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50+ College Tailgating Food Ideas By State

Football season has arrived, and it is tailgating time! Tailgating is a cherished tradition on college football Saturdays across America. Fans gather hours before kickoff to feast, play games, and get pumped up for the big match. Food plays a huge role in setting the mood for an epic tailgate party, and I’ve collected more than 50 College tailgating food ideas from each state.

A pinterest pin for tailgating food idea.

Tailgate parties are all about food, football, and good company. And hey, no judgment if the food, hanging out with friends, and partying in the parking lot of the stadium get you more pumped up than watching the actual game – you’re in good company.

College games give football fans an excuse to gather around their favorite team, eat comfort food, and spend time with friends and family. Sure, the game is exciting too, but let’s be honest – it’s all about the food!

Why is it Called Tailgate Food?

The term “tailgate” originated from using the tailgate of a pickup truck for serving food and drinks during a party. Although a truck is not a requirement for tailgating nowadays, it is where the term comes from. Tailgating culture can vary, especially on college campuses where students may not necessarily drive cars to the stadium; this is particularly true for well-known football schools in the Southeast and Midwest regions where these parties can get big and last all day.

What Kind of Food Is Best for Tailgating?

Grilling and smoking food used to be the primary methods of preparing food for tailgates. However, with the creation of tools like Crockpots, air fryers, and instant pots, as long as you have a generator, the recipe possibilities are endless. No matter how you prepare the food, finger foods and foods you can easily scoop into a paper cup or bowl are a favorite among tailgaters and make for an even better tailgate spread.

College Tailgating Food Ideas By State

The best part about tailgating season isn’t necessarily the football games – it’s the game day food we get to make, share, and enjoy. Classic fare like burgershot dogswings, and nachos are tailgating staples, but every state has unique recipes and regional flavors to feed crowds of hungry fans.

I compiled more than 50 of the best tailgating food ideas influenced by local cuisine in each state. And hey, I am only human, so if you see a recipe you love missing, let us know in the comments. So fire up your outdoor grill and continue reading for the very best college tailgating food from every state!

1. Alabama

A plate of Alabama fire crackers.

Schools: University of Alabama and Auburn University

Football at Alabama is a way of life. Fans arrive on campus days in advance to arrange elaborate tailgating setups complete with portable grills, TVs, yard games, and food – lots of it! Here are some of Alabama’s favorite tailgate food ideas: 

Photo Credit: This Wife Cooks

2. Alaska

Salmon jerky on a plate,

School: University of Alaska Fairbanks

3. Arizona

Elotes Mexicano on a serving plate.

Schools: Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, University of Arizona

4. Arkansas

School: University of Arkansas

It wouldn’t be tailgating in Arkansas without Arkansas cheese dip and tortilla chips, but don’t call it queso, or you will get an ear full. Other game-day favorites include Razorback dip and chili finished with all your favorite toppings, like red onions, cheddar cheese, sour cream, and corn chips.

5. California

Schools: Stanford University, University of California Berkeley, UCLA, and University of Southern California

According to the internet, vegetables with ranch dressing and guacamole are the most notable appetizers at tailgate parties in California. However, the good eats are so much more than that! Expect tasty dishes like carnitas made with tender pork shoulder, chicharróns, and L.A.-style hot dogs. 

Larger tailgate parties even hire taco trucks to make homemade street tacos, like carne asada tacos. Among the favorite tailgate foods of Californians is Korean BBQ, specifically grilled Korean L.A. galbi beef ribs.

6. Colorado

Instant pot beef ribs on a plate with BBQ sauce.

School: University of Colorado Boulder

Make a popular favorite like smoked Brisket, but if you don’t have a smoker, you can prepare beef brisket in the oven beforehand or try brisket sliders. Other Colorado football meals include hatch pork green chilismoked beef ribs, and chili verde.

7. Connecticut

School: Yale University

8. Delaware

School: University of Delaware

9. Florida

School: University of Florida

It’s not called the Sunshine State for nothing! The warm weather in Florida lasts throughout the college football season, making Florida State one of the top places to break out the grill and bust open a cooler. And the ‘Swamp’ in Gainesville is where the Florida Gators and their fans showcase their fierce football spirit and delicious local food.

