All featured products are curated independently by our editors. When you buy something through our retail links, we may receive a commission.
As coronavirus impacted most of our summer activities and continues to disrupt the usual school routine, so it will transform this tailgating season too. Big groups are verboten, in stadiums, sports bars, and on sofas, and huddling around portable grills in parking lots isn’t the safest option either, masks or no. But you can still enjoy all the familiar football food you love, like famous NFL players’ favorite tailgating dishes.
This Sunday, the NFL returns to CBS, and whether you’re cheering on the action solo or as part of a virtual watch party with your socially distant sports fan friends, it’s a perfect excuse to guzzle beer and munch on pigskin staples like chicken wings and nachos and dips for hours on end.
While there’s nothing like the energy of a good ol’ tailgate, all your tailgating food faves taste just as good indoors, in front of your biggest screen. For a little inspo, we asked some of your favorite NFL players to share their top tailgating dishes—get ready for the ultimate pre-game or (in-game) bash, even if the other aspects of it are significantly different this year.
Related Reading: The Insane Amount of Calories NFL Players Eat When Cultivating Mass
Joe Montana, former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs
This legendary Hall of Famer now slings meat instead of footballs (he’s an investor in the online meat purveyor Crowd Cow), and he says nothing screams tailgating like a tried and true burger. “It’s the simplicity of a quality hamburger that makes it perfect,” Montana says. Pro tip: Form your patties ahead of time and layer them between pieces of wax paper, then they can go straight from the cooler (or the fridge) to the grill.
Related Reading: The Best Meat Delivery Services to Try in 2020
Preston Smith, linebacker for the Green Bay Packers
No tailgate is complete without snacks and sides. “When I went to tailgates growing up, my favorite food was always the sides because they’re really what keeps the tailgate going,” says Smith. His go-tos are items that are easy to make ahead and transport, like baked beans or mac ‘n’ cheese.
Thomas Morstead, punter for the New Orleans Saints
Christian Gaddis, former offensive lineman for the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, and Indianapolis Colts
“When I retired, I got the opportunity to fall in love with the game of football as a fan. My wife makes an amazingly delicious dish that’s perfect for a tailgate at home or the stadium—potato skins mac ‘n cheese,” says Gaddis. “It’s easy to prep ahead, travels well, and is easily reheated on a grill.”
Adoree’ Jackson, cornerback for the Tennessee Titans
“My favorite tailgate food is my dad’s turkey ribs,” he says. In fact, his pops makes them every gameday. “He attaches a smoker to the back of his truck and drives from St. Louis to the stadium in Nashville, where he parks and feeds family, friends, and fans before the game,” Jackson says. Afterward, he helps the team refuel by grilling up fresh grub for Titans players to grab as they exit the stadium.
Related Reading: How to Smoke Meat Like a Pro
Jarvis Green, former defensive end for the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, and Houston Texans
This two-time Super Bowl Champ went from the field to your grocery store when he created Ocean 97, a wholesale shrimp distribution service. His shrimp pate is creamy and rich and comes in several flavors; perfect for simply spreading on a cracker for a quick snack, or incorporating into other dishes. (As a former Patriot, we like to think he might also enjoy our New England Clam Chowder Bites recipe.)
Dre Kirkpatrick, cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals
Lane Taylor, guard for the Green Bay Packers
Be the MVP of your tailgate by wowing with a beef brisket. Taylor’s secret? Smoking it. “I would smoke it using pecan wood. No sauce, just seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic, which puts a good bark on it,” he says. In normal times, you might not want to post up in the parking lot for the hours and hours a solid smoke requires, so maybe there’s one small glimmer of a silver lining now that you’ll be doing it all at home?
Related Reading: A Pitmaster’s Tips for the Best Smoked Brisket You’ll Ever Eat
Davon Godchaux, nose tackle for the Miami Dolphins
Keep it simple with sticky barbecue ribs and traditional potato salad. “You’ve got to have plenty of mayo, eggs, all that good stuff!” he says. Or, kick it up a notch with a dish that’s true to this Louisiana native’s roots: jambalaya. “Your jambalaya needs to have good sausage, shrimp, and crawfish if you can,” Godchaux says. Make it ahead or bring along a pot that fits on your grill and be a true parking lot chef.
Adolphus Washington, free agent (former defensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins)
Off the field, just call him Chef Washington. His self-proclaimed secret talent is cooking, and his favorite meat is steak—a grill’s best friend. Sear off a few slabs, then slice them up; put out some soft dinner rolls and condiments and let people build their own steak sliders.
Related Reading: The Best Way to Reheat Steak May Surprise You
Tony Jefferson, free agent (former safety for the Baltimore Ravens)
“I love carne asada tacos. I’m from Chula Vista, California and grew up eating a lot of Mexican food,” he says. For a break from burgers and dogs (but we won’t judge you if they make an appearance, too!), set up a DIY taco bar and grill the meat or veggies right before serving.
Kapri Bibbs, free agent (former running back for the Washington Redskins and Green Bay Packers)
“You can’t really tailgate without a good Polish, you know what I’m saying? A nice sausage charred up on the grill is always my favorite food when I used to go to tailgates,” he says. (If you agree, try our Kielbasa-Cheddar-Sauerkraut Garbage Bread recipe.)
Related Reading: The Best Way to Grill Sausage & The One Thing You Should Never Do
D.J. Jones, defensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers
Besides his dad’s barbecue (he caters!) and sliders with two signature sauces, sides are where it’s at for Jones. “You have to have some type of dip, like a Buffalo dip. You also need easy snacks like pigs in a blanket, chips, and don’t forget good beverages,” he says. (We concur, and also recommend our Buffalo Chicken Kolaches with Blue Cheese Dip for your next game day spread.)
Vincent Rey, free agent (former linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals)
Rey’s tailgating contribution is perfect for soaking up all that beer, both before and after the game: homemade popcorn. Pop a giant batch at home, then grab handfuls whenever you feel a little grumble.
James Hurst, offensive tackle for the New Orleans Saints
Eat Hurst’s tailgating pick as an appetizer or main. It’s a cheesedog with a Carolina twist. “Red Hots are a North Carolina thing, but it’s a mix between a hot dog and a sausage with a little spice to it. Grill it, cut it open down the middle, then put a slice of cheese in there and eat it straight,” he says.
The original version of this post was written in 2018. It has been updated with current information.
Header image by Chowhound