50 Tailgating Recipes to Keep Football Season Healthy
Cheesy Chicken-and-Spinach Stromboli Ring
Instead of serving pizza, shake up dinner with a gorgeous stromboli ring. Though it may look difficult to make, it's actually an easy process (see our step-by-step instructions). Most store-bought pizza dough comes in 1-or 1 1/2-pound portions, but you only need 12 ounces for this recipe. Use the leftovers to make breadsticks or flatbread the next day.
Sheet Pan Beefy Nachos
If you have young kids serving themselves, lift the nachos off the pan with the parchment paper (and remove the hot pan from the table). For the creamiest nacho sauce, start with a block of cheese and shred it yourself.
Spicy Sweet Potato Wedges
Smoky, fiery chipotle powder counters the warm, sweet five-spice powder and the naturally sweet spuds. For less kick, use 1/4 teaspoon chipotle. Be sure to line the pan with parchment paper to help prevent burning.
Habanero-Apricot Chicken Sandwiches
For slow-simmered flavor without the hassle, reach for your handy slow cooker. Habaneros contain more capsaisin (the compound that contributes spicy heat) than jalapeños, but removing the seeds and membranes lessens that heat considerably.
If you're pro-pepper, this combination of sweet and heat will tickle your tastebuds—and it takes less than half an hour to make! Look for mild Sweety Drop peppers at specialty stores, or buy them on Amazon, here. You can also use chopped pickled sweet cherry peppers instead. A baking steel works great here if you preheat it for an hour.
Quick Green Chicken Chili
The secret to a lightening-fast chili is to keep it simple, with starchy, creamy Great Northern beans as the main bean and canned green chiles (already broiled, skinned, and chopped) as your heat source. We blend half the beans to build body, leaving the rest whole for texture. Precooked rotisserie chicken also saves time, but you could use any leftover protein, such as chopped cooked pork tenderloin or cooked ground turkey. Top the chili with creamy sour cream and crunchy radishes, or try diced tomato, cilantro, or sliced jalapeños. Serve with multigrain tortilla chips.
Look for shishito peppers at Asian markets and gourmet grocers. They're mostly mild, but bear in mind that roughly 1 in 10 is about as hot as a jalapeño.
Creamy Hummus With Spiced Ground Beef
Typically, this style of supersmooth hummus starts with dried chickpeas; we discovered a shortcut with canned chickpeas where a little baking soda softens or dissolves the peas' skins. Be sure to use a blender; a food processor will not get the hummus this smooth. Serve with soft whole-wheat pita and crudités.
Smoky Caramelized Onion Burgers
Sometimes we want our grilled beef patties to have a just a little more oomph. These burgers deliver exactly that and more. Caramelized onions and garlic go into the ground sirloin mixture to keep the burgers moist, followed by a bold hit of ground cumin and smoked paprika for a jolt of flavor.
Savory Potato Salad
Simpler and tastier than many old-fashioned potato salads, this version features a fresh lemon-and-oil-based dressing instead of a mayo-laden dressing. Try to toss the potatoes in the dressing while they’re still a bit warm—they’ll absorb more flavor that way. The anchovy paste lends a deep umami hit that’s not fishy, just savory. Use a Microplane-style grater to create a smooth garlic pulp that doesn’t leave off-putting crunchy bits of raw garlic in the mix.
Quick Texas Chili
Instant umami boosters like Worcestershire sauce and tomato paste build savory depth in minutes. Flank steak cooks quickly yet has the beefiness of tougher cuts like brisket. Coating the meat in flour before searing allows for more browning and will help add body to the chili.
Skillet Nacho Dip
We took our favorite elements of cheesy queso dip and loaded beef nachos and combined the two into one epic skillet nacho dip, a one-pan main that couldn’t be more fun to eat. It starts with a base of onion and jalapeño, followed by crumbled cooked beef patties, pinto beans, and two kinds of cheeses for a maximum melty factor. Top with red onion, tomato, and avocado or other fresh toppers like sliced jalapeños, scallions, and cilantro (just be sure your chips are sturdy enough for dipping).
