America's Best Tailgating Cities
Kansas City, MO
NFL: Kansas City Chiefs, Arrowhead Stadium
Before each game, Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt strolls through the grounds visiting fans, a tradition started by his father, team founder Lamar Hunt. Kansas City–style barbecue is a draw, but Hunt believes Arrowhead Stadium's massive facilities are a primary reason that Chiefs tailgating is so popular. "We can park 25,000 cars and still have plenty of room for tailgating," he says.
NFL: Chicago Bears, Soldier Field
"You don't really have a football game without a tailgate. They go hand in hand," says Paula Dillon, who has been tailgating with her husband, John, for 18 years. The Dillons love the camaraderie in the lot. "Everyone knows each other," John says. Grilled Krispy Kreme donuts are an unusual specialty here. Bears fanatics also go for Chicago-style hot dogs: Vienna beef dogs topped with onion, relish, tomato, mustard, celery salt, pickles and pickled sport peppers (a small, medium-hot variety).
NFL: Buffalo Bills, New Era Field
Buffalo is the birthplace of wings, and Bills fans eat their share, though "beef on weck"—a steak sandwich on a kummelweck (Kaiser) roll—is also popular. For more than 20 years, superfan "Pinto Ken" has cooked with improvised grills on and around his 1980 Pinto (he bakes pizzas in a converted file cabinet). He recently faced scrutiny from officials for serving shots of liquor to other fans via the thumbhole of a bowling ball.
San Diego, CA
NFL: San Diego Chargers, Qualcomm Stadium
Massive crowds congregate around Qualcomm Stadium, including at the team's official Power Party. San Diego boasts spectacular Mexican food, and it turns up at Chargers tailgates. "If you walk around our parking lot, you’ll see a lot of fans grilling up carne asada or pollo asado and making tacos," says team rep Jennifer Rojas.
NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers, Heinz Field
Some intense Pittsburgh fans operate the Mobile Tailgating Unit, a repurposed, Steelers-yellow ambulance. The big draw: an onboard restroom. Pittsburgh's Polish influence shows in tailgate offerings of kielbasa and pierogies.
NFL: Cleveland Browns, FirstEnergy Stadium
Local microbrews, like those from the Great Lakes Brewing Co., are popular with Browns fans. When it's time to grill, they opt for beer-can chicken.
NFL: New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium
Freezing weather doesn't deter Patriots fans. "They are committed to the tailgate. It goes on regardless," says Stacy James, a team official. Some fans shuck fresh oysters outside Gillette Stadium, and New England seafood shows up in clam chowder, but "what amazes me," James says, "is to the see the guys with the deep fryers" turning out crispy scallops, shrimp and clams.
East Rutherford, NJ
NFL: New York Giants and New York Jets, MetLife Stadium
Fans of both the Jets and the Giants go big at MetLife, the impressive New Meadowlands stadium which hosted Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014. On the Giants side, superfans have been known to convert buses and RVs into tailgating machines complete with flat screen TVs, satellite dishes, gas ranges and even Giants-blue astroturf. On the menu are tailgate standards like chili, jambalaya and crab legs.
NFL: Houston Texans, NRG Stadium
Texan fans are serious about Texas-style barbecue, which means beef brisket. Local pit masters bring in elaborate mobile smokers.
NFL: Miami Dolphins, Sun Life Stadium
As in the rest of Miami, Cuban food is popular at Dolphins tailgates. "It's not uncommon to see people grilling churrasco-style steak," says George Torres, a team official. Fans gather for live music at The Grand Plaza.
Green Bay, WI
NFL: Green Bay Packers, Lambeau Field
There are numerous stories of how tailgating came to be, but director of public affairs Aaron Popkey says there's some evidence that it was invented by Packers fans in the 1920s. Today, the team's enthusiastic tailgaters eat beer brats, a Midwestern staple of store-bought bratwurst cooked with beer and onions. "Most people prepare them at home and bring them in, but I have seen big kettles of boiling beer here," says Popkey.
Tampa Bay, FL
NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Raymond James Stadium
The $30 admission to the official Bucs tailgate buys fans unlimited food and two drink tickets—plus the chance to get autographs and take photos with team members and coaches while a live band plays. Fresh seafood is plentiful in Tampa, in addition to standard fare like burgers and grilled steaks.
