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6 Clever Tailgating Food Hacks

Photo: Lisa Hubbard / Cooking Light

Even the most seasoned tailgaters can forget to pack one or two things on the checklist. Then, there are the other woes of throwing the perfect tailgate: namely, how to keep the drinks cold and how best to organize your tailgating essentials. Whether you’re a newbie or a tailgating pro, spend less time worrying about the little things with these clever tailgating food hacks that can improve your game day experience.

Besides cheering on our favorite teams, the one thing we most look forward to during football season is tailgating. Yet with all the fun to be had and delicious food to eat, tailgating is really hard work that requires a lot of planning, know-how, and finesse. Not to mention, you've got to remember what to pack in your cooler and load in your car can be a hassle.

Don’t panic! We’ve got your stress-free game day covered with 6 smart food hacks to turn what may seem like football party trash into tailgating treasure. And you’re in luck! Because you likely already have most of these items in your home and kitchen, you won't have to spare any more dollars at the store.

Grab a Toolbox from the Garage

In the same way a toolbox comes in handy for your screwdrivers, wrenches, and nails, it can also be pretty useful when it comes to packing tailgating essentials. Use the built-in individual compartments to neatly arrange cooking utensils, cutlery, spices, and whatever practical tools you’ll need. Not only does it make for easy storage and handling, a toolbox can also keep your accessories organized and ready to grab and go just when you need them!

Photo: Steve Wisbauer / Getty

Freeze Water Bottles and Balloons

No need to make a store run for ice on game day. All you have to do is freeze water bottles overnight to use as ice in your cooler. They'll help keep food containers cold and act as ice packs. Bonus benefit: Once the ice melts, you’ll have refreshing water to stay hydrated during all the tailgating action.

Wondering how to keep your other canned beverages cold along with your water? No worries! If you have some balloons at the house, they’re a creative and festive way to keep drinks ice cold. Simply fill up balloons in your team’s colors with water, freeze overnight, and toss them in the cooler the next day with your cans or bottles.

Use a Drink Holder and Cardboard Six-Packs

Got an old drink holder just lying around from your last Starbucks visit? Repurpose it in an efficient way for tailgating by placing clear plastic cups filled with your favorite cold veggies in each holder. Voila! Now you have your very own crudité platter to feed a crowd that you can carry with one hand. Don’t throw away those six-pack drink carriers either! Fill each slot with necessary condiments, like bottles of ketchup, hot sauce, and barbecue, or you can organize your cutlery and napkins in each slot.

Photo: Johnny Miller

Make Use of Mason Jars

Tired of your bags of chips getting squished during transport? Enter mason jars as the perfect chip holder. Not only will your chips stay fresh and crisp throughout your tailgating session, but mason jars can be used as personal chip packs to pass out to your guests. These glass containers can also be handy for make-ahead layered salads and dips.

Break out the Muffin Pan

Thought your muffin tin was only good for muffins, cupcakes, or bite-sized foods? Think again. Transform your muffin pan into a portable drinking tray to hand out beer bottles to family and friends all at once, instead of making trips back and forth to the cooler. You can also use a muffin pan for condiments, with each hole serving as a special container for your hot dog or burger toppings. The possibilities are endless with this multi-purposeful baking tool, including making muffin tin sliders or sandwiches.  

Bring Your Toothpick Holders and Squeeze Bottles

Speaking of make-ahead salads, when it comes to condiments and vinaigrettes, plastic squeeze bottles are a lifesaver. Bottled dressings, especially with a mayo-base, won’t hold up too well on game day. Instead, make a fresh batch of homemade vinaigrette in the days leading up to your tailgating celebration, and store in the fridge until you’re ready to throw the bottles in the cooler. Of course you can use them for your other made-from-scratch sauces, oils, salsa, and condiments, too. Use toothpick holders for easy and convenient containers to pack spices and rubs for your grilled meats.

By incorporating these simple and clever tailgating ideas, you're sure to enjoy an exciting day of good food, family, friends, fun and, most importantly, football!