Pan Bagnat Tuna Sandwich
Quality ingredients make all the difference here. Use premium canned or jarred white tuna, the best fruity olive oil you have, and garden-fresh veggies. We chop up the olives and capers and mix them into the tuna for a briny flavor hit that won’t slip out of your sandwich as you eat. Niçoise are small French black olives; kalamata olives will work just fine in their place.
Chili-Lime Roasted Chickpeas
Crunchy roasted chickpeas are a cinch to make and take only about 40 minutes from start to finish. They make for a satisfying salty snack that’s high in protein and fiber. To ensure the crunchiest texture, pat the chickpeas dry before tossing with oil. You can play around with other spices for different flavor combinations—try smoked paprika and cumin, Madras curry powder, or even cinnamon and powdered sugar.
All-American Grilled Burger
Here’s your blueprint for a crowd-pleasing backyard barbecue burger complete with special sauce. The sauce is no secret here: Crunchy iceberg lettuce and pickles provide crunch and tang, all mixed in with ketchup, mustard, and a little hot sauce for kick. We like the texture whole-grain mustard adds to the sauce, but creamy Dijon will work just as well. Don’t overwork the beef as you form the patties so the burgers stay moist and juicy.
Slow Cooker Bourbon-Peach Baked Beans
Skip the canned baked beans in favor of our fuss-free version, which saves up to 300mg sodium per serving. Adobo sauce and bacon build a smoky backbone, while peak-season peaches offer sweet contrast. Bonus: The beans will stay warm in a covered slow cooker for up to 2 hours after being unplugged.
The classic salad is transformed brilliantly into a summer pizza here, thanks to fresh veggies and a dressing-inspired sauce of tangy yogurt, mayo, and buttermilk.
Tangy Beer-Can Chicken
The can method keeps the bird moist while it grills because liquid in the can forms steam inside the cavity. Any canned beverage will work, since it won't really impart any noticeable flavor to the chicken. We like the bright, tangy flavor of good old-fashioned yellow mustard here.
Blackened Grouper Sandwiches With Rémoulade
Firm white fish like grouper, tilapia, and mahi mahi are perfect for crusty sandwiches because they won't fall apart after cooking.
Creamy Black Pepper Coleslaw
Cutting the cabbage coarsely gives the dish a different look from shredded-cabbage slaws. A full teaspoon of black pepper lends pleasant warm heat without overpowering. Make the dish up to a day ahead if you like—the veggies will stay crisp and the flavors will meld as the slaw chills.
Grass-Fed Beef Sirloin Kebabs
Cubes of grass-fed sirloin can be a little tough and chewy—but thin slices stay tender and cook quickly. Feel free to prep the sauce and skewer the beef ahead of time.
Smoky Carrot Dogs With Nacho Sauce
We've embellished the humble carrot to mimic the smoky taste and snappy texture of a hot dog. To lend a dairy-free cheesy flavor to plant-based nacho sauce, we use nutritional yeast; look for it in health food stores or well-stocked specialty grocers. Our recipe saves 8g saturated fat over standard cheese dogs without losing any of the flavor.
A generous splash of light coconut milk enriches this dairy-free chowder, making it creamy while offering a faint sweet flavor that enhances the sweetness of the corn. A spoonful of flour also helps to thicken the broth; for a gluten-free version, you can try substituting 11/2 teaspoons cornstarch (you might need to simmer longer to get it to thicken). If you have leftover chicken or a rotisserie bird on hand, you can always use that instead of starting with raw chicken; you’ll want to use about 2 cups shredded or chopped chicken.
BBQ Chicken-and-Black Bean Tacos
Easy assembly and bold flavors join forces for a dinner the whole family will love. A kid-friendly mix of quality convenience items and bright produce imparts fresh taste with minimal legwork. A probiotic-rich stand-in for sour cream, yogurt offers creaminess and helps bind the toppings. Rotisserie chicken, one of the most versatile supermarket proteins, makes for a fast and fresh meal. Look for BBQ sauce varieties with less than 250mg sodium and 5g sugar. We like Annie's Original BBQ Sauce.
