The Ultimate Guide to Tailgating and Homegating

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Editor’s Note:  Jeff “Doc” Dockeray is one of the foremost authorities when it comes to tailgating and homegating.  As a partner of LastWordOnSports, we are excited to bring you insider tips and tricks from such an invaluable source, who has appeared on top television programs, radio shows and countless magazines.  

I am fairly comfortable in my own skin as one of those nutcases who lives, breathes, sweats, and bases all dietary needs or dietary detriments, and family commitments around the National Football League year. For several decades now, I have used the preparatory path of labor-intensive tailgate gameday planning as a diversion to midlife stress. For NFL tailgate chefs who do the same, it truly is a labor of love.

All things within NFL tailgate culture are righteous, and have become as important to the gameday experience as the actual bum in the seat at kickoff. NFL tailgate culture represents a hardcore fan culture that is far and away more engaged than the average sports fan. Tailgaters are the true “Super Fans” of their sport – spending the most, travelling the furthest, and more likely to be fully engaged in all aspects of their sport.

One day three seasons ago, while enjoying our Sunday rituals at one of the meccas of NFL tailgating – Ralph Wilson Stadium (AKA “The Ralph,”) – mid-morning I observed about half of our crew in lawn chairs, beverage in hand and appetizer on lap, either staring at their phones, talking on them, or reading the sports section. Other than the chewing, quiet as church mice! Ironically, for years I had always called our rituals, “Church in the parking lot”.  Tailgating is religious to me, and thus appropriately so..

But this eerie calm led me to finally realize how engaged my crew were in their gameday rituals – perusing the fantasy waiver wire; updating office pools; getting the latest injury lists; procuring additional tickets for their late arriving pals; or getting the latest wire updates from their home team.

Two weeks later, I was hosting some friends in my man cave for a prime time game. Although we had good food and a big screen, it just wasn’t the same. It wasn’t as bad as lipstick on a pig, but it was more than obvious that there was a huge void without that stadium setting. Tailgaters know what I mean, that “somethin’ -somethin” that makes it a great American pastime. We were obviously missing plenty of the core social elements and accompanying gear that made our tailgate experience so unique week-to-week.

So, over that season, I made some changes. Now, if I am not putting the miles behind me for road games, I rest easy knowing that I’ve incorporated an incredible array of equipment, licensed gear, gaming and many other authentic tailgate elements now applied to my home experience. That compounded by the plug and play technology of wireless devices, high definition monitors and video, and web entertainment, I know we are now more equipped to emulate the authentic NFL tailgate at home.

My very soon-to-be-launched “Tailgate Radio” channel covers all things within tailgate culture, and along with our regional NFL tailgate shows featuring the best parking lot chefs; I guarantee plenty of “HomeGating” content. It’s now a sidecar of American tailgate culture. If you can’t join me in the NFL parking lot, then I highly suggest bringing the party home.

Celebrity chef Guy Fieri and I spent an afternoon together last fall, and in our time together, it became very clear that he’s an avid tailgater. One of the more resonant topics that afternoon was a long chat about how we both agreed, for the last so many years, tailgate chefs have been transferring the pantry with the parking lot (from standard brats and beer to now five-course offerings). And with the onset of home conveniences and advanced technology, we have spent the past few years transferring the interactive parking lot to the home.

So, I am happy to provide you with some of those authentic tailgating elements that have made “HomeGating” a new American pastime. Instead of giving you templates on perfect party planning (because everyone is an expert, right?), I aim to give the NFL fan those tricks of the tailgate trade. I guarantee they will round out your garneday experience for your home party, add some of those creative hooks, and certainly parallel the bliss I feel planning massive interactive tailgates on the NFL blacktop. “HomeGating” is the very best of home parties!

Planning

Remember it’s the journey getting there, not the destination. And careful meticulous planning and coordination of your “HomeGating” event is not only a blast to execute, but will allow YOU – the host – to experience the same as your guests. Everything should be turnkey, allowing you to truly enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Make the planning fun! Whether it’s just the family, a large group of NFL enthusiasts or your fantasy pool buddies, you want as many authentic football tailgate elements as can be had. And with one click, and a little outside the box thinking, they can be had.

