60+ Easy Tailgate Food Ideas that Won’t Break the Bank


Football season, or foodball as I like to call it, is in full swing, so let’s line up some Easy Tailgate Food. Whether you’re parking it at the stadium or just enjoying a game day at home with friends, these tailgate food ideas are keepers for sure!

Move over chicken wings and beer cheese, we’ve got some fun new foods to try this season, including Buffalo Chicken Bites, Loaded Potato Salad, and Jalapeño Popper Potatoes!

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You’ve got your fantasy football picks all lined up. You’ve secured tickets for the weekend game. You’re ready to enjoy it all along with some great friends and great food.

How about some Easy Tailgate Food on a Budget?!

The bill for tailgate food can quickly get away from you. By the time you’ve purchased the meat to grill, the drinks to line the bar, and all the necessary condiments, you can easily find yourself with empty pockets.

I call that a penalty, for sure!

Don’t pass up affordable and easy tailgate food this season. With a few key strategies you’ll be able to enjoy the game with friends over a frugal, yet festive feast.

Why Do This

You may not think that it matters, but the less you spend on your tailgate food purchases, the MORE tailgate parties you can host! Score big with your friends this season by stretching your dollar with budget-friendly, easy Tailgate Food.

woman holding white, square plate of macaroni salad, veggies, and a hot dog with mustard.

Tips for Success

As always, the Good Cheap Eats System is a go-to play, especially when you want to offer a spread of Tailgate Food. Follow these tips for best results.

Shop your pantry.

Chances are you’ve got a lot of good stuff on hand already. I know from my frequent pantry challenges, that I’ve got some great treasures lurking in my cupboards, fridge, and freezer.

Do a quick scan of your kitchen stores and see what’s there. Not sure you can see the possibilities? Consider these ideas to warm you up:

  • Macaroni, canned beans, and tomatoes can easily be combined with spices to make a delicious Crockpot Chili Mac.
  • A bag of frozen chicken tenders will quickly become Crispy Chicken Tenders. Serve a variety of mustards and sauces you can make yourself on the side.
  • A bag of potatoes? Serve a baked potato bar with Crockpot Baked Potatoes.
  • A carton of sour cream and a visit to your spice cupboard will earn you a Sour Cream Onion Dip to rival any packaged mix on the market.

Tailgate food doesn’t need to be expensive, especially when you’re using what you’ve already purchased!

Shop the Sales and Clearance.

clearance purchases from Ralphs grocery

Each week your grocery store releases a flyer with some of their best limited time specials. These change on the same day each week; for instance here in San Diego, the new sales period starts on Wednesdays.

Make it a habit to check your sales flyers – you can access them via the mail, in the store, or online. Build your menus around what’s on sale.

As hockey and football season are gearing up, you’re sure to find tailgate food in and among the different sales offers, like sales on brats and buns so you can make my Grilled Brats with Peppers and Onions cheaply.

But don’t dismiss clearance or soon-to-be-discontinued items. There’s wealth to be had in the clearance section!

On a recent trip to my grocery store’s clearance sections, I found super fresh hot dog and hamburger buns, high-end ground turkey, a stack of fancy pants soup mixes, fresh sourdough bread, oyster crackers, and gluten-free chocolate chip cookies.

Supplemented with a few other purchases, this haul could easily render a burger/hot dog night as well as a soup supper – with a sweet treat for a gluten-free fan to enjoy. All for less than 50% their normal prices.

Think creatively when you shop and you’ll score big time! Tailgate food doesn’t need to be pricey. You can very easily stretch your dollar to accommodate the fun celebrations you want to host this season.

Choose recipes that suit the occasion.

Tailgating is different than a backyard BBQ since you’ll be packing it all to take elsewhere and cook outside. It’s closer to camping – but with sports!

  • By nature, tailgating involves eating out of the car or in a parking lot, be sure to choose recipes that are easily portable.
  • Pack lots of ice (weather requiring) and meal prep dishes so you can package away the leftovers for later.
  • On very cold days, choose low-mess dishes that you can eat without taking off your gloves, like Sausage Kabobs.
quick chili in a white bowl with toppings.

Ingredients to Stock Up On

Keep an eye open for sales on these ingredients so that you can enjoy Tailgate Food on a budget.