Kicky Black Bean Burgers
If you don't have a food processor, you can sub about 2/3 cup plain breadcrumbs for the torn bun.
Sheet Pan Kimchi Nachos
Our Asian-inspired nachos are wildly flavorful with a tangy kick from kimchi. Kimchi is a spicy Korean condiment that is often fermented and aged, delivering gut-healthy probiotics. Assemble the nachos on a baking sheet, and then deliver them straight to the table for easy serving and fun presentation. You can use shredded rotisserie chicken or shrimp instead of ground pork. In place of melted cheese, we use a chili-spiked yogurt sauce that helps bind all of the toppings to the chips.
Buffalo Tempeh Sliders With Celery Seed Slaw
Yet another reason why we love tempeh: It makes a delicious plant-based riff on a buffalo slider and packs 9g fiber (a third of your daily needs) into just 3 ounces. This soybean-based veggie protein is a great option for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, as its firm texture and adaptable flavor can renovate just about any meat-based recipe. Here, we braise tempeh in hot sauce to infuse it with buffalo-flavor before tucking it in a toasty whole-wheat bun.
Grilled Stuffed Jalapeños
The rich and creamy combination of bacon, cream cheese, and cheddar nicely contrasts the muted spice of the grilled jalapeños in these poppers. You’ll never guess these are lightened up! That’s why this recipe—a healthy, fresh alternative to the popular breaded and fried snack—is one of our favorite appetizers to make.
Two-Cheese Veggie Nachos
Being vegetarian doesn't mean you have to miss out on tailgating snacks. With a bit of creativity (and a few Cooking Light recipes in your repertoire) it's quite easy to make a football party menu that serves veggie and meat eaters alike.
We love the double-cheese contrast in this nacho recipe: Shredded cheese melts into a bubbly blanket over the tortillas, while crumbly queso fresco covers the veggies with a salty kick. It's an impressive dish for coffee table dining—it's fun to keep it all on the baking pan and serve as a shared platter.
Banh Mi Hot Dog
Pickled veggies, jalapeño, and cilantro top these Vietnamese-inspired dogs.
Roasted Asparagus With Walnuts, Parmesan, and Cherry Tomatoes
Asparagus is like a poster child for umami, high in the glutamates that create savory satisfaction. Ditto for Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, which also delights with its signature crunchy salt crystals.
Fresh Apple Salsa
Apple Pick: Spartan apples
Take a break from classic tomato salsas and opt for a fruitier, seasonal option. This sweet-tart condiment features crisp, slightly acidic Spartan apples, though Fuji, Jonagold, and Liberty apples would also work nicely. This fresh, fruity salsa is the perfect addition to any Fall menu or fun occasion, and it's super easy to make. Eat it straight out of the bowl, snack on it with chips, or serve with pork or roast chicken. Serve it immediately, or let it sit overnight to let the flavors incorporate.
Veggie Pizza With Cauliflower Crust
No "knead" for bread—this cheesy veggie crust has half the carbs and double the fiber of traditional pizza dough.
Grilled Chicken Skewers With Wasabi Mayo
A kicking dipping sauce adds amped up fun and flavor. Serve with Orzo with Snap Peas, Cilantro, and Peanuts for a complete meal with 46g of protein. If you use wood skewers on the outdoor grill, be sure to soak them in water before grilling to avoid burning. Make a few extra skewers to add chicken to lunches and salads the next day. The wasabi mayo adds bold flavor to simply seasoned grilled chicken and pairs well with the sweetness of honey and tang of rice vinegar. The mayo can be saved and served alongside roasted vegetables, skirt steak, or fresh grilled fish.
Pesto Pasta Salad With Tomatoes and Mozzarella
This Caprese-inspired pasta toss is the ultimate summer main for a busy weeknight, outdoor picnic, or lunch on the go. Use yellow and red tomatoes for a stunning presentation and wonderful flavor variety.
