GAME ON: America's Best Tailgating Cities


Photo © Pamela Jeffrey / Food & Wine

This post originally appeared at Food & Wine.The term refers to partying in a parking lot, but college and NFL football fans across the country treat tailgating as over-the-top celebrations with enviable food.

“We want to dispel the notion that it’s a college kegger party,” says Paula Dillon, a Chicago Bears season-ticket holder who, with her husband, John, has been tailgating outside of Soldier Field for close to two decades. Despite their allegiance to the Bears, the Dillons plan menus that reference the visiting team, like barbecue when the Kansas City Chiefs come to town.

Cooking food influenced by the opposition is common practice, but stadium-goers also prepare their own regional tailgate foods among the ubiquitous hot dogs, burgers and grilled steaks. Patriots fans take pride in bringing New England seafood; Mexican food dominates at Chargers games in San Diego; and Southern tailgaters, like those on Duke University’s campus in Durham, NC favour fried chicken, deviled eggs and hush puppies.

The recurring theme across tailgating scenes nationwide: devotion—not just to football teams, but also to the pregame tradition. Loyal fans like to make the case that their city pioneered tailgating: “We have some unscientific evidence that it was invented here,” says Aaron Popkey, a Green Bay Packers spokesman.

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50 Best Bars In America >Best Airport Dining Spots >Best Fried Chicken In The U.S. >Best Pizza Places In The U.S. >Best Grilled Cheese In The U.S. >Perhaps the strongest arguments come from the students of the University of Mississippi. Ole Miss calls its dedicated tailgating grounds The Grove; 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. Alumni even talk about the venue in spiritual terms: “You’ve probably heard it called ‘the holy grail of tailgating’ or ‘the Mecca of tailgating’ or some other religious metaphor that, in truth, is not overblown,” says alum Matt Eichelberger.

This story was originally published by Food & Wine.

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.

Chicago, IL

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 doughnuts 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).

Buffalo, NY

NFL: Buffalo Bills, Ralph Wilson Stadium

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.

Pittsburgh, PA

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.

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 will host Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014. On the Jets side, hosts the official tailgate party of, previewing menus online that feature everything from smoked sausages to fresh cannoli and Brooklyn's local Kelso beer. Portions of season passes and game-day tickets support Luekemia and Lymphoma Society, too. As for the Giants, there's impressive grilling equipment that lets fans show serious team spirit.

Cleveland, OH

NFL: Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Browns 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.

Foxborough, MA

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.

Houston, TX

NFL: Houston Texans, Reliant Stadium

Texan fans are serious about Texas-style barbecue, which means beef brisket. Local pit masters bring in elaborate mobile smokers.

Miami, FL

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 AT&T Grand Plaza.

The list continues at Food & Wine

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