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The 10 Worst Things to Bring to a Tailgate, Experts Say

Throw a party to remember—for all the right reasons.

Whether you're heading to the stadium to watch the big game or gearing up to see your favorite performer in concert, a tailgate can help get the party started. This pre-game event—usually held in the parking lot outside of the venue—is a great way to gather your friends, power up with a tasty meal, play a few games, and bond over your shared excitement for the festivities.

Though tailgate parties are typically casual events, that doesn't mean you should throw all decorum out the window. Experts say that whether you're in charge of hosting a tailgating event or attending a potluck-style party, there are still certain rules about what you should and shouldn't bring. Wondering what to strike from your shopping list to ensure your party planning goes off without a hitch? Read on to learn the 10 worst things to bring to a tailgate event, according to etiquette experts and chefs.

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Homemade alcoholic concoctions

red solo cup, american culture

Bringing a homemade dish to share with your friends at a tailgate is a great way to contribute to the party. Bringing a homemade bottle of alcohol, on the other hand, is a disaster waiting to happen.

Sophie Hammond, an etiquette expert at Everyday Courtesy, says that homemade alcoholic drinks can be "unpredictable in strength and may lead to overconsumption." They may also violate the rules of the stadium, which could get you all removed from the parking lot before kickoff.

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Foods that melt or lose texture in the heat

A rainbow colored ice cream cone has dropped upside down on the sidewalk on a summer day

Next, you'll want to give careful consideration to your menu. Brian Theis, an NYC-based recipe developer, TV personality, and cookbook author, recommends avoiding any foods that are likely to melt, spoil, or change unexpectedly without refrigeration or freezing. In particular, he calls out ice cream, chocolate, certain cheeses, and soft fruits like peaches and bananas as poor fits for the occasion.

"There are other dessert options—bring along a pound cake with firmer fruits like apples or oranges as a topping. Brownies can be a less 'melty' way to get your chocolate fix," says Theis. When in doubt, keep it simple with some PB&J sandwiches, cookies, and pre-cut watermelon, he suggests.

Loud music speakers

Group Of Sports Fans Tailgating In Stadium Car Park
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Many people bring speakers to their tailgating events, but given the tight quarters of the parking lot, you may find your tunes competing with those of the next car over. Instead of blasting the volume ever higher to drown each other out, Hammond recommends embracing a community atmosphere by keeping your own music low or letting other partygoers set the playlist.

"Respect the space of others and keep the volume at a considerate level," Hammond says.

Any foods that use mayo as a primary ingredient

potato salad

You should also categorically avoid any foods in which the primary ingredient is mayo, since these can quickly spoil.

"Potato salad, pasta salad, chicken salads all seem like easy go-to choices but they really have to be kept chilly in order not to go bad and poison people" says Theis. "Same with deviled eggs—just don't do it. You can whip up similar tasty salads and sandwiches of all kinds with basic oil, vinegar, and herb-based dressings that will be far more resistant to spoiling," he tells Best Life.

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Politically charged decor or attire

Bean bags on American flag Cornhole board

Dressing to support your team? Great idea at a tailgate. Dressing to make a political statement? Maybe not so much, says Hammond. The etiquette expert recommends against  politically charged attire or decor, which she says can come off as pushy or divisive at an event that's meant to be inclusive and celebratory.

"A tailgate is a time for fun, not debates," Hammond notes.

A keg of beer

Man holding keg of beer tailgate party

If you associate tailgating with a cold brew, you're not alone—beer is a common fixture at tailgating events. However, many college campuses and even NFL stadiums have strict rules against excessive drinking and seek to limit the amount of alcohol visitors consume.

Theis says bringing a keg of beer is simply "too much" and that if you plan to drink, you should bring single-serve beverages in recyclable plastic bottles or cans. Though he recommends bringing twice as many non-alcoholic beverages and waters as you do beers and other alcohols, he adds that you should think twice about sugary soda. "It can become messy, sticky, and attract pests," Theis warns.

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Oversized cuts of meat

Friends grilling and tailgating
Sean Locke Photography/Shutterstock

A little light grilling is a great way to feed your fellow revelers, but Theis says many tailgaters go overboard in their enthusiasm.

"Huge roasts, briskets, whole fish, I'm looking at you," he says, recommending against anything that takes too long to grill or that will require a lot of effort to cut into portions for serving or eating. "Hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken breasts (all carefully kept cold in transit) are the way to go here. If you can serve it in a sandwich, all the better. And bring along a meat thermometer to make sure what you're grilling is safely and completely cooked," the chef urges.

Glass containers

cooler with beer bottles / Shutterstock

Glass containers are another item that are better left at home—especially if you want to avoid accidents or injuries. This means you should leave all glass bowls, bottles, cups, and food storage containers behind. "They can break easily, posing a safety hazard," explains Hammond.

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Fried chicken

southern fried chicken, deep fried chicken on place

At a tailgate or any other outdoor event, it pays to consider cleanliness. You should assume that you won't have anywhere to wash your hands, and decide the menu accordingly. Fried chicken is a perfect example of a messy meal that may be more trouble than it's worth.

"Think twice before going this route," says Theis. "Your sani-wipes could come to the rescue here, but the grease gets on everything else too, like clothes. In my experience it's just not worth the mess. Try cleanly baking or roasting your tailgate chicken instead."

Pre-dressed salad

hand pouring a cream-based salad dressing onto a salad in a white bowl
Chris LayKK / Shutterstock

Adding some veggies to your tailgating plate is a great idea, but Theis suggests skipping green salads, especially if they're pre-dressed. "Limp, soggy, oily. Sounds delightful, doesn't it?" he says.

Instead, opt for a pre-cut veggie platter with a separate dip or grill up some vegetable kebabs on a skewer.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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