For those who do not know, the tailgate is more than the back of a pickup truck. The “Tailgate” is a massive outdoor party that happens before the big game. Spontaneous and with minimal organization, these festivities come together prior to football games and other sporting events on campus. Smiling faces, cold drinks, and even delicious food can be found at these legendary team spirit events. Our list of the top five best U.S. college tailgates could help sports fans join the crowd and party down.
“Grill master” is the most coveted job to have at a tailgating event, according to new research. A poll of 5,000 Americans — including 100 people in each of the 50 states — reveals that 29 percent believe manning the grill to be the best job to have at a tailgate party, while 25 percent opt for “side dish taster” or “game hype man” (23%). Other popular tailgate duties include cup re-filler (18%) and food server (18%). In fact, 34 percent of respondents agree that it’s better to have one designated person man the grill, rather than rotating between party guests (30%).
It’s no surprise that portable grills are the most popular cooking method for tailgating (67%). In fact, those in East Coast locations, like Pennsylvania (76%) and Virginia (74%), are most likely to choose a portable grill. Almost half the poll (49%) prefer traditional outdoor grills, especially those in Southeastern states like Alabama (62%) and Mississippi (62%). Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Hormel Foods, the survey also explored how tailgaters use food and friends to create the most fun event possible. The average respondent attends two tailgates per year, with the optimal group size being 11 people on average.
Ready for delicious food paired with raucous team spirit? Grab your jersey and paint your face with your favorite team colors, it’s time to explore the best college tailgates in America. Let us know your favorite university tailgates in the comments below!
The List: Best U.S. College Tailgates, According to Sports Fans
1. University of Mississippi
Lovingly called “Ole Miss” by fans and students, it’s no surprise that this Southern university throws a great tailgate. The temperate Mississippi weather is undoubtedly a boon for sports fans. College Weekends raves “Ole Miss is known for its impressive pregame celebrations that take place at The Grove, or the center of campus. The Grove is well-known and was once referred to as ‘the Holy Grail of tailgating sites’ by Sporting News. Thousands of fans attend these famous tailgates and often bring tents to house their food and drinks creating a colorful canopy.”
On Saturdays in the fall, football turns this intersection into a lively place full of fun, fandom, fried chicken, & shady oak trees! Good luck to our @olemissfb Rebels this weekend against @texastech_fb ! ❤️💙🌳🏈 pic.twitter.com/eoQvvRfWeX
— Rebel Tailgate (@rebeltailgate) August 31, 2018
Stadium Talk cites Ole Miss as the most iconic college tailgate experience, “Approximately 25,000 fans fill the area for Rebels contests, and it’s the reason why Ole Miss has a saying, ‘We may not win every game, but we never lose a party.’ You can’t do any cooking with an open flame, but there are plenty of things to do. Other traditions include the Walk of Champions, started in 1985 by coach Billy Brewer, who began leading the players through the packed crowd on the route through the Grove to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.”
For The Win adds that anything worth doing is worth doing big: “The Grove, the leafy 10 acres at Ole Miss where fans congregate before games at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, is completely unique. Tailgating in Oxford is far from rustic. It’s college football’s version of a fine dining experience. Ole Miss tailgaters take their menus seriously.”
2. Louisiana State University
LSU stans came out in force with claims that their beloved Baton Rouge throws the best tailgate in the nation. Again, the warm fall weather in Baton Rouge makes tailgating a beautiful day out with friends and classmates. Fanbuzz calls this epic LSU party, “THE place to be on a college football Saturday. You can enjoy as much Cajun food as you handle. You can meet Mike the Tiger. You can be a part of the best night atmosphere in the sport. You can party until the sun comes up on Sunday morning. It’s simply the best. No question.”
— Jim Cross (@J_Cross2146) May 26, 2023
No doubt, the local regional cooking and Baton Rouge hospitality makes the LSU tailgate one-of-a-kind. Insider puts it simply of this first place tailgate, “Tigers tailgating starts Friday at 5 p.m. for Saturday games, and the food is off the charts. LSU dominates with unique and delicious tailgating dishes. Jambalaya, YUM!!!”