  • hot dogs, burger patties, chicken wings, and other grilling cuts
  • cream cheese, sour cream, and shredded cheese for dips and toppings
  • black beans, pinto beans, and kidney beans for chili
  • bacon and jalapeños to make poppers
  • pasta for easy pasta salads
  • veggies to make a simple vegetable tray
  • cabbage for homemade coleslaw

FAQs

Why is it called tailgate food?

It’s called tailgate food because traditionally it was enjoyed from the back of a truck’s tailgate in the parking lot of the stadium before the game.

What is the most popular tailgate food?

Who cares? Make what you like and what fits the budget. There’s a world of options out there — and not enough games to try them all.

What time should you set up your tailgate?

You don’t want to feel rushed and you want to enjoy the game. Arrive at the stadium 3 to 4 hours prior to kickoff so that you have plenty of time for set up, socializing, and scarfing good eats. Be sure to read the rules and regulations at your local stadium too.

overhead shop of air fryer tortilla chips with salsa in marble bowl.

Appetizers

Appetizers are perfect tailgate food. Everyone can bring a couple different options and you’ll have easy variety. Choose finger foods that are easy to eat without sitting at a proper table.

Mango Peach Salsa

Enjoy a twist with your chips and salsa with this tasty Mango Peach Salsa. Instead of tomatoes, use peaches. It’s perfect for chips or topping grilled meat and fish.

Check out this recipe

mango peach salsa on a blue corn tortilla chip over a bowl of salsa.
Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dip

Enjoy dipping veggies, pizza, or chicken tender into this easy homemade ranch dip. It’s delicious and made with all real food ingredients.

Check out this recipe

bowl of ranch dip surrounded by veggie dippers.
Jalapeño Artichoke Dip

Parmesan cheese, artichokes, and diced jalapeños combine in a hot and bubbly Jalapeno Artichoke Dip that is sure to please. Offer toasted baguette for a deliciously easy appetizer.

Check out this recipe

overhead shot of jalapeno artichoke dip in white tureen on brown wood board, surrounded with toasts for dipping.
Sour Cream Onion Dip

This recipe will help you make Sour Cream Onion Dip easy and without any packaged soup mix. It’s perfect for snacking!

Check out this recipe

hand dipping a potato chip into bowl of sour cream onion dip near platter of veggie dippers.
Really Homemade Seven Layer Dip

This easy seven layer dip recipe is homemade – meaning less processed and more deliciousness! It’s the perfect appetizer for taco night as well as holiday get-togethers.

Check out this recipe

brown pie plate holding taco layer dip.
Recipe for Dill Dip

Make your own Dill Dip with sour cream and a few spice cupboard staples: dried dill, onion flakes, garlic powder, parsley flakes, onion powder, and black pepper.

Check out this recipe

dill dip in small round dish on veggie tray.
Spicy Chicken Dip

This Spicy Chicken Dip is out of this world. Creamy, cheesy, spicy, and full of tender chicken pieces, this dip will please kids and adults alike.

Check out this recipe

bowl of chips and chicken dip on plate
Jalapeno Cheese Dip

Hot dips are the perfect appetizer to serve to friends and family. This rich and creamy Jalapeno Cheese Dip is amazing!

Check out this recipe

dipping a chip into cheese dip
healthy spinach dip with veggies and crackers
Sausage Stuffed Mini Peppers

Stuffed Mini Peppers make for a super simple, but elegant appetizer, with Italian sausage, mozzarella cheese, and a tomato dipping sauce.

Check out this recipe

mini peppers stuffed with sausage and cheese on white platter.
Easy Jalapeno Poppers

An easy jalapeno poppers recipe with bacon and rice to tame the heat!

Check out this recipe

A platter of jalapeno poppers
Baked Zucchini Fritters

Bake up a batch of zucchini fritters. Flavorful with shredded zucchini and green onions, they’ll have you coming back for more.

Check out this recipe

hand dipping a baked zucchini fritter into a small white dish of ranch.
Easy Homemade Salsa

If you’ve been buying salsa in a jar, it may be time to think about making Homemade Salsa. It’s cheaper and tastier than the commercial varieties. And so easy!

Check out this recipe

hand holding chip piled with salsa above a marble pestle of salsa.
Cactus Salsa

Cactus Salsa isn’t one of the most common party appetizers you’ll find, but it’s super delicious, fresh, and easy to make.

Check out this recipe

bowl of cactus with salsa ingredients unmixed
Vegan Charcuterie Board

A Vegan Charcuterie Board featuring olives, pickles, vegetables, crackers, pretzels, and hummus is sure to please everyone at the table, even the meat eaters! It’s a super festive way to snack plant-based.

