What is tailgating? Learn how to party with American football fans

What is tailgating? Learn how to party with American football fans

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated March 8, 2022

The American football championship, the Super Bowl, happens every year in January or February. In 2022, a record 113 million people watched it around the world. Once, I got a message from a friend in Europe asking, “what does tailgating mean at a football game?” She thought it was a sport, but it’s actually a party. Tailgating is classic American culture and an important part of being an American football fan. Let’s learn what a tailgate party is and how to enjoy one.

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What is tailgating?

To answer this question we need to take a step back and first ask, “what is a tailgate?”

A tailgate is the small door in the back storage part of a pickup truck that opens and lays flat. With the tailgate open you can sit on it or place items on top. The truck’s tailgate is like a mobile picnic table. 

Here is where you get a very American combination: football, trucks and beer. So, what is a tailgate party? It’s a party held in the parking lot before the football game. Yes, people literally stand behind their trucks eating and drinking.

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Tips for a good tailgate party

A fun tailgate party needs some preparation. We have a few tips for you to follow in case you get invited to this unique event sometime!

Get familiar with American football

American Football is the most popular sport in the United States. There are 32 National Football League teams across the US. Each team plays 17 games per season. Only 9 games are played at the team’s home stadium. That means when there’s a home game, it’s a big deal. People will have huge football parties outside the stadium. That’s tailgating.

Get there early

Most American football games begin in the afternoon around 1 p.m. or 4 p.m. On game day, football fans who want to tailgate will arrive in the football stadium parking lots in the morning.

Park your truck

Outside of large urban cities such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, the United States has a lot of suburban residential areas. People love big trucks, driving into the city for sports games, and lots of parking space. Outside of large football stadiums, the parking lots are huge to accommodate large American trucks. Some people even bring their recreational vehicle (RV) for a mobile toilet. Porta-potties are usually located in the parking lot for tailgaters (party goers) as well. 

Bring food and beer

There is a lot of food and beer at a tailgate party. With several hours before the game, comfortably parked at the stadium, people open their car trunk or tailgate and begin eating, drinking and playing games. There are impressive set-ups with tables, chairs, tents, grills, smokers and more. When the game begins, they go inside the stadium to watch.

It’s not only professional American football. Americans are also crazy about college football as well. A college football tailgate is the same but possibly wilder. Bear in mind the legal drinking age is 21 in the United States. 

How to enjoy a tailgate party

We’ve answered the question, “what is a tailgate party?” Now, let’s talk about what to eat and do at a tailgate party.

Eat tailgate food

What is tailgating without American BBQ food? You’ll need food and lots of it. At a tailgate party, you’re outside. People bring prepared foods to eat on paper plates:

  • Chips and dip
  • Cookies
  • Sandwiches
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Potato salad

Pro tailgaters cook food at the tailgate on a portable grill or stove:

  • Hamburgers
  • Hot dogs
  • Chicken wings
  • Barbecue ribs

Play tailgate games

Tailgaters like pre-game entertainment. One of the classic tailgate games is to throw the “pigskin” around which means to throw and catch an American football with your friends. Other games you might see:

  • Cornhole
  • Ladder toss

A lot of tailgate games involve drinking beer or alcohol more quickly. These can be games like:

  • Flip cup
  • Beer pong
  • King’s cup

Dress up

Most importantly, American football fans will get into the spirit by wearing their team’s jersey and colors. The tailgate party will be decorated accordingly. At a college football tailgate, it will be the University’s colors. Some even paint their faces or write sporty messages on their bare chests.


Tailgating is the ultimate pre-game party

Americans love American football. To build excitement for their team’s home game, they have elaborate parties in the parking lot of the stadium. From the back of their cars and trucks, football fans eat, drink, and play games for hours. Tailgating is unique to American culture and a fun experience.

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Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Czech and Turkish. Her consulting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.