Football’s Most Impressive Tailgates

Stories from Food & Wine.
Feb. 4 2012 7:30 AM

Better Than Burgers and Beers

The best football tailgates in America.

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The term refers to partying in a parking lot, but college and NFL football fans across the country treat tailgating as over-the-top celebrations with enviable food.

"We want to dispel the notion that it's a college kegger party," says Paula Dillon, a Chicago Bears season-ticket holder who, with her husband, John, has been tailgating outside of Soldier Field for close to two decades. Despite their allegiance to the Bears, the Dillons plan menus that reference the visiting team, like barbecue when the Kansas City Chiefs come to town.

Cooking food influenced by the opposition is common practice, but stadium-goers also prepare their own regional tailgate foods among the ubiquitous hot dogs, burgers, and grilled steaks. Patriots fans take pride in bringing New England seafood; Mexican food dominates at Chargers games in San Diego; and Southern tailgaters, like those on Duke University's campus in Durham, N.C. favor fried chicken, deviled eggs, and hush puppies.

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The recurring theme across tailgating scenes nationwide: devotion—not just to football teams, but also to the pregame tradition. Loyal fans like to make the case that their city pioneered tailgating: "We have some unscientific evidence that it was invented here," says Aaron Popkey, a Green Bay Packers spokesman.

Perhaps the strongest arguments come from the students of the University of Mississippi. Ole Miss calls its dedicated tailgating grounds the Grove; fans serve fried chicken on silver platters, and it's not uncommon to see students tailgating in their Sunday best: dresses and high heels, suits and ties. Alumni even talk about the venue in spiritual terms: "You've probably heard it called 'the holy grail of tailgating' or 'the Mecca of tailgating' or some other religious metaphor that, in truth, is not overblown," says alum Matt Eichelberger.

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