10. Georgia

11. Hawaii

School: University of Hawaii

12. Idaho

School: University of Idaho

In the spud-loving state of Idaho, the football traditions run as deep as their love for potatoes (even though it’s more of a commodity crop). Expect to enjoy an easy appetizer like loaded potato skins and battered steak fingers!

13. Illinois

A plate of italian sausage and peppers.

Schools: University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Photo Credit: Cooking with Mama C

14. Indiana

A bowl of chex mix.

Schools: Purdue University and Indiana University

Photo Credit: Dinner at the Zoo

15. Iowa

School: University of Iowa

You will find all kinds of comfort food at tailgating parties in Iowa. With an almost state fair-like atmosphere, enjoy favorites like smoked turkey legs and scotcheroos (chocolate and peanut butter bars) for those with a sweet tooth.

16. Kansas

Pork chops on the grill.

School: University of Kansas

Photo Credit: Carne Diem

17. Kentucky

School: University of Kentucky and University of Louisville

Let’s talk about the delicious food in Kentucky. In this state, food traditions run deep, and that’s why you have to give classic burgoo a try! Common ingredients include pork, beef, mutton, venison, tomatoes, lima beans, and corn. However, use any variety of meats and seasonal vegetables in almost any combination for the stew. Other popular tailgating food ideas are pimento cheese dip and hot brown croissants.

18. Louisiana

Crawfish dip in a skillet.

School: Louisiana State University and Tulane University

Football fans in Louisiana are famous for a few things. Firstly, they’ve earned a reputation as some of the most vocal, fiercely dedicated, and spirited fans in the South Eastern Conference (SEC).

And while they defend their teams fiercely, they are equally renowned for their warm hospitality, generously serving guests with heaping plates of food! Tailgates in Louisiana start at dawn and go all day with plenty of food and local traditions.

Photo Credit: Stef’s Eat and Sweets

19. Maine

School: University of Maine

20. Maryland

Crab spinach dip with bread.

Schools: Johns Hopkins University and University of Maryland College Park

21. Massachusetts

School: Boston University

22. Michigan

A tray of grilled bratwurst in buns with all the toppings.

Schools: University of Michigan and Michigan State University

Photo Credit: Maple and Mango

23. Minnesota

School: University of Minnesota

24. Mississippi

School: Ole Miss

25. Missouri

Schools: Washington University in St. Louis and University of Missouri

If you’re loving these delicious recipes, try one of these appetizer favorites! 

26. Montana

School: University of Montana

27. Nebraska

School: University of Nebraska

Handheld runzas, also called bierock, are a perfect tailgate food. Bake or fry the bread pockets and fill them with seasoned ground beef, sauerkraut, onions, and other fillings for a delicious grab-and-go treat.

28. Nevada

Schools: UNLV and University of Nevada Reno

29. New Hampshire

Schools: Dartmouth College and University of New Hampshire

Apple cider donuts, made with simple ingredients, are one of the best tailgate recipes, especially for morning games with a piping hot coffee.

30. New Jersey

Schools: Princeton University and Rutgers University

31. New Mexico

Walking nachos on a table.

School: University of New Mexico

Photo Credit: Saving Dollars and Sense

32. New York

Wings tossed with three different types of sauce.

Schools: Columbia University, New York University, and Cornell University

  • Buffalo Wings

33. North Carolina

Schools: Duke University, North Carolina State University, and UNC Chapel Hill

Celebrate game day in North Carolina with Carolina-style barbecue, particularly Eastern style, which means slow-roasting a whole pig, basted with a spice-and-vinegar mixture while cooking. The rub brings sweet heat to the pork, while the vinegar tenderizes the meat to make delicious pulled pork sandwiches. Complete the meal with Carolina-style or vinegar coleslaw and corn meal battered hush puppies.

