We all know that the culture of football is not just about what happens on the field. The events surrounding the game are just as important as the game itself. Tailgating, after-parties, and other gameday activities are a major source of enjoyment for football fans each and every fall.

If you’re looking to improve your tailgating game, here are some tailgating tips and recipes to take your day from good to great.

Planning Tailgate Like a Pro

When you’ve got the urge to tailgate, give yourself enough time to think of everything you’ll need. Planning ahead can save you a lot of aggravation and stress on the big day!

Stock the Snacks

Big games require snacks because you’ll need fuel for the whole day. Make your favorite dip, pack veggies, and stock up on chips. Game-day snacks don’t need to be elaborate — just plentiful.

Maple Pecan Popcorn

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups plain popped popcorn
  • 1 cup pecan pieces, toasted
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups Sugarman of Vermont Maple Syrup
  • salt
  • 1/2 tsp maple extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Instructions:

  1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly grease a rubber spatula and combine the popcorn with the pecans in a large bowl.
  2. Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add maple syrup and clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Add 1/2 tsp of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium to maintain a gentle boil and cook without stirring until temperature reaches 290°F, about 20 minutes. Watch carefully to avoid scorching.
  3. Stir in the maple extract and cinnamon, then pour over popcorn- stirring with a spatula to help coat. Season with additional salt if desired. Spread on a lined baking sheet, allowing it to cool completely before breaking into bite-size pieces. Store in an airtight container.

Feature Fabulous Foods

Make sure the food covers the needs of your guests. While many enjoy a great bratwurst, add some fruits and veggies to make sure everyone has something to eat. Grilling can be the main way to cook food at a tailgate, but foods prepped beforehand that can be served at room temperature can give you more time to kick back and relax.

Hand-held food items often work best when tailgating. We’re all familiar with the usual suspects of chicken wings, nachos, burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, and sliders. But, also consider items such as jalapeno poppers, bruschetta, chicken or turkey legs, or even fajitas and burritos.

Maple Chili Meatballs

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Stir together liquid ingredients in a small bowl.
  2. Add meatballs and sauce together in a large pot and stir until meatballs are evenly coated.
  3. Cover and cook over medium heat for 20 – 25 minutes until meatballs are tender, stir every few minutes for an even cook.
  4. Transfer cooked meatballs to a serving dish, or put in a crockpot, and garnish with chopped chives.

Maple Grilled Corn

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the grill to high.
  2. In a bowl, combine the pure maple syrup, butter, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
  3. Remove the first layer of husks from each ear of corn.
  4. Gently spread out the remaining husk leaves, remove the corn silk and baste the corn with the maple-butter mixture. Pat the remaining husks back around the cob and wrap each in aluminum foil.
  5. Place corn on the grill and close the cover.
  6. After four minutes, give the corn a quarter turn and close the cover. Repeat three times until all four sides have been grilled (a total of 16 minutes).
  7. Unwrap, remove husks and enjoy!

Fill the Cooler

Don’t forget to fill the cooler with a variety of cold drinks to keep everyone happy and hydrated during your tailgate. Drinks in cans and bottles can cut down on the need for cups, but if your crew is looking forward to Bloody Marys or Mimosas, make sure you’ve got all the necessary ingredients on hand.

Maple Bourbon Berry Cocktail

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Muddle the 5 blackberries, maple syrup, and fresh lime juice.
  2. Add rye and cranberry juice, shake and strain over ice.
  3. Garnish with 1 blackberry.

Honeycrisp-Maple Sipper

Ingredients:

  • 14 oz Honeycrisp apple slices (about 3 medium apples)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup unfiltered apple cider
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Sugarman of Vermont Maple Syrup
  • 5 oz bourbon
  • Garnish: additional apple slices and thyme sprigs

Instructions:

  1. Process all of the Honeycrisp apple slices, water, apple cider, lemon juice, and maple syrup in a blender until smooth, about 1 1/2 minutes.
  2. Pour through a fine sieve into an ice-filled pitcher. Discard solids.
  3. Stir in bourbon. Garnish, if desired.

Don’t Forget the Sweets

Desserts are just snacks for the sugar-inclined tailgaters, making a serious dessert spread a must.

You can get elaborate with decorated sugar cookies. Or you can go simple with chocolate pretzels topped with team colors (be sure to order the candies ahead of time, as certain team colors need to be special-ordered).

Maple Energy Squares

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 1/2 cup non-fat dry milk
  • 1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup Sugarman of Vermont Maple Syrup
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup dried blueberries or cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to Bake at 350° F. Spray a 9 x 9-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
  2. In a food processor, combine oats, dry milk, sunflower seeds, flour, pure maple syrup, and eggs. Puree until almost smooth, about 10 seconds. Stir in blueberries, apricots, and almonds.
  3. Turn into prepared pan. Sprinkle with coconut. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until edges are golden brown and bars are set.

Brown Butter-Maple-Pecan Blondies

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup Sugarman of Vermont Maple Syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped toasted pecans, divided

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to Bake at 350°F. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium. Cook, whisking constantly, until butter browns and smells nutty, 5 to 7 minutes. Immediately pour into a bowl. Place in refrigerator to cool, whisking every 5 minutes until thickened and creamy, about 20 minutes. (Butter should look like melted peanut butter.)
  2. Beat eggs and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until thickened and pale yellow, about 3 minutes. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add to egg mixture in thirds, alternately with cooled butter, beginning and ending with flour mixture, beating on low after each addition. Slowly beat in maple syrup; add vanilla, and beat just until combined. Fold in 1 cup of the pecans with a spoon.
  3. Pour batter into a greased and floured 13 x 9-inch baking pan, and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup pecans.
  4. Bake in a preheated oven until golden and a wooden pick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour. Cut into 24 bars.

Utensils

You might have plenty of finger foods like snacks and deviled eggs, but bringing enough plates and cups is one thing, but make sure you have all the tools you need to prep and serve your food: knives, cutting boards, etc. You can even avoid the hassle of excess utensils by making sure all the food you prepare is easily portable.

Find Your Spot

Where exactly are you going to spend the time before and after the game? Are you even allowed to tailgate there? If you want to grill, can you use an open flame? You better find out before you get there with 10 pounds of raw steak if you can’t actually start to cook.

Invest In Your Setup

Just like with camping in below-freezing temps, you never want to show up to your tailgate unprepared. This is a crucial step.

Knowing the climate of your tailgating region is a must. Will you need sun cover? Wind protection? A heater? These are all things to take into consideration before you pack your car and head to the game.

Bring the Right Decor

Decor and setup go hand in hand. Don’t buy a white tent if down the road you’re going to want team colors. Just sit yourself down and admit that you don’t want to be the one weirdo who didn’t invest heavily in color coordination, and put those team-themed plates, silverware, cups, tablecloths, and chocolate-covered candies on the credit card.

Cleaning Up

When it’s time to leave, complete cleanup is a must. Before leaving the tailgate site, make sure all heat sources are off/extinguished. Use water to douse any hot coals and dispose of them appropriately.

Unless there are trash cans or other waste containers, plan to pack up all your stuff, including the trash. Leave your space looking better than when you arrived. And ideally, you walk away with a win! Go, team!