Checklists are available everywhere. I see tailgate party checklists as functional as any, as you will be assured of including those tailgate elements into your gameday gathering. Simpletailgating.com has a free downloadable checklist for your custom party. It includes all the tailgate essentials. And while you’re there, check out some of Rae’s mouthwatering recipes.

Why not start with your invitations? Invitations may be an afterthought for most, but a football-themed outreach gives your partygoers tastes of what they can expect, and immediately guarantees they’re in for a big day.

SportsThemedWeddings.com is a great resource for NFL fans looking to showcase their mad love of the game. Custom ticket-style invitations will impress your guests with high quality and realistic feel, and detachable stubs. Also available are custom game-day programs. The programs are a perfect place to include your personal “starting lineup,” include maps, menus, and event details.

Atmosphere

Whether you gathered on a patio, the garage, the living room, a man cave, or a combination of these, here is where you begin to create atmosphere. Either you provide it, or ask your football loving friends to bring theirs. But plenty of licensed outdoor seating  and canopies can be used inside or out, be it your favorite team or brand or just your most comfortable options, www.tlg8gear.com carries all your NFL licensed canopies, coolers, and chairs. You see them in the lot, but they look just as good and add a ton of flair on the patio, in the garage, or living room!

Gaming

No tailgate (indoor, outdoor or on the moon) is complete without some fun tailgate gaming options. The tailgate outdoor gaming industry has gone wild the past few years, and is great way to get everyone involved in your gameday. And (wink-wink), it keeps revelers from gravitating to the grill/kitchen area where you’re cooking up a mess of gameday food. You can only watch so much  pre-game action, so grab a cold one, head out to the garage or patio and start gaming.

A cornucopia of gaming options are found at www.wildspons.com. Home to “Tailgate Toss” games (many variations) they carry all the tailgate gaming staples. While you are there, check some of the very coolest tailgate tables on the market, absolutely perfect for your gameday food and bevies. And if you really want to sit in absolute comfort, check out their general manager and commissioner chairs.

Now, with plenty of gamers drinking plenty of cold drinks, you’ll need many koozies to keep the drinks cold, and you need, I repeat – you need to keep score (ask your buddies). Go ahead, kill two birds with one click!  Scorzie is the world’s only score-keeping koozie. It has two built-in score keeping rings (from 0-21) that allow you to keep score of your favorite tailgating games, such as cornhole, ladderball, washers, bocce, etc. Scorzie is a truly functional “HomeGating” accessory. Check it out at www.scorzie.com.

If little outside space is available, or you stumble upon inclement weather, you can always think board games. www.Tailgatetouchdown.com is a dynamic new board game created by football enthusiasts. I have seen this game in action and guarantee,  once set up, it’s like flies to a bug light.

Party Supplies

Party hosts, you’re going to love this.

Here is a uniquely designed football themed tray – “Party Companion Tailgate Tray”.  This innovative hands free, themed designed tray provides the ability to combine your favorite food and beverage onto a single tray allowing the homegater the freedom and convenience to “eat and greet.”  Combine the football field theme with your favorite team’s colored plates, cups, napkins and utensils and happy “Homegating!” with products from www.Bluemoosemarketing.com.

Beverages

Now as far as your favorite libations, sure you can “old school” it. But why would you? Think a little left of center. Sure, a selection of light beer and popular spirits and wine are a staple. But how about some signature cocktails or some fresh sangria featuring your favorite team colors?

Check out one of the best mixologists on the continent – author Jeremy Parsons and grab some funky ideas at www.beerchill.com. How about a selection of gameday Bloody Marys?

Better yet, how about some fresh draught beer for the masses. Think that’s too labor intensive? Check this compact option: 35 degree draft beer, six second pints, perfect foam collar, up to 99 percent keg yield, no electricity or batteries equals – TurboChill.  For a great addition to your “HomeGate,” look no further than TurboChill. Perfect for the garage, the deck, or the driveway, check it out at www.TurboChill.com.