Don’t have time to cook? Try the Bojangles Tailgate Pack – complete with 20 pieces of fried chicken, three sides, and sweet teas; it is a go-to for many locals. Barbecue and Bojangles, I mean, what more do you need? Oh, finish the meal off with ice-cold Cheerwine.

34. North Dakota

School: University of North Dakota

35. Ohio

Schools: Ohio State University

Ohio State football tailgating is a massive tradition, with fans gathering in the parking lots around Ohio Stadium for hours before kickoff. Enjoy grab-and-go meals like grilled Cincinnati mettwurstloaded potato skinsCincinnati chili over spaghetti, and skyline cheese coneys. And don’t forget a plate or two of Buckeyes, a sweet treat with the same name as their team.

36. Oklahoma

A bowl of cowboy caviar.

School: University of Oklahoma

Oklahoma has two time-honored traditions: football and tailgating. And in Oklahoma, no party is complete without cowboy caviar. It’s a delectable dip packed with veggies and beans, and don’t forget about the cast-iron skillet cornbread.

Photo Credit: A Cedar Spoon

37. Oregon

School: University of Oregon, Oregon State University

Food trucks are a prominent part of tailgates in Oregon, offering a variety of local cuisines, brews, and live music – the whole thing creating a festival-like atmosphere. Whether you’re a fan of the Oregon Ducks or the Oregon State Beavers, you can enjoy local football favorites like crispy cauliflower bitescrab dip, and marionberry pie. And you can always count on vegetarian options being available! 

38. Pennsylvania

Schools: Penn State, University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon, and Pittsburgh University

39. Rhode Island

Schools: Brown University and University of Rhode Island

You don’t need to go all out with a clambake at your tailgate party, but grilling clams is an easy option anyone can do. Partygoers in Rhode Island throw the clams on the grill in their shells until they pop open. Then, use tongs to transfer them to a plate and drizzle some garlic butter over the top before passing them around for people to enjoy.

40. South Carolina

Banana pudding cups on a tray.

Schools: University of South Carolina and Clemson

Football Saturdays in South Carolina are about more than just tailgating in parking lots. The entire community comes together and joins in the excitement on game days. Like many other college towns in the South, South Carolina schools have tried-and-true tailgating recipes, and at the top of the list is mustard-based Carolina BBQ, including fan-favorite pulled pork sliders. Here are some other popular South Carolina recipes:

41. South Dakota

Schools: University of South Dakota

Tailgaters in South Dakota take pride in their elaborate set-ups and enjoy the excitement of cheering on their team with regional favorites like Chislic. You can prepare the skewers with cubed beef, lamb, or venison and sprinkle them with garlic salt.

42. Tennessee

School: University of Tennessee

Tailgating is a big part of football culture in Tennessee. Before game time, fans gather in parking lots around Neyland Stadium in Knoxville to barbecue and eat classic Southern comfort foods like pulled pork, fried catfishMemphis-style ribs with dry rub, chow chow, coleslaw, baked beans, and cornbread.

43. Texas

A smoked brisket being cut.

Schools: University of Texas Austin and Texas A&M

Texas, tailgating, and football go hand-in-hand. Fans gather to cheer on their teams before kickoff with large Texas-sized helpings of tailgating favorites like smoked brisket and grilled sausages, but don’t forget to wrap them in a flour tortilla! Breakfast tacos for early morning games, chili con carne (no beans – of course), sizzling fajitas, and Frito pies are also tailgating staples.

Psst, if you think beans go in chili as I do, try my recipe for chili con carne with black beans. And if you don’t have a smoker, you can prepare brisket in the oven beforehand or bring my juicy brisket sliders.

Photo Credit: Tabetha’s Table

44. Utah

Smoked jalapeno poppers on a plate.

School: University of Utah, Brigham Young University

From TVs and corn hole to Spike Ball and smokers, the fan gathering sets the tone for the game. And what better way to ready yourself for cheering on your team than homemade food and ice chests laden with specialty soda?

Fans in Utah eat hot appetizers like funeral potatoessmoked jalapeño popperssmoked jalapeño popper dip, and Utah’s most talked about food, fry sauce! And, if you’re a fan of BYU, you will enjoy free ice cream from the BYU creamery handed out during the game.

