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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Enjoy dipping veggies, pizza, or chicken tender into this easy homemade ranch dip. It’s delicious and made with all real food ingredients.
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.
This recipe will help you make Sour Cream Onion Dip easy and without any packaged soup mix. It’s perfect for snacking!
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.
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.
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.
Hot dips are the perfect appetizer to serve to friends and family. This rich and creamy Jalapeno Cheese Dip is amazing!
Stuffed Mini Peppers make for a super simple, but elegant appetizer, with Italian sausage, mozzarella cheese, and a tomato dipping sauce.
An easy jalapeno poppers recipe with bacon and rice to tame the heat!
Bake up a batch of zucchini fritters. Flavorful with shredded zucchini and green onions, they’ll have you coming back for more.
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!
Cactus Salsa isn’t one of the most common party appetizers you’ll find, but it’s super delicious, fresh, and easy to make.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Enjoy a flavorful appetizer with this easy stuffed mushrooms recipe. Bacon, greens, and cheese make the humble mushroom amazing!
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.
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.
Enjoy all the bright flavors of summer in this easy-to-prep Pesto Bruschetta. An ideal appetizer, it also makes a great light lunch.
Grilled meats are traditional tailgate food, but don’t forget you can grill veggies or even pizza!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
Bake pizza on the grill for a low-mess, low-heat dinner. This method utilizes pizza screens to make the process quick and easy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Serving a variety of hot dog toppings is a great way to elevate the classic summer party meal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This Easy Slow Cooker Chili really is easy. Cook up meat and onions, open some cans, dump some spices, and walk away.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Salads are great tailgate food choices since you can make them the day before and keep them cold on ice.
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.
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.
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.
Busy night? Grab a bowl of this make-ahead Italian Chicken Pasta Salad. It’s easy to make and packed with flavor.
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.
Want to add something crisp and fresh to the table tonight? Stir up a batch of this super yummy Coleslaw with Apples and Almonds.
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.
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.
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.
You gotta have some dessert after your hearty tailgate food. These are easy to transport or even assemble on site.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This vintage dessert, originally called Better than Robert Redford gets a face lift. Make it in jars or small ramekins for an elegant presentation.
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.
More Game Day Recipes
This post was originally published on September 6, 2018. It has been updated for content and clarity.