College football 101: Here are the unwritten rules of tailgating, according to a new survey

NEW YORK — “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%). The third most popular cooking method is a crock pot (38%), which is exceedingly popular in South Dakota (56%) but very unpopular in Hawaii (19%).

Who gets to the game first?

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.

Tailgaters typically arrive about two hours before a sporting event. Respondents name either their friends (56%) or themselves (42%) as the most likely people to arrive first. About one-quarter (24%) say their siblings are likely to arrive first, but grandma will likely be the last to arrive, with only three percent believing she would be first.


Bring a dish – or don’t come back!

The vast majority of respondents (84%) believe that everyone attending a tailgate should bring at least one item.

This unspoken rule is highly respected as almost half (46%) of respondents agree that if someone brings nothing, they are less likely to get an invite to the next tailgate. Almost two-thirds (63%) of respondents are also likely to bring their favorite dish regardless of whether everyone else enjoys it or not! Overall, the perfect tailgate has five different dishes.

Almost three in 10 (29%) prefer to make something from scratch, whereas 22 percent just pick something up from the store.

“Tailgates may look different around the country, however, gathering with friends and family to enjoy food during a game is universal,” says Deanna Brady, executive vice president of Retail for Hormel Foods, in a statement. “We believe food is love, so whether you grab your favorite ready-made snacks, prepare a favorite, must-have meal several hours ahead of time or work the grill right there in the parking lot, eating and sharing food provides a fun and natural way to celebrate together.”


Leave the ice cream at home!

According to American tailgaters, the best foods to bring to a tailgate are burgers (66%), hot dogs (56%), and chips (52%).
However, a few states vary from those top choices and are more likely to opt for a hot dog over a burger, like those in the Midwest and West, such as Arizona (66% vs 58%) and Washington (60% vs 55%).

In comparison, the worst foods are ice cream and popsicles (41%), pie (24%), and salad (23%).

While only 12 percent of all respondents believe pasta salad is a tailgate staple, 34 percent of those who live in Maine believe it is one of the best.

These choices could be due to the fact that, according to respondents, the perfect tailgate food is portable (58%), easy to cook (56%), and has a long shelf-life outside of the fridge (48%). Respondents also agree on the worst things to forget to bring to a tailgate — including plates (70%), napkins (54%), and cups (46%).

In the end, almost three-quarters (72%) of Americans agree that the food selection can make or break a tailgate.

“Just like sports fans are passionate about rituals around their favorite teams and game day, people have their go-to tailgating foods,” Brady says. “Burgers and hot dogs are popular staples, but wherever you are and whatever you cook, it’s perfect tailgating food if you love it.”

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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