Photo Credit: Quiche My Grits

45. Vermont

School: University of Vermont

Two of the most notable tailgating treats at the University of Vermont are macaroni and cheese made with Vermont sharp cheddar cheese and a splash of craft beer, and don’t forget the maple creemees (soft serve ice cream); the single-serve dessert is always a crowd pleaser, as long as you can find a way to keep them cold. 

46. Virginia

School: University of Virginia

47. Washington

School: University of Washington

On game days, Husky stadium on the shores of Lake Washington becomes a spectacle of floating SAILGATING parties. Diehard fans arrive at the stadium in style. With boats bobbing under sunny skies and fans mingling dockside before kickoff, the lake transforms into a vibrant marina of purple and gold.

Keeping with the water theme, you will see popular salmon favorites like teriyaki salmonfoil-pack salmonsmoked salmon cheese balls, and smoked salmon dip on the menu.

48. West Virginia

School: West Virginia University

When researching tailgates in West Virginia, one food stood out above all others – the beloved pepperoni rolls! A pepperoni roll is a handheld snack that combines a soft yeast roll with slices of pepperoni baked inside. Some variations include different kinds of cheese like provolone or mozzarella or brushing the top with garlic butter. 

49. Wisconsin

Beer brats on a cheese pan.

School: University of Wisconsin Madison

Thousands of fans gather hours before kickoff to eat, drink, play games like cornhole, and get pumped up to cheer on their team.

The most dedicated fans bring grills, tents, and tables and spend the whole day socializing and partying with fellow fans before heading into the stadium to watch the game.

These tailgates often feature beer-smoked bratwurstgrilled kielbasa, beer cheese dip, and famous cheddar cheese curds as a part of their game day menu. 

Photo Credit: From Valerie’s Kitchen

50. Wyoming

School: University of Wyoming

In this college town, tailgaters stick to longstanding cowboy traditions by eating popular meals like bison steakmeatballsburgers, and Chugwater chili before games.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I pack for a tailgate?

Whether you’re cheering for the home team or the visitors, having the basics can make tailgating and game day more enjoyable. Here’s what you need:

• Outdoor Portable Grill, Black Stone, Smokers, Grilling Accessories
• Portable Power Stations, solar generators
• Canopy, Chairs, Tables
• Coolers (Don’t forget a separate cooler for meat. You will thank me later), Ice
• Paper Plates & Napkins
• Large Crockpot, Small Crockpot, Instant Pot, Air Fryer
• Sunscreen

Getting the fundamentals taken care of ahead of time allows everyone to relax and fully enjoy the big game.

What additional items should you bring to a tailgate?

Part of the tailgating experience is creating the vibe you want so you can fully enjoy the day with family and friends. No party is complete without music, so don’t forget a portable speaker to keep the music going throughout the day.

While cheering on your team during the big game, you can still play games beforehand. Popular yard games like cornhole, ladder golf, and flag football are a great way to pass the time and get moving after eating all the delicious tailgating food.

Lastly, don’t forgo the spirited gear to display your team colors proudly. Tablecloths, banners, and flags are an excellent way to showcase team spirit.

Am I Missing a Recipe You Love?

Let me know in the comments! I want to see every school and local cuisine on the list.

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Deepti

Wednesday 25th of October 2023

I am in awe of this great collection of tailgating food ideas. huge fan of beans in salads. Can't wait to try the Cowboy Caviar! Thank you.

Jomelyn Mauermann

Tuesday 24th of October 2023

All of these dishes are mouth watering! So many options! I saved this post for lots of options for later dish to make. Thank you so much!

Joanne

Tuesday 24th of October 2023

I've lived in Seattle for over 25 years and have never found a love for salmon. But I'll take Alessandra's BBQ any day of the week. Thanks for a fun read!

L Smith

Tuesday 24th of October 2023

This is so much fun! With two in college these are the game day ideas we need!

Alessandra

Tuesday 24th of October 2023

I love this list! I am in SC, I was hoping to see barbecue and barbecue it is! Thanks for sharing.