Football season has gone long, all leading up, of course, to the most glorious Sunday of all—with the big game being the perfect excuse to guzzle beer and munch on pigskin staples like chicken wings and nachos and dips for hours on end. When you’re lucky enough to see a game live, nothing beats a good ol’ tailgate. But all your tailgating faves taste just as good indoors, in front of your biggest screen. For a little inspo, we asked some of your favorite NFL players to share their top tailgating dishes—get ready for the ultimate pre-game or (in-game) bash.
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This legendary Hall of Famer now slings meat instead of footballs (he’s an investor in the online meat purveyor Crowd Cow), and he says nothing screams tailgating like a tried and true burger. “It’s the simplicity of a quality hamburger that makes it perfect,” Montana says. Pro tip: Form your patties ahead of time and layer them between pieces of wax paper, then they can go straight from the cooler to the grill.
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No tailgate is complete without snacks and sides. “When I went to tailgates growing up, my favorite food was always the sides because they’re really what keeps the tailgate going,” says Smith. His go-tos are items that are easy to make ahead and transport, like baked beans or mac ‘n’ cheese.
“When I retired, I got the opportunity to fall in love with the game of football as a fan. My wife makes an amazingly delicious dish that’s perfect for a tailgate at home or the stadium—potato skins mac ‘n cheese,” says Gaddis. “It’s easy to prep ahead, travels well, and is easily reheated on a grill.”
“My favorite tailgate food is my dad’s turkey ribs,” he says. In fact, his pops makes them every gameday. “He attaches a smoker to the back of his truck and drives from St. Louis to the stadium in Nashville, where he parks and feeds family, friends, and fans before the game,” Jackson says. Afterward, he helps the team refuel by grilling up fresh grub for Titans players to grab as they exit the stadium.
This two-time Super Bowl Champ went from the field to your grocery store when he created Ocean 97, a wholesale shrimp distribution service. His dinner kits are the perfect time-saver (so you can focus on the eating, not cooking) and come in whatever flavor profile you’re craving. (As a former Patriot, we think it’s also likely he might also enjoy our New England Clam Chowder Bites recipe.)
Be the MVP of your tailgate by wowing with a beef brisket. Taylor’s secret? Smoking it. “I would smoke it using pecan wood. No sauce, just seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic, which puts a good bark on it,” he says. If you don’t want to post up in the parking lot for the hours a solid smoke requires, get it started at home and finish it off on site.
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Keep it simple with sticky barbecue ribs and traditional potato salad. “You’ve got to have plenty of mayo, eggs, all that good stuff!” he says. Or, kick it up a notch with a dish that’s true to this Louisiana native’s roots: jambalaya. “Your jambalaya needs to have good sausage, shrimp, and crawfish if you can,” Godchaux says. Make it ahead or bring along a pot that fits on your grill and be a true parking lot chef.
Off the field, just call him Chef Washington. His self-proclaimed secret talent is cooking, and his favorite meat is steak—a grill’s best friend. Sear off a few slabs, then slice them up; put out some soft dinner rolls and condiments and let people build their own steak sliders.
“I love carne asada tacos. I’m from Chula Vista, Cali. and grew up eating a lot of Mexican food,” he says. For a break from burgers and dogs (but we won’t judge you if they make an appearance, too!), set up a DIY taco bar with meat or veggies you grill right there.
“You can’t really tailgate without a good Polish, you know what I’m saying? A nice sausage charred up on the grill is always my favorite food when I used to go to tailgates,” he says. (If you agree, try our Kielbasa-Cheddar-Sauerkraut Garbage Bread recipe.)
Besides his dad’s barbecue (he caters!) and sliders with two signature sauces, sides are where it’s at for Jones. “You have to have some type of dip, like a Buffalo dip. You also need easy snacks like pigs in a blanket, chips, and don’t forget good beverages,” he says. (We concur, and also recommend our Buffalo Chicken Kolaches with Blue Cheese Dip for your next game day spread.)
Rey’s tailgating contribution is perfect for soaking up all that beer, both before and after the game: homemade popcorn. Pop a giant batch at home, then grab handfuls whenever you feel a little grumble.
Eat Hurst’s tailgating pick as an appetizer or main. It’s a cheesedog with a Carolina twist. “Red Hots are a North Carolina thing, but it’s a mix between a hot dog and a sausage with a little spice to it. Grill it, cut it open down the middle, then put a slice of cheese in there and eat it straight,” he says.