Check out this recipe

woman's hand dipping a pretzel into hummus on a vegan charcuterie board.
Easy, Affordable Relish Tray

A relish tray is a great dish to add to the appetizer or dinner table. It is super simple and totally affordable to make with select veggies, olives, and pickles.

Check out this recipe

overhead shot of the relish tray near a stack of toothpicks on a holiday table.
Easy Guacamole Recipe

With just four ingredients this Easy Guacamole recipe is one that you’ll have memorized after your first batch! It’s so good for dipping and topping tacos, burritos, and salads.

Check out this recipe

bowl of guacamole surrounded by blue corn tortillas
Super Easy Veggie Tray

Purchased vegetable trays are convenient, but they can be costly. Here’s all you need to create a super easy veggie tray and save money.

Check out this recipe

vegetable tray laid with cauliflower, cucumber, peas, peppers, and carrots.
Easy Stuffed Mushrooms with Bacon and Greens

Enjoy a flavorful appetizer with this easy stuffed mushrooms recipe. Bacon, greens, and cheese make the humble mushroom amazing!

Check out this recipe

A plate of stuffed mushrooms
Crispy Chicken Patties

Ready for a fun and flavorful dinner? Cook up a batch of fried Chicken Patties. Better than any chicken nuggets, they make a hearty main dish protein or a tasty filler for sandwiches.

Check out this recipe

Chicken Patties on white platter
Santa Barbara Cowboy Caviar

Santa Barbara Caviar is a delicious bean dip that acts like a salsa. It’s perfect with chips, to top tacos or enchiladas, or even to serve simply on rice.

Check out this recipe

Santa Barbara Cowboy Caviar in a bowl, with beer
Pesto Bruschetta

Enjoy all the bright flavors of summer in this easy-to-prep Pesto Bruschetta. An ideal appetizer, it also makes a great light lunch.

Check out this recipe

A plate of food, with pesto Bruschetta
meat thermometer inserted into a brat, approaching 160 degrees.

Grilling recipes

Grilled meats are traditional tailgate food, but don’t forget you can grill veggies or even pizza!

Spice-Rubbed Grilled Pork Tenderloin

Homemade spice blends are a cheap and easy way to add flavor and texture to your favorite grilled meats. Try this grilled pork tenderloin with its warm, spicy rub.

Check out this recipe

grilled pork tenderloin sliced on a plate with cheesy potatoes and green beans.
Grilled Sirloin Tip Steak with Greek Marinade

Fire up the grill and get cooking! But first mix up some Greek marinade to prep this Grilled Sirloin Tip Steak. It’s perfect as a main dish protein or for folding into pitas.

Check out this recipe

tongs holding up piece of grilled sirloin tip above the grill.
Meat and Cheese Platters

Host a party or even a casual meal with friends and serve Homemade Meat and Cheese Platters can make the meal so easy and cheap!

Check out this recipe

meat and cheese platters on buffet table.
Grilled Brats with Peppers and Onions

Enjoy the smoky goodness of grilled brats with peppers and onions. With just a handful of veggies, you’ve got the makings of a great brats dinner in less than 30 minutes!

Check out this recipe

ten grilled brats ready on the grill.
Grilled Pork Chops with Basil-Balsamic Marinade

Fresh basil and tangy balsamic vinegar add rich flavor to these grilled pork chops. Make a double batch and freeze one for a later date.

Check out this recipe

stack of balsamic pork chops on platter on red check cloth
Grilled Pizza

Bake pizza on the grill for a low-mess, low-heat dinner. This method utilizes pizza screens to make the process quick and easy.

Check out this recipe

uncooked pizza on the grill
Mustard-Grilled Chicken

Liven up Chicken Night with this delicious Dijon Mustard Marinade. It mixes up quickly and tastes amazing on grilled chicken breast. Bonus: it’s freezer-friendly.

Check out this recipe

chicken breast on a plate with green beans and rice
Grilled Buffalo Chicken

Buffalo wings are a tasty treat, but sometimes you want something meatier. This Grilled Buffalo Chicken is just the thing! Full of flavor and easy to prep, you’ll have a great dish to throw on the grill.

Check out this recipe

chicken breasts sliced on wooden cutting board
Grilled Dijon Basil Chicken

This Grilled Dijon Basil Chicken recipe screams of summer. Use fresh summer basil and cook it outdoors for a taste that can’t be beat.