“Does it help that the Tigers are routinely competitive? Sure. But their membership with the SEC puts them near the top of best places to tailgate. There’s just something about football in the south that gets people out and about. And it’s not just a New Orleans thing, either; Baton Rouge knows how to party. From RVs with full bars to Louisiana-style cooking, Tiger fans know how to treat themselves on game day,” adds 247 Sports.
3. Penn State University
Penn State University is another mythic tailgate party that makes the most of the beautiful campus and friendly locals. Allthough Penn State doesn’t have the best weather compared to the other colleges on our list, the good people of PSU Medium gushes, “The town of State College literally feels like it was built for the sport. It surges by tens of thousands every game day to become a city of Nittany Lion faithful. It’s surroundings are seemingly endless parking lots and fields where you’ll find games, drinks and food galore. It feels like paradise.”
Tailgating is in full effect for Blue-White. pic.twitter.com/Jixl3PSmvC
— Onward State (@OnwardState) April 22, 2017
“‘Nittanyville,’ formerly named ‘Paternoville,’ is essentially a tent city set up by students and fans outside of Beaver Stadium—sometimes several days in advance. As game day draws closer, the marching band arrives for impromptu concerts. Football players and coaches often show up to mingle with the Nittany Lions faithful, and rain or shine—or sleet or snow—Penn State’s tailgater goes on and on. And on… And on…” offers B/R.
The folks at Spoon University explain, “Fans start getting ready for game day several days in advance at Penn State. The line to get into the stadium tends to start around 6pm the night before, but students will sometimes camp out a week in advance. Around 100,000 fans will come to Nittanyville, the tent city students set up to wait for the stadium to open.”
4. University of Michigan
The University of Michigan can get cold but that’s how some fans like it. For many northerners, football tailgates can mean occasionally braving cold weather conditions. WSN maintains that this won’t stop the party, “The tailgating at Michigan Stadium, affectionately known as ‘The Big House,’ is so popular that some of the best parking spots are handed down through generations like family heirlooms. These Wolverines fans take their tailgating seriously, with many arriving as early as 6 a.m. on game day to set up their grills and giant coolers.”
Spoon University adds, “With more fraternities than you can count, the school gives students their choice of game day parties. However, the big highlight of the day will always be watching the game. There’s no feeling quite like being surrounded by thousands of people who rival your love for your school.”
Medium also loves this amazing college party. Why? “Michigan tailgating has a rich history to it that’s as much a novelty as an experience. Ann Arbor is a beautiful place in the early fall before it gets cold, and the fans at tailgates are typically friendly and inviting.”
5. University of South Carolina
The South Carolina Gamecocks are not always known for their epic wins on the field. Instead they are notorious for their fans’ indomitable team spirit. 247 Sports offers, “South Carolina hasn’t had a double-digit win season since 2013, but that hasn’t stopped Gamecock fans from filling Williams-Brice Stadium over the years. Before and after the game, though, you can find Gamecock fans in typical tailgating fashion – tents with food, pickup trucks stocked with coolers and other goodies.”
Their own succulent twist on BBQ sauce, sweet iced tea, "Sandstorm", and the Cockaboose Railroad. It's tailgating at South Carolina here > https://t.co/GJJncx28mE
#tailgating #gamecocks #cockaboose pic.twitter.com/ZH4VyGO6TO
— Tailgater Magazine (@TailgaterMag) September 28, 2019
B/R posits, “For South Carolina fans, football Saturdays are more than simply cooking out in a parking lot. The whole town gets involved, and the plethora of eateries and gathering places only adds to the excitement. South Carolina is also home to one of the neatest and most unique tailgating venues: the Cockabooses.”
“There are 22 decommissioned cabooses that serve as tailgating units for dedicated fans on game day. These cabooses have been playfully nicknamed by fans as ‘Cockabooses’ after the School’s mascot. While it may be difficult to secure a spot in a ‘Cockaboose’ there are plenty of fun traditions, food, and drinks that are sure to make your tailgating experience a good one,” according to College Weekends.
You might also be interested in:
- College Weekends
- Stadium Talk
- For The Win
- 247 Sports
- Spoon University
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