw meats, he urges.
To avoid cross-contamination, cooked foods should be kept on tables separate from raw food. Foods and drinks need their own separate coolers, as well.
“The last thing you want to have is your cans and your bottles in the cooler where the meat is, because if those bags start to leak, you’re going to have that raw blood or whatever is in that cooler splashing around on those cans and those bottles,” he says.
Plan for early set-up and break-down
Arrive at the lot before it opens for the best chance of claiming a prime spot. There’s typically only a few hours of tailgating time, from gate opening to kickoff, so unload and set up expeditiously.
The grill should be the last thing packed so that it’s the first thing out of the vehicle and available to be fired up upon arrival. Put it at the front of the party, because the grilling is part of the show.
Canopies and chairs need to be further back to avoid the smoke
Keep the sounds coming, Shanley advises. Be it music, or sports TV or radio, have something for guests to listen to.
“It just adds a little interesting layer to your party by having some entertainment out there,” he says. “And you never know. It might be so much fun, you’ll have dancing out there as well.”
Allow for plenty of time to break down the party and get to the game before kickoff.
Leave the grill out of the car to cool off. Meanwhile, pack your drink cooler in the back so that it’s easily accessible for quick drinks after the game
Keep an eye out for guests who have consumed too much alcohol.
“Tell them you’re going to take the liquor away and give them water and let them chill out for a little bit,” Shanley says.
Overall, the day should be about hospitality and having fun.
“You’re going to do a lot of work. It’s a lot of hours,” he says. “But enjoy every moment of it. It’s all going to come together for you.”
For more tips on hosting a great tailgate, check out the video.
Follow Cheryl V. Jackson on Twitter: @cherylvjackson.