Global Head of Editorial
Huddle up. We want your pre-party to sound just as good as the main event, so we’re sharing five tips for throwing a winning tailgate—including advice from grilling/smoking extraordinaire Jimmy Ho on how to uplevel your outdoor cooking game. Ready, set, hut!
Whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to sports, there’s one aspect of game day we can all enjoy: the well-executed tailgate. While a game is usually the reason (or excuse), a tailgate seamlessly blends all the elements of a great party—food, drinks, games, the outdoors, and a shared cause. What’s not to love? Just don’t forget to bring Sonos Roam or Sonos Move along to get your guests hyped for kickoff.
As the air turns cool and we start tuning in to ESPN2’s game coverage, we wanted to share some of our best tips for throwing a tailgate to cheer for. And remember, even if you’re planning on watching the game with the new Sonos Beam in your living room, there’s no reason why you can’t throw a pre-game tailgate in your driveway. In fact, we encourage it.
Make a game plan.
Imagine heading out to the field without a play in mind. It’s not going to go well. “I know this is very adult-ey, but you gotta plan,” said Austin-based grill/smoke master Jimmy Ho. “Have a checklist. And the reason why you want a checklist is because you should always over-prepare.” And he should know. Scroll through his Instagram feed and you can tell that Ho does a lot of thoughtful pre-planning in order to create his photo-worthy outdoor feasts.
Ho shared a few more things to consider for your pre-planning: “You want to have extra fuel, whether that’s charcoal, wood, or pulping. You don’t want to be caught needing extra fuel in the middle of cooking and then have to leave your food unattended while you go find more.”
As you’re planning your meals, consider how long things take to cook and your balance of high-maintenance food (which needs to be kept cool or hot) and low-maintenance food (which keeps well at room temperature.) “And always bring extra,” Ho said. “When you’re cooking things that take a lot of time to cook, like brisket, you need a plan B in case you run out. But if you run out of brisket, you won’t have time to cook another one, so bring easier meats to cook, like sausage.”
Bonus Tip: If you slept through cooler-packing 101, here’s a refresher: Drinks at the bottom, then a layer of ice, and finally: food. Pack it with as little air at the top as possible. And if you want to get drinks cold quickly, remember these three elements: ice, water, salt. Then swirl, wait, and enjoy.
Make it comfortable.
Depending on where you live and in what part of the season you’re tailgating, the weather can vary widely. When it’s hot, make sure to create oases of shade with easy-to-assemble tents, water spritz bottles, and hand-held or battery-powered fans. For colder games, bring extra blankets and sweatshirts. And regardless of the weather, bring plenty of water to keep everyone fully hydrated.
While most people stand at a tailgate, provide lots of seating options for eating and relaxation. Because, really, no one wants to have to ask Grandma to get up in order to get a drink from the cooler.
Make it festive.
Is it even a tailgate if it’s not drenched in your team’s colors? Everything is in play—cups, plates, napkins, silverware, table cloths, streamers, banners, and more. Raise everyone's spirits with a dessert featuring a healthy dose of food coloring. Cupcakes designed to look like mini footballs? That's a win for everyone.
To offer more drink options (beyond those that come in cans and bottles), you don’t have to bring your full home bar. Pre-mix drinks in jars and add them to the selection of other alcoholic beverages. You can do this with mocktails too. Just make sure that you clearly label what’s what. Note: this is also your moment to shine with a signature cocktail. Name it after your mascot, or take it as an opportunity for some good-natured ribbing of your opponent.
Make it safe.
When we asked Jimmy Ho for his advice on making a great meal on the grill, the first thing he brought up was food safety. In addition to recommending wearing gloves so that you don’t cross-contaminate the food and bringing things to help keep cold food cool and hot food warm, he recommended getting a meat thermometer—but not just for safety reasons. “For the average Joe, getting a meat thermometer is important for both safety and tenderness reasons,” he said. “Pros often know when meat is done by feel or touch. But if you haven’t been doing it long enough, you might not know what the meat should feel like when it’s done. So if you have a thermometer, this will help make sure you’ve cooked the meat long enough, but also, from a tenderness perspective, not too much.”
He also recommends giving yourself plenty of time to fully cook your meal. “I always think I know how long something will take to cook—and it always winds up taking longer,” he said.
Ho encourages bringing along a source of power, such as a generator or a power inverter for your car, because “At the very least, someone always needs to charge their phone.”
No matter how thoughtful you are about using reusable materials at your tailgate, you’re going to generate some trash. Rather than awkwardly hang a trash bag off the side of the table (which will inevitably end up on the ground, susceptible to bugs), bring two collapsible laundry hampers—one for trash and one for recycling—and line each with a trash bag.
Make it fun.
We saved the best for last. Nothing gets everyone more pumped up for a game than music.
Sonos Move and Roam help create the ultimate mood for a tailgate. Just place them wherever it makes the most sense to get the best sound—and don’t worry if that’s in the direct sun or next to the cooler. They’re designed to hold the line against both heat and icy cold water.
Now, what to play? Create a collaborative playlist and fill it with your team’s fight songs, upbeat classics, tracks that bring you back to high school or college, and Jock Jams. Lots and lots of Jock Jams.
Or, to make it easier, check out ESPN’s collection of Hype Hits, featuring the “top hype up music of all time.” Each playlist covers a different genre, from pop, hip hop, and dance to country, rock, and Latin.
When it’s time for kickoff, don’t worry if you weren’t able to score tickets. Stream ESPN2’s coverage of the game to your speaker via Bluetooth. If you’re closer to home and within range of your WiFi, you can find local sports coverage on Sonos Radio, which is especially helpful if you don’t live in the same city as the team you’re rooting for.
And, to get everyone in the competitive spirit (and distract them while the brisket cooks just a little bit longer), bring along yard games like cornhole, ladder toss, and spikeball.