NFL: Cincinnati Bengals, Paul Brown Stadium
"I don't know if it was invented here, but Cincinnati seems to be the cornhole capital of the world," says team official P.J. Combs, referring to the ubiquitous beanbag-tossing tailgate game. The city's eponymous chili, flavored with cinnamon and unsweetened chocolate, is always available—often as a "three-way," which includes spaghetti and cheese (add onions and/or beans to make a four- or five-way).
NFL: Oakland Raiders, O.co Coliseum
Raiders fans are famous for one thing: intensity. They've been known to roast whole pigs outside O.co Coliseum.
NFL: Washington Redskins, FedExField
"Fans can't wait to tailgate. They line up before we open the gates," says Redskins SVP Tony Wyllie. Ever since a particularly effective offensive line was nicknamed "The Hogs" in the '80s, the team's fans have taken pride in cooking pork.
NFL: Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field
Philly is a sandwich town, and its famously rowdy fans go for local favorites like cheese steaks, meatball subs and hoagies. Grilled Italian sausages and soft pretzels are also popular choices.
NFL: Baltimore Ravens, M&T Bank Stadium
It wouldn’t be Baltimore without the city's famous crab cakes. Longtime tailgaters the Poe brothers host a popular gathering in lot G with their famous SWAT truck (Stop Working And Tailgate).
College: Ole Miss Rebels, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at Hollingsworth Field
University of Mississippi fans congregate at The Grove, a 10-acre plot dedicated solely to tailgating on game days. "It's a place everyone should experience before they die," says law-school alum Joshua Kyle. Mississippi tailgaters consider themselves a different breed of reveler, and they're right. 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. "It's like something out of a Southern novel," says Kyle, "and when I tell my New York City friends about it, they don’t believe me."
South Bend, IN
College: Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Notre Dame Stadium
Notre Dame's tailgaters cheer as they ride through the lots in buses after Sunday morning mass. Before the game begins, the team makes its way to the appropriately nicknamed "Touchdown Jesus"—a mural overlooking the stadium that depicts Jesus with his arms raised like a referee declaring a touchdown.
College: Texas Longhorns, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium
Fans and their huge barbecue smokers fan out south and east of the stadium. Alum Tim Taylor has friends who arrive 10 hours before games to get a prime spot in the campus lots. For three hours leading up to each game, Austin's Texas Exes alumni association hosts The Biggest Tailgate in Texas, a blowout event that draws up to 10,000 fans.
Chapel Hill, NC
College: North Carolina Tar Heels, Kenan Memorial Stadium
"I have a vintage 1950s recipe book called Carolina Cooking," says Rick Davis of the school's alumni association. "It was written as a tailgate guide in 1953 by the Jr. Service League of Chapel Hill." Classic southern recipes, like egg salad and baked fish, are still popular here. Flanked by pine trees, this team's 1920s-era stadium regularly ranks as one of the most beautiful in the country.
College: Auburn Tigers, Jordan-Hare Stadium
"On game day, any available space becomes a parking lot," says Cassie Arner, a director in Auburn University's athletic department. "If you get a spot a mile away, you're considered close." Three hours before the game, revelers abandon elaborate setups (flat-screen TVs, satellite dishes and motorhomes that arrive days before the game are not uncommon) to watch the "tiger walk," the team's march into the stadium.
College: Colorado Buffaloes, Folsom Field
"Where else can you kill an elk in the morning, field dress it, pack it out and show up at the field in time for beers before the game?" asks Nick Clement, who was a walk-on defensive tackle at CU from 2001 to 2005. The University of Colorado’s outdoorsy setting boasts beautiful, sunny weather and gorgeous views of the Flatiron mountains.
College: Nebraska Cornhuskers, Memorial Stadium
Local beef is a draw for Huskers fans. Beyond the parking lots, fans congregate at nearby Misty's Steakhouse and Brewery.
College: Wisconsin Badgers, Camp Randall Stadium
What University of Wisconsin fans lack in space—tailgates take place in a series of small lots—they make up in enthusiasm. Groups compete to be recognized as the "tailgate of the game" on Camp Randall Stadium's video scoreboard. Outdoor bars on Regent Street offer brats and burgers before the game.
Baton Rouge, LA
College: LSU Tigers, Tiger Stadium
Huge crowds at Louisiana State University bring in Cajun food, like jambalaya, gumbo and cochon de lait (roast suckling pig). Championships and season openers may also call for a crawfish boil.