9 Examples of Food You Can Leave Out at a Tailgate

food you can leave out at a tailgate

A commonly asked question is “what food can I leave out at a tailgate?” We have come up with nine food options to answer that question.

Nothing beats tailgate food. It is simply the best and there is something for everyone. A staple of every tailgate is the grill. With a grill you can make the basics like burgers, hot dogs, or sausages. Unfortunately, there are two problems with grilling at a tailgate. For one, not everyone has a grill. Fortunately, you don’t need a grill to have great tailgate food. There a plenty of foods you can make ahead of time and just bring to the tailgate.

Secondly, foods that you grill don’t last for a longtime, once they get cold no one wants to eat it. Cold cheeseburgers? No thank you. If you grill too much, a lot will just go to waste. Once a burger or hot dog has been sitting out for 30 minutes, it’s time to throw it out. Generally, grill food is not food that you can leave out at a tailgate.

Here is a list of nine foods that will solve your grilling issues. All nine can be made ahead of time and can sit out for a little longer. All food on this list can sit out for at least two hours before they should be thrown out.

1. Chicken Wings

Chicken wings are a classic game day food. There are one of the best finger foods you can have. Even better, chicken wings taste delicious cold. You can make them ahead of time and keep them in aluminum foil so they stay warm before you consume them. Chicken is safe to consume for up to two hours sitting out at room temperature and won’t get gross like some grilled foods would.

Chicken wings are also great because of the variety. You can make regular wings, teriyaki, or buffalo wings. You can make either fried wings or oven-baked wings too. If you do want them to stay fresh for longer, I would recommend baking them in the oven. Fried wings are great but once they’ve been sitting out for a little while they start to lose their crunch. Baked chicken wings still taste great even when they get a little cold, making them a great option if you are looking for food that you can leave out at a tailgate.

2. Chips and Salsa

Can’t go wrong with chips and salsa when it comes to a tailgate. It doesn’t necessarily have to be salsa either. You can go with a dip or whatever others prefer. My favorite just happens to be salsa. You can just leave a bag of chips and bowl of salsa out on the table and people can pick at it throughout the tailgate. Chips and salsa is a food combination you can leave out at a tailgate because you don’t have to worry about it getting cold.

There is obviously no cooking required, making chips and salsa one of the easiest tailgate foods you can bring. If you want, you could make your own salsa or dip. I think a store bought salsa more than gets the job done though. If you really want to impress your friends, you can put store bought salsa in a container and make it look like you made it yourself. No one will know the difference!

3. Brownies

Maybe not the first thing you would think to bring to a tailgate. When I think of tailgate food, I think of appetizers and grilling food. However, I never turn down dessert food. If you bring brownies, they will be a hit.

Brownies are easy enough to make beforehand and bring with you to the tailgate. Just make sure that you keep them covered so they stay fresh for longer. As long as they stay covered, they should last the whole tailgate (unless they all get eaten!).

With brownies there is also a lot of variety. You could switch it up and add chocolate chips or Oreo’s to your brownies. You don’t have to go with brownies either. Really any dessert food would work here. Cookies are another example of something that will last the whole time as long as you keep them covered.

4. Premade Sandwiches

There’s a reason premade sandwiches are served at pretty much every catered event. They are so easy to make and everyone likes them. As long as you keep them covered, they will be good for up to two hours. They are incredibly easy to make beforehand. If you are hosting a large crowd, premade sandwiches are a great option. You can make large sandwiches and just cut them into smaller portions.

Also, not everyone has the same preferences. You can easily make a few different kinds of premade sandwiches. If you want them to stay fresher for longer, you could put them in a cooler so they stay cold. If you go with premade sandwiches you’ll be sure to have something that won’t disappoint.

5. Pasta Salad

Pasta salad is one of the most popular tailgate foods. It makes a great side no matter what you are having for pregame appetizers. There are also a ton of different varieties of pasta salad. Pasta salad is a light option that is especially great for any summer tailgate.

You can easily throw a pasta salad together beforehand and bring it with you. You don’t have to worry about keeping it hot because it is meant to be cold anyways. If you want it to last a little longer, you could keep it in a cooler so it stays cold. If not, you can expect it stay good for up to two hours sitting out.

6. Cheese and Crackers

Up there with chips and salsa, you won’t find something easier to bring to a tailgate. Admittedly, cheese and crackers maybe won’t be a crowd favorite. There are just better options. However, at least you know that it is something that everyone will like. Cheese and crackers is also a food that you can leave out at a tailgate without having to worry about it going cold. The cheese can stay out for up two hours at room temperature and the crackers can stay out the whole time if you keep them covered.

No cooking involved here, just gotta pack and go. You’re not limited to just cheese and crackers. You could also add meats and other cheeses. If you want to go all out, you could make a charcuterie board.

7. Buffalo Chicken Dip

This is hands down my favorite tailgate food. Buffalo chicken dip will be a crowd favorite at any tailgate. You don’t have to worry about it sitting it out because it won’t last long. If it does need to sit out though, you can leave it covered and it can sit out on the table for up to two hours.

Another thing that is great about buffalo chicken dip is that it is incredibly easy to make. All you have to do is throw all the ingredients in a crock pot and you’re good to go. A lot of the foods mentioned earlier at great for summer tailgates, but buffalo chicken dip is also fantastic for tailgating in the cold. If you do find yourself at a cold weather tailgate, check out our article on how to stay warm at a tailgate.

8. Muddy Buddies

If you have never had muddy buddies before, you are missing out. You maybe wouldn’t think to bring muddy buddies to a tailgate but they’ll be gone in no time if you do. You can leave them out for up to two hours but I would keep them covered to keep them as fresh as you can. If you can, I would try to keep them cool because the chocolate will melt.

Muddy buddies are incredibly easy to make and don’t require any cooking. You can check out the recipe for Muddy Buddies here (links to Chex.com). Muddy buddies a great option for food you can leave at a tailgate because they aren’t cooked and won’t be gross if they sit out for a little bit.

9. Pizza

If you ask someone what their favorite food is, there’s a decent chance they’ll say pizza. Who doesn’t like pizza? There are just so many options to please any crowd. Like everything else out the list you can leave it out for up to two hours. It will get cold before then, but cold pizza is great. In fact some people like cold people more than hot pizza.

Pizza is also incredibly easy for you to bring to a tailgate. It is even easier than chips and salsa. There is no cooking or packing required. All you have to do is order ahead of time and pick it up. If you want, you could make a homemade pizza but picking up a couple of pizzas for the tailgate will make your life so much easier.

Hopefully this list helps you at your next tailgate. If you need more tips on tailgating, be sure to check out our tailgating section!

Sam Rebinskas

Sam is the co-founder of Improve Your Gameday and loves all Boston sports teams.

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