Or, here’s another great beer option for inside your party room, a battery-powered Kegerator at www.micromatic.com.

With a few dozen partygoers, you count on every fridge in the house being overloaded. Not good for “food safe” temperatures, or organization. How about a mammoth cooler? One of my favorites you can find at www.bandlpartycoolers.com. This one of a kind cooler keeps tons of food and beverages cool, upright and insect-free. The transparent lid allows viewing before opening the cooler. Gas shocks keep the lid open while in use and it folds up as easy as pie.

Food – The “HomeGating” Center Piece

Depending on the duration of your HomeGate, I could suggest many tailgate staples. Regardless, please pay attention to cleanliness, proper food temperatures and all things food safety.

With a lot of frozen food being prepared, do not use a knife! Here’s one of the greatest kitchen/ grilling gadgets I have ever come across – the Pattywacker, available at www.pattywacker.com. This is an inexpensive tool to save the gameday chef from hand and wrist injuries.

Food-wise, you can check out dozens of tried, tested and true tailgate recipes at my home www.tailgateradio.com.

Regardless, take this to the bank: Day before prep; marinating; smoking; staggered serving times with tapas style portioning allows the host(s) to enjoy the day rather than sweating each course and missing half the game. On top of that, nothing is a bigger highlight than traditional BBQ at your “HomeGate,” like brisket, pulled pork, and of course, ribs.

Start out with some naturally smoked appetizer options with Eckrich meats. They have lots of tips at www.eckrich.com. Add some phenomenal tasting all-purpose sauce for your grilled offerings, from HoosierDaddy Barbecue Sauce, which you can buy at your local grocery store or online at www.hoosierdaddybbqsauce.com.

Here is a great tip from Ray Lampe, Tailgate extraordaire – “I like to slow cook my ribs the day before the big game. After cooking I cut them into serving pieces, sauce ’em up and refrigerate overnight. When it’s time to eat I just grill the ribs over medium heat for 10 minutes flipping often. With this tried and true method my guests get to enjoy low and slow BBQ but I don’t have to miss any of the action.”  You can find Ray “Dr. BBQ” Lampe’s book, “The NFL Gameday Cookbook” at www.drbbq.com.

Think I forgot a party staple, didn’t you? Pizza! But how about with a little flare? How about some wood-fired pizza offerings with www.kettlepizza.com. You have never tasted better pie than when its wood-fired off your grill. Your friends may never leave.

Lastly, whichever proteins, starches and veggies you feature, no HomeGate is complete without decadent desserts. HomeGaters want fun desserts. It finishes off your awesome game day.

Feel like baking on your grill? Check out The Grill Plate at www.grillinnovauons.com. Chef Ed has some great dessert recipes on the site.

And here’s something from our tailgate pal, Linkie Marais – one of the finalists on Season 8 of “The Next Food Network Star.” She came up with a football-shaped pecan shortbread cookie, filled with cranberry cream cheese icing and dipped half-way in dark chocolate, with piped-on football laces in white chocolate. It’s fun, but so classy for your “HomeGating” event. Linkie also suggests any football-shaped cakes, and you can find football cake molds at some arts and crafts store. Her website is www.linkiecakes.com. Check out the above recipe at wwwtailgateradio.com,

All my tailgates are embodied by one phrase – “excess in moderation.” Hey, if you are going to do it up one time, do it with some flair. The party can truly be as good as the game. I hope applying some of these tricks of the tailgate trade will help. But one more important thing, and please pay attention! HomeGating party hosts have a “duty of care” to their guests. Without question, have your guests drink in moderation, and have an array of solid designated driving options to get your NFL revelers home safely. Do all this and you guests will appreciate the sweet equity, swag, decor, and copious amounts of upper crust food and beverages, and all your efforts for your NFL “HomeGate” will have been worth it!

Can’t get enough of tailgating?  There are two ways to satisfy your cravings.  You can visit our column, “Q & A with the Gridiron Chef” right here at LWOS.  You can also tune into TailgateRadio, which is set to launch any day now.  For more info, visit the program’s website.