Grilled Watermelon Pizza
Get creative at your next cookout with this handheld take on watermelon salad. This all-star melon creates the perfect base for the bold flavors that are highlighted in the toppings.
Sticky Asian Chicken Wings
Because the wings get a good bit of char, the type of honey you use isn't as important here (it'll lose its subtler nuances). Though we remove the skin from the wings, you'd never know it—they pick up an irresistible crispy crunch as the glaze cooks under the broiler. Give yourself a better grip when skinning each wing by holding it with a paper towel in one hand and pulling the skin with another paper towel in the other hand.
This citrusy take on coleslaw is fresh and pleasantly spicy, an ideal side dish or burger or brat topping. Leave the seeds in more peppers for added fire, or seed all of them for a milder dish.
Avocado Chicken Salad
Fresh, tasty, and delicious is how this 5-star Avocado Chicken Salad is commonly described. Mrs. Hartzell raves, “So delicious and easy! I could seriously eat this every day!” You’re not alone. We could, too. This particular recipe uses vinaigrette instead of mayonnaise but doesn’t lose its creamy texture, thanks to avocado. Salsa and fresh cilantro give this chicken salad its south-of-the-border flavors. So, instead of layering over a bed of greens, serve with tortilla chips for scooping and an added crunch.
Smashed Chili Cheeseburgers
Our healthier take on a beach-side burger, these patties have a delectable seared crust but are juicy inside, especially if you use a screaming-hot cast-iron skillet.
Easy, 6-Ingredient Guacamole
Every one of the ingredients plays a key role because with this guacamole, it's all about flavor balance.
Fingerling Potato Salad With Mustard Vinaigrette
Little fingerling potatoes are fantastic in potato salads, in part because their skin-to-flesh ratio is much smaller than big potatoes, so there’s more interesting textural difference in every bite. Like with any potato salad, one key to success is dressing the potatoes while they’re still hot so they fully absorb flavorings.
Grilled Okra and Tomato Skewers
Assemble skewers the night before; brush them with the oil mixture before grilling. Flavor oil mixture with dried ground herbs to suit your taste. Look for okra pods of similar size to assure even grilling.
Grilled Corn on the Cob With Roasted Jalapeño Butter
Charring the pepper eases the heat, yielding a versatile, not-too-spicy butter.
Corn and Crab Pita Nachos
This dish is inspired by the crab melts that New England chef Ana Sortun’s mother made her when she was growing up in the Pacific Northwest.
Salt-and-Vinegar Boneless "Wings"
The popular potato chip flavor translates fantastically to boneless “wings.” OK, admittedly, they’re basically chicken fingers, but for game day, we’re calling them boneless wings. Be sure to line the baking sheet with parchment paper, as the chicken tends to stick to aluminum foil, even if it’s coated with cooking spray. The recipe easily doubles if you’re serving a larger crowd; if doubling the sauce, use a little less than double the amount of dill—we suggest 1 tablespoon.
Smoky Chicken With Potato Salad and Slaw
Smoked paprika delivers grill-like flavor to spiced chicken, and creamy potato salad and tangy slaw complete the meal. We toss the undressed coleslaw mix with sugar and salt, let it stand, and rinse it; this process helps to remove some of the water from the cabbage so that the coleslaw will hold up longer without watering out.
Banh Mi Burgers
Here, a basic beef burger takes some cues from the classic Vietnamese sandwich and cranks its flavor up to 10. We enjoy our burgers cooked to medium (140°F) for more juiciness, and we always purchase the meat from a trusted source. You can cook the patties to your desired degree of doneness; the USDA recommends 160°F for ground beef.
Creamy Potato Salad
Here's an extra-creamy potato salad you can feel good about eating at your next cookout or picnic. We slash the fat (but not the flavor) by making a creamy base with Greek yogurt and olive oil mayo. Fresh herbs and multicolored mini bell peppers lend color, while fresh lemon juice gives just the right amount of brightness.
Buffalo Chicken Tacos
Your favorite appetizer just got upgraded to the dinner menu. These reinvented tacos check every craving box with less than a third of the sodium and half the fat of traditional Buffalo wings.