Like winning teams on the field, the best tailgaters are well-prepared for game day. Ever tried to serve potato salad with little plastic forks because you forgot a serving spoon? Then you know what I'm talking about. A checklist can prevent last-minute scrambles and crucial omissions.
Plates, napkins, forks, cups, serving spoons. These can be disposable or reusable, depending on your taste. Some tailgaters stock a plastic bin with disposables at the beginning of the season and replenish it as needed. All you have to do is put the bin in the car. Go green with disposables by using compostable utensils and plates made from sugar cane fibers.
Several large trash bags. Besides containing trash, they can hold ice for serving chilled food or cover stuff in case of rain. Designate one for recyclables.
Aluminum foil and zip-top plastic bags for storing food.
Disposable foil pans for holding food prior to grilling, serving cooked food or making an ice bed for items that need to be served cold.
A roll or two of paper towels, plus disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer.
Plastic cutting boards and knives, preferably color-coded if you're preparing raw meats on-site (red board for meat and green for veggies). Tape sharp knives between two pieces of cardboard for protection.
Labeled coolers for raw foods, cooked foods, beverages and ice for drinks.
Bottle and can openers, and corkscrews. Check the alcohol policy at the lot where you plan to park; some colleges don't allow drinking in campus lots.
Flashlights or battery-powered lanterns if the tailgate will continue after dark.
Small first-aid kit with such things as bandages.
Chairs and tables; tarps to cover muddy ground.
If you plan to grill, take along helpful items such as long-handled tongs and oven mitts, and disposable latex or rubber gloves, for handling raw meat. And the grill, of course.
DON'T FORGET FOOD SAFETY AT HOME
I know you'd rather talk about the importance of special teams than the need for food safety at the tailgate. But you don't want to go down in tailgate history as the one who forced your guests to spend the first half at the emergency room.
• Watch out for cross-contamination. That's when raw meat or anything that has touched it comes in contact with prepared food that you plan to eat. If you're preparing meat for grilling at the tailgate, keep any knives, forks, cutting boards, etc., that you've used on it away from the rest of the food. Label them and put them in a separate bag when you're done.
• Throw out that marinade -- never reuse marinade that has contained raw meat or fish. If you want to baste while you cook, set aside (and label) some of the marinade before adding the meat to the rest.
• Hand-washing is important. Use disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer to keep you and your cooking area clean.
• Even though the weather is usually cool this time of year, it's still a good idea to carry plenty of ice to keep things such as deviled eggs or chicken salad sufficiently chilled while traveling to the tailgate and during serving.
• Put raw meats or seafood for grilling in plenty of ice, and in coolers separate from prepared food (that cross-contamination thing again). And be sure they're sufficiently cooked before eating; bring an instant-read thermometer to make sure.