Check out this recipe

A plate of grilled dijon basil chicken
Spicy Grilled Tri-tip

This spicy rub recipe for tri-tip and other cuts of beef is super easy to prepare. Rub the meat and throw it on the grill for a super supper.

Check out this recipe

A plate of Tri-tip and vegetables
Grilled Shrimp Tacos

Grilled Shrimp Tacos are super easy to prepare and packed with flavor. Make a few freezer meal kits of spice and seafood, and you can enjoy these tacos at the drop of a hat.

Check out this recipe

shrimp tacos on a plate
Hot Dog Toppings Bar

Serving a variety of hot dog toppings is a great way to elevate the classic summer party meal.

Check out this recipe

hot dog in whole wheat bun topped with sauteed peppers and onions.
cooked stew in crock of slow cooker.

Slow Cooker Recipes

The slow cooker or instant pot can take a lot of the hassle out of prepping tailgate food and keeping it hot.

French Dip Sandwiches (Instant Pot & Slow Cooker)

Looking for an easy meal? This French Dip can be prepped in the Instant Pot or the slow cooker, making for easy and delicious sandwiches that are very make-ahead.

Check out this recipe

cut french dip sandwich on square plate with cup of jus and waffle fries.
Spicy Pork Chili with Pumpkin

This Spicy Pork Chili with Pumpkin will wow everyone at your table. Tender chunks of pork simmer in a pumpkin-tomato sauce redolent with chile.

Check out this recipe

pork chili in a bowl marked ENJOY with a plate of tortilla chips.
Best Ever Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Looking for a simple yet flavorful way to cook pork? Combine a homemade rub with a cheap cut of pork and cook it slowly in the slow cooker for a fantastic filling for sandwiches, lettuce wraps, and tacos.

Check out this recipe

best pulled pork in a freezer container to freeze.
Easy Slow Cooker Chili

This Easy Slow Cooker Chili really is easy. Cook up meat and onions, open some cans, dump some spices, and walk away.

Check out this recipe

A close up of mug of chili bean soup
Slow Cooked Sweet and Sour Meatballs

Make takeout for cheap at home with these easy slow cooked, sweet and sour meatballs. The sauce cooks in the slow cooker and mimics the flavor of restaurant Chinese food.

Check out this recipe

A plate of rice and meatballs
Sweet and Sour Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

Let your slow cooker do the work with an easy sweet and sour pulled chicken filling perfect for sandwiches and wraps. This simple crockpot recipe will save you time and money!

Check out this recipe

sweet and sour pulled chicken on hawaiian rolls on plate
Beef Stew with Eggplant & Carrots

This Beef and Eggplant Stew is easy to prepare since it cooks in the slow cooker. The eggplant and vegetables become very tender, the savory beef delicious.

Check out this recipe

bowl of beef eggplant stew next to napkin and spoon
Mushroom Beef Stew with Kalamata Olives

Want a dinner you can set and forget? Stir up a batch of this Mushroom Beef Stew with Kalamata Olives for a hearty, flavorful supper any night of the week.

Check out this recipe

overhead shot of beef stew with mushrooms and olives and a sprig of rosemary, all in a black bowl.
Guinness Beef Stew Recipe

Homemade Guinness beef stew is homey and comforting. It’s also so easy to make, you’ll wonder why anyone would think to ruin it in a can.

Check out this recipe

table set with bowls of stew
Crockpot Enchiladas

Crockpot Enchiladas are packed with flavor and make a perfect potluck recipe. Let the slow cooker do all the work while you enjoy time with friends and family.

Check out this recipe

layered enchiladas in slow cooker
Chihuahua Chili

This easy Chihuahua Chili comes together quickly on the stove or in a slow cooker. Flavorful from enchilada sauce, beer, and spices, it is the perfect bowl of red.

Check out this recipe

close up of chili with topping
large bowl of pasta salad next to filled meal prep boxes with red lids on black table top.

Salads

Salads are great tailgate food choices since you can make them the day before and keep them cold on ice.

Antipasto Pasta Salad

Blend all your favorite antipasto flavors into a convenient pasta salad. This recipe blends spicy salami, tangy parmesan, hearty garbanzo beans, and the crunch of fresh vegetables.

Check out this recipe

sideview of spoonful of antipasto pasta salad over bowl of salad.
Southwest Pasta Salad

Liven up your next pasta dinner with this Southwest Pasta Salad. It’s got all the fun south-of-the-border flavors with the ease of a noodle salad.

