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Score Big With Your Tailgate Party

These smart planning tips and easy food ideas will kick off a great day at the stadium.

With fall and football season in full swing, now’s the time for the all-American tradition of tailgate parties. What’s better than an alfresco meal in a busy parking lot to jump-start a winning day at the stadium?

Just about anything can go on a tailgate menu. Usually, there’s a grill involved — and oftentimes booze. But the pregame party is mostly about the camaraderie of sports fans who are gearing up for kickoff.

You can never do too much advance planning when you entertain outside your home. Here are some helpful tips on creating a perfect tailgate party, and some great portable recipes to fuel up on before the big game.

Check and double-check. Don’t leave anything to chance: Make a list of everything you want to bring (think bottle openers, paper goods, garbage bags, matches or lighters, grilling tools, sunblock, hand wipes, plenty of water, serving utensils, supplies to wrap up leftovers).  If you tailgate regularly, you may want to laminate the list and check things off with a dry erase marker.

Keep cool. You can never have too much ice when it comes to keeping drinks cold and food chilled. Invest in a big, sturdy cooler. Better yet, get two (one for beverages, one for food), and bring an extra bag or two of cubes for replenishing. Remember that you’ll need to keep leftovers cool while you’re all watching the game.

Don't forget the foil. For one thing, you can use it to line the grill. This makes cleanup faster, and you can wrap up the used charcoal for easy disposal.

Share the load. Tailgating is much more fun with a group, and potluck is the way to go. Create a menu and assign recipes to your friends — that way, the burden isn’t all on you.

Bring the right gear. Make sure you have enough folding chairs, and unless you have the kind of trunk that can function as a serving spot, you’ll want to bring a folding table to hold all the chow. If you’re a frequent tailgater, you may want to invest in a pop-up canopy, which is great to shelter you and your fellow fans from heat or rain.

And now on to the most important part — the food! Here are some classic tailgate dishes, though anything that can stand up to transportation is potential game-time fare.

Oven-Barbecued Chicken Wings — These are a healthier take on one of the greatest pregame appetizers ever.

Quesadillas With Salsa Mexicana — Grill these up in the parking lot, or simply make them ahead of time, wrap them in foil and reheat them on the grill.  Make some extra salsa and bring along a bag of chips.

Texas “Chili Queen” Chili — It’s hard to top chili as a warming main dish in a bowl — unless you top it with cheese, scallions and sour cream.

Juicy Beef Skewers With Horseradish Dip  — Kebabs and skewers are another popular tailgating food, easy to eat while standing around, and you can skewer up everything at home, then grill them at the game.

Hummus — A good dip is a perfect appetizer for your friends to dig into while you’re getting the rest of the food ready. This classic Middle Eastern chickpea dip is packed with flavor and protein, and not a whole lot of fat.

Pulled Chicken Barbecue on Beer Bread With Pickled Cucumbers — You can certainly make all of the components of this appealing sandwich yourself, or you can rely on store-bought ingredients to put together these delicious sandwiches if grilling isn’t part of your tailgating plan.

All-American Chocolate Chip Cookies — There’s no better way to end a successful tailgate than with this classic cookie.

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