7 Mistakes to Avoid While Grilling at a Tailgate

By Joe Clements
Founder of SmokedBBQSource.com

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There's no better way to make your tailgate party stand out than serving burgers and hot dogs fresh off the grill.

Preparation is key, so make sure you check out these 7 rookie mistakes to avoid when grilling at a tailgate—then pack up your truck, call some buddies and enjoy the game!


Mistake #1 - Not Being Prepared Ahead of Time

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Tailgating is not a completely spontaneous activity. It works best when you have done some prep ahead of time.

Chop your veggies, skewer your meats, form your patties and pack your condiments. While this might sound awfully organized, it makes for a far better experience on the day.

When everything is measured out and prepped, all you need to do is fire up the grill and cook your food while you relax - just don’t get too relaxed and burn the food!

It will also cut down on the number of utensils you have to bring, and the amount of washing up you have to do once you are done - which we can all agree is the worst part of the whole experience.

Thinking it through also gives you the opportunity to work out the most tailgate friendly foods, ultimately those that can be eaten without a plate, knife and fork.

 

Mistake #2 - Bringing Meat that Takes Too Long to Cook

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Don’t get carried away trying to make tender barbecue ribs or anything that is going to take hours to cook. Save that for a weekend at home.

Think foods that are quick and simple to cook on a grill so you can spend more time eating and relaxing rather than monitoring the grill.

 Here are some good options that will cook quickly and taste delicious:

  • Burgers

  • Hot dogs

  • Sausages

  • Steaks

  • Chicken wings

Fast cooking foods that have been largely prepped at home require less equipment.

If you are still dead set on bringing something like a brisket to the game, why not consider cooking it at home so that it is ready just before you leave, then keeping it piping hot in a high quality insulated box, like caterers use.

That way, all you need to do is slice the meat up at the game.

This won’t work for all meats, as some will overcook and become rubbery, so make sure you do your research.

 

Mistake #3 - Running Out of Fuel

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When you are busy prepping and planning, there is one vital detail that can easily be overlooked - fuel.

An emergency trip to the store which makes you late is never a good way to kick off your tailgate.

Whether you plan on cooking with gas or charcoal, it's a good idea to always have a more than enough to run the grill for a couple of hours.

Under cooking your meal is arguably more irritating (and dangerous) than not even getting the grill going in the first place.

 

Mistake #4 - Drinking Too Much

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Operating the grill safely requires you to have your wits about you.

This is especially true at a tailgate where there are lots of distractions and you're grilling on an unfamiliar setup.

Moderation is key so keep an eye on how much you drink, at least until all the food is cooked and the grill is safely put away.

 

Mistake #5 - Leaving the Grill Unattended

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You need to make sure that someone is always watching over the grill.

The best option is to have one person (aka the grillmaster) responsible for operating the grill.

This isn't just about safety either. It's far more likely that your meticulously prepared burgers could get burnt to a crisp if you all get embroiled in a deep analysis of your team's last performance with your neighbors at the same time.

Don’t waste all your pre-game preparation by taking your eye off the ball once you start cooking.

 

Mistake #6 - Serving Dangerously Undercooked Meat

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In all the excitement, don’t forget about food safety. Everyone going home with food poisoning is one sure way to ruin the day.

Make sure you keep uncooked meat chilled at under 40°F. Store it in a separate chiller that won’t be opened all the time to access other food or drinks.

As mentioned earlier, make sure you have enough fuel to cook the meat all the way through, to a safe temperature. A meat thermometer is a great addition to your kit to make sure you have reached a safe temperature.

If you are unsure what a safe internal temperature is for the meat you plan to cook, you can find a comprehensive list from the USDA here.

If you are bringing meat you have cooked at home with you, make sure that the meat stays above 150°F.

After you have washed up your cooking surfaces and utensils, washing surfaces down with a solution of one tablespoon of 5% unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in a gallon of water will ensure any leftover bugs won’t stick around.

 

Mistake #7 - Not Choosing the Right Grill

You want to pick a grill that is portable, sturdy and easy to operate.

Generally, a small gas grill like the Weber Q1000 is the most convenient grill for tailgating.

If you're a fan of cooking with charcoal, a small portable charcoal grill is also a great option. Just make sure you check with the venue as some stadiums don't allow charcoal.

Be sure to check out how easy the grill is to pack up, how much space it will take up in your car.

A good grill for tailgating doesn't have to be expensive.

As we mentioned, a smoker is not the best idea for tailgating. However, if you have an epic weekend planned and are setting up the night before, you might be able to get some use out of it.

Needless to say, if you are a beginner, perhaps leave the smoker for now and tackle that only when you have some experience under your belt. Otherwise, tailgating might all of a sudden seem like too much of a hassle.

 

Party time    

Tailgating should be one of those activities that make the most of the simple pleasures in life: food, family, and friends having fun.

So keep it simple, take note of the suggestions above, and you will have a great time next time you decide to fire up the grill.