Check out this recipe

A bowl of pasta and southwest ingredients
Cannellini Bowtie Pasta Salad

Summer salads are a great way to eat well on these hot summer days. Try out this Cannellini Bowtie Pasta that comes together in a flash.

Check out this recipe

bowl of bowtie pasta salad with meal prep boxes
Italian Chicken Pasta Salad

Busy night? Grab a bowl of this make-ahead Italian Chicken Pasta Salad. It’s easy to make and packed with flavor.

Check out this recipe

A bowl of pasta salad with chicken
Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad with Cheese

Stir up this quick and easy, old fashioned macaroni salad recipe in minutes. Studded with celery, red onion, and cheddar cheese, wrapped in a creamy mayo dressing, this pasta’s packed with flavor and perfect for picnicking.

Check out this recipe

hand holding square plate with macaroni salad, fruit salad, and a hot dog with mustard.
Coleslaw with Apples and Almonds

Want to add something crisp and fresh to the table tonight? Stir up a batch of this super yummy Coleslaw with Apples and Almonds.

Check out this recipe

overhead shot of bowl of coleslaw with apples.
Deli Potato Salad

This Deli Potato Salad is one of those summer dishes that is filling without heating you up. A traditional potato salad recipe that goes great with grilled meats, sandwiches, and salad buffet meals, it’s a great after-anything kind of snack.

Check out this recipe

big white bowl of potato salad on red checked cloth
Loaded Potato Salad

With spring here and summer just around the corner, it’s time to dust off your repertoire of side salads for picnics and cookouts. Be sure to include this Loaded Potato Salad recipe with smoky bacon and sharp cheddar.

Check out this recipe

A metal bowl of potato salad
Red Potato Salad with Whole Grain Mustard

Looking for good old fashioned comfort food in the middle of summer? Serve up this Red Potato Salad with Whole Grain Mustard at your next BBQ. It is full of flavor and oh so comforting.

Check out this recipe

Whole Grain Mustard Potato Salad
magic bars cut into pieces in a plastic container with a red lid.

Dessert

You gotta have some dessert after your hearty tailgate food. These are easy to transport or even assemble on site.

Dessert Charcuterie Board

One of the easiest desserts you can serve is a dessert charcuterie board. Set out an array of chocolates, fruits, nuts, and popcorn for an elegant and simple sweet touch to your evening.

Check out this recipe

dessert board made with several bowls and platters.
How to Make S’mores Indoors

You can make s’mores in rain or shine with this easy recipe. It’s so quick, you’ll have chocolate on your face in less than five minutes.

Check out this recipe

stack of smores on a broiler tray on a red cloth.
Crockpot Chocolate Fondue with Fruit and Poundcake

Crockpot Chocolate Fondue couldn’t be easier when it’s made in the slow cooker with just two ingredients! Evaporated milk and chocolate chips make a great sauce for fruit and poundcake.

Check out this recipe

slow cooker crock full of chocolate fondue with plates of fruit and cake
Oatmeal Craisin Cookies

These Oatmeal Craisin Cookies, in all their whole grain, antioxidant goodness, bake up in a flash and make a great treat for kids of all ages.

Check out this recipe

array of oatmeal craisin cookies on rack.
Double Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

These Double Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies combine all that’s good in a cookie: hearty oats, earthy cocoa powder, and sweet chocolate chips. They get a little extra kick from cayenne pepper and ground cinnamon.

Check out this recipe

stack of double chocolate oatmeal cookies on white plate.
Magic Bars

Known by a number of names, the Magic Bar, Hello Dolly Bar, or 7-Layer Bar is a delicious layered cookie that can be made in thousands of combinations with these Magic Bars Variations.

Check out this recipe

Robert Redford Dessert in a Jar

This vintage dessert, originally called Better than Robert Redford gets a face lift. Make it in jars or small ramekins for an elegant presentation.

Check out this recipe

overhead shot of array of jar desserts with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.
Chocolate Parfaits

Chocolate Cream Pie gets morphed into a dessert in a jar, a Chocolate Parfait, to be exact. Perfect for your next game day dessert or holiday get-together.

Check out this recipe

overhead shot of four chocolate parfaits in an array on white napkin.
a white tray with jars of chocolate parfaits in rows.

More Game Day Recipes

This post was originally published on September 6, 2018. It has been updated for content and clarity.



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