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Tailgating Traditions: A Look Back and Ahead

If football is America’s favorite pastime, then tailgating is its trusted sidekick. But how did this time-honored tradition get started? Let’s take a look back at the history of tailgating from its origins and up to the present day, along with ways to make your next al fresco fete — game, concert, or any other outdoor occasion — an unforgettable one.


The quintessential tailgate meal, multiplied.

The First Tailgate Parties

According to one USA Today article, tailgating is a “complex community-building exercise that hearkens back to ancient harvest festivals.” In other words, it’s about a whole lot more than a football game.

Not only that, but the origins of tailgating aren’t even American. Rather, they date all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome. It wasn’t until thousands of years later that tailgating first appeared in the United States on the battlefield during the Civil War.

Tailgating Today

Since their earliest days, tailgate parties have evolved to become the domain of everything from college football games to rock concerts. But while they earned their name from the fact that they’re typically held near the open tailgate of partygoers’ vehicles, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to this boisterous tradition.

One example of a “tailgate” party that puts a non-conventional spin on the concept? The Santa Fe Opera’s longstanding, formal, pre-performance tailgating tradition held in an amphitheater.

The 21st Century Tailgate Party

Tailgate parties are now synonymous with food and fun, although hosts and hostesses have more options than ever when it comes to creating the menu. Go-to fare for standard celebrations includes the grilling of many different types of meats, including hot dogs, hamburgers, sausages and other typical picnic foods. While these are always crowd-pleasers, many foodies are choosing to up their culinary game by putting a twist on traditional tailgating.

From sliders and heritage meats to charcuterie boards with gourmet cheese and meats, there are endless ways to serve up tasty tailgate fare. And thanks to the advent of mail order food, elevated tailgating doesn’t have to involve an exorbitant amount of time or effort.

One perfect pick which honors tailgating’s culinary heritage while simultaneously serving up an extraordinary meal? Pat LaFrieda Meats’ Pat’s Game Day Sausage & Sliders Tailgate Pack. This football game-worthy feast includes two different kinds of sliders — Pat’s original blend and the sublime short rib burger blend — as well two different types of sausage.

Or, for the ultimate game-winning play consider Murray’s Top Shelf Cheese Collection from NYC’s “Cheese Mecca,” Murray’s Cheese. A NY Daily News pick for “Gifts for Food Lovers,” this crate full of cheese, charcuterie and accoutrements is the ultimate epicurean indulgence, offering a flavor palette comprising everything from grassy and silky to nutty and hearty. Not to mention that if making memories is your goal, nothing says “unforgettable” like a handmade wood crate brimming with unexpected delicacies including honey comb, fig and almond cake, and Creminelli Barolo salami.


A splendid spin on a time-honored tradition.

While very different in nature, a common theme running through each of these incarnations of the modern-day tailgate party is one thing: a sense of community brought on by feasting with friends and family members outside the home. So while football may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of tailgating, there are plenty of other reasons to embrace the convivial spirit of the tailgate party and start planning an outdoor occasion of your own.