Football season is rapidly approaching, and with it my favorite part of fall: tailgating. Sure, I love grilling year-round, but there’s something special about the challenge and the camaraderie of a tailgate.
And while everyone loves burgers and hot dogs, I like to branch out a bit and bring something a little less predictable to the party. The only requirement is that it cooks up pretty quickly and doesn’t take a lot of work (ie carving up ribs, pulling pork) to serve. So put on your ball cap, ice down your cooler, fire up your tailgate grill, and let’s get cooking!
1. Tacos Al Pastor
This authentic Al Pastor recipe will have fellow fans flocking to your grill. Sweet and smoky pork marinated in chile and pineapple and grilled to caramelized perfection enters into taco matrimony with grilled pineapple, pico de gallo, and guacamole. Top them with cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice before passing them out – just be sure to save one or two for yourself!
2. Grilled Buffalo Chicken Wings
Whether you’re at the game or watching from home, buffalo wings are a football staple. This recipe keeps it simple and delicious: all you need are wings, hot buffalo sauce, kosher salt, and some beer to keep the wings perfectly tender. The key to a perfect wing grilling technique is cooking them through on indirect heat, and then finishing them over the open flame for that mouthwatering charred skin. Don’t forget the blue cheese dipping sauce!
3. Blue Cheese Stuffed Bacon Wrapped Mushrooms
For a more unusual game day crowd pleaser, or a delicious appetizer before the main event, break out these cheesy, savory bacon wrapped mushrooms. The secret ingredient that pulls these bite-sized flavor bombs together? A bit of sriracha sauce in the filling. You can assemble these beauties ahead of time and throw them on the grill for about 10 minutes once you arrive – perfect for keeping everyone satisfied till half time.
4. Alabama White Wings
If you support the boys in crimson, or just want to switch up a traditional buffalo wing, give my Alabama white sauce recipe a try. White sauce is a deep south specialty, made of mayo, apple cider vinegar, mustard, black pepper, and horseradish. It’s tangy, spicy, and creamy all in one, and it’s the best thing you’ll ever do for your chicken. Rather than grilling with the sauce on, as you might with barbecue or buffalo, grill your wings in a salt and pepper crust or a dry rub till they’re cooked through and the skin is nice and crispy, and slather them in white sauce once they’re off the grill.
5. Jalapeño Poppers with Smoked Gouda
Take this sports bar staple up a notch with perfectly charred, fresh jalapeños stuffed with a decadent mixture of cream cheese and smoked Gouda. You can prepare, stuff, and refrigerate the peppers ahead of time, so they only take about ten minutes to go from your cooler to people’s mouths. If you’re serving up burgers, fill your poppers with pimento cheese instead and top them with a dab of pepper jelly.
6. Asian BBQ Pork Kebabs
Switch up the flavor profile with these Asian BBQ Pork Kabobs! Cover your tenderloin in this sweet and spicy, Asian-inspired marinade, grill it alongside your favorite veggies, and serve up caramelized pork perfection!
7. Dr. Pepper Chicken Wings
This make-ahead sweet, smoky, and savory Dr. Pepper sauce will have your wings dressed, grilled, and ready to eat in no time! The soda in the sauce creates a finger-licking caramelized glaze on your wings in a gorgeous deep mahogany color.
8. Beer Brat Dogs (with Grilled Peach Salsa and Fried Onions!)
The humble hot dog often gets overshadowed at cookouts. Bring it back into the limelight with these delicious and juicy beer brats, perfectly charred, and topped with a sweet and spicy peach salsa and crispy fried onions. To save time, you can make the fried onions and peach salsa ahead, so you just have to worry about charring your brats and toasting your buns.
9. BBQ Little Smokies with Bacon
Little Smokies make a great finger-food appetizer, especially when cooked on the grill with your favorite BBQ sauce, brown sugar, and bacon bits. Serve them with toothpicks and simply toss the aluminum baking pan when you’re finished for the easiest clean up ever.
10. Grilled Maple Bacon Chicken Bites
The key to making any appetizer party-ready? Wrap it in bacon. Marinate bite-sized pieces of chicken in a smoky maple sauce, wrap them in bacon, and grill them for 10 minutes for a perfect meaty bite that tastes much fancier than it is.
11. Grilled Margarita Shrimp Kebabs
You know what else is in season during the fall? Shrimp! Use this fortuitous coincidence to your advantage with these tasty shrimp marinated in jalapeños, tequila, Mexican spices, and lots of lime, and grilled to crispy, tangy perfection. Serve with Mexican beer, or, if you can really go all out, a pitcher of margaritas.
12. Bacon Wrapped Asparagus
13. Jalapeño Popper Dogs
These hot dogs are just as much arts and crafts as food prep. Have your kids help assemble them ahead of time for a fun activity. Simply split the hot dogs lengthwise, fill the middle with cheese slices, place the other hot dog half on top, and slide seeded and cored jalapeño tubes over each hot dog. Fun and delicious!
14. Grilled Teriyaki Chicken Skewers
These glossy, juicy teriyaki chicken skewers make fresh and delicious appetizers to get the tailgate party going. Take the extra prep time to make your own Teriyaki sauce, it’s so much better than what you can get at the supermarket. The double layer of sauce, used both as a marinade and as a baste after grilling, infuses the chicken and veggies with so much flavor. The first layer of sauce gets nice and caramelized on the grill, so you get some delicious char and crunch when you bite into the skewers.
15. Thai Grilled Chicken Wings
These smoky charred wings and tangy sesame dipping sauce will keep you on island time all season long! Let your wings sit in the soy and oyster sauce marinade for about half an hour, then grill them on skewers for even cooking for about 7 minutes. I suggest making extra dipping sauce and keeping it in your fridge at home – its spicy, tangy flavor works well with just about anything you’re grilling.
16. Vietnamese Style Grilled Lemongrass Pork
These sticky, tangy pork pieces traditionally top noodle soups, but for a tailgate, I love them over rice or just plain, as little bits of meat candy. Marinated in a paste of soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic, honey, and lemongrass, and grilled till dark and crispy, you’ll be hard-pressed not to eat these easy appetizers straight from the grill plate.
17. Traeger Blackened Fish Tacos
Smoky cast-iron blackened fish, tangy lime slaw, and avocado crema all wrapped up in a corn tortilla makes for a refreshing and delicious change of pace from traditional tailgating staples. Not that these suckers are short on flavor – quite the opposite. Cover your cod, halibut, or rockfish filets with plenty of blackening seasoning, and cook it in a cast iron skillet to keep the fish from falling apart through your grill grate. Douse it in plenty of lime juice and serve hot!
Summing Things Up
These recipes should give you plenty of inspiration and ideas to mix up your tailgating standards for a truly delicious football season. No matter who you’re rooting for, it will always be a W with good food and good friends. Let’s eat!