Whether your tailgate includes a custom grill setup and team color-coordinated tents or a simple picnic on a well-worn blanket, no pre-game ritual is complete without the spread. This is one party that's as much about the food as it is about fans and football.
Here are 25 tailgate ideas to choose from, whether you're thinking main course or sides. No worries, we've got dips covered and even include a few breakfast ideas when you have to plan around an early kickoff. These aren't recipes, really, but ideas to get you started (formal recipes for these and 15 other dishes, such as midnight brownies and brown-butter coffeecake, are available online at latimes.com/tailgaterecipes). Many dishes can be prepared hours — even a day or two — in advance. A few, such as Caribbean jerk chicken and a pressed muffuletta sandwich, require advance preparation. Nothing too complicated, just a little planning.
You'll still have plenty of time to worry about the other important things, like icing the beer and whipping up a pitcher of cocktails.
Burgers: Simply season ground beef with a little kosher salt and pepper, being careful not to overwork the meat, then divide and shape into 8-ounce patties. Offer a selection of cheeses and toppings, and perhaps a flavored mayonnaise or two.
Guacamole: In a big bowl, combine mashed ripe avocado with chopped cilantro, diced tomato, onion, fresh lime juice, chopped chiles and a sprinkling of salt. Add a little garlic or cumin if desired, and serve alongside a mountain of chips.
Bell pepper and corn slaw: Slice a colorful assortment of bell peppers into thin strips and toss with fresh corn and a quick dressing of lemon juice, garlic, oil, agave syrup and a touch of chipotle pepper.
Muffuletta: For a perfect portable meal, pile a hollowed-out loaf of bread with purchased or homemade olive relish, lettuce, cheese and a medley of sliced meats, then wrap and weight the sandwich at least a few hours to compress. Unwrap and slice to serve.
Carne asada: Blend fresh cilantro, a little garlic, onion, serrano chile, salt and a touch of Worcestershire sauce. Rub the marinade over skirt steak and marinate an hour, up to several, before grilling.
Watermelon with mint and lime: For this refreshing — and refreshingly simple — salad, toss watermelon cubes with chopped fresh mint, a touch of olive oil and lime juice. Chill at least 1 hour before serving.
Grilled stuffed pork chops: Stuff thick, center-cut, bone-in pork chops with goat cheese flavored with roasted garlic, spinach, chopped fresh thyme and rosemary up to several hours ahead of grilling.
Bratwurst: Simmer fresh brats over the grill in a deep pan filled with butter, sliced onion and beer, then grill to order. It's heaven on a roll piled high with sauerkraut, mustard and pickles.
Zucchini, feta and basil frittata: Make this up to a day ahead and serve it at room temperature: Whisk eggs with crumbled feta cheese, green onion, fresh basil and grated zucchini, then cook in a wide skillet until puffed and golden brown. Not just for breakfast, frittatas are great any time of the day.
Fennel and white bean salad: Toss drained white beans with thinly sliced fennel, crisp bacon, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, olive oil and a dash of hot sauce in this simple bean salad.
Jerk chicken: Sweet, tangy and spicy, that first bite of chicken is sure to give your head a good jerk. Combine a blend of allspice, cinnamon, sugar, habanero peppers, garlic, ginger, lime and a touch of dark rum, and use it to marinate chicken up to 24 hours before grilling.
Celery root and apple slaw: Thinly slice celery root and apple, and toss with toasted pecans and currants. Bind together with a dressing of sour cream whisked with a touch of prepared horseradish and Dijon mustard.
Yakitori: It doesn't get much more fun than grilled food on a stick. Ahead of time, skewer bites of pork belly, peppers, chicken, mushrooms — even tomatoes wrapped in bacon — on soaked wooden skewers, then grill to order.
Avocado corn relish: Combine sautéed corn with avocados, green onions, bell pepper, roasted chiles, red wine vinegar and olive oil. Set aside to marry the flavors and serve at room temperature alongside steak or grilled meats.
Pimiento cheese: A classic Southern specialty, diced sharp cheddar is tossed with red pimiento peppers, chopped green olives, parsley, mayonnaise and a touch of cayenne pepper. Serve as a dip alongside bread or chips.
Black bean hummus: Move beyond standard hummus with this variation. Throw some black beans and chickpeas into the blender along with garlic, lemon and tahini paste, and spice it with a little cayenne and cumin powder. It can be made up to a few days in advance.
Thai coconut chicken: Marinate chicken in a mix of garlic, ginger, cilantro, basil, lemongrass, lime, brown sugar and coconut milk for up to 24 hours before grilling.
Roasted potato salad: Roast small potatoes with a little garlic and seasoning, then toss with crisp bacon bits, capers and sliced red onion. Bind with mayonnaise brightened with a little red wine vinegar and whole grain mustard in this take on the classic.
Bistecca fiorentina: For a good meal and great show, grill a massive porterhouse steak on its sides for a few minutes, then set it up vertically on the grill (balanced on the T-bone) to cook through. Season this baby simply with coarse salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.
Calabacitas: Flavor chopped zucchini, tomatoes and corn with onion and garlic, then add a little diced jalapeño for a touch of heat in this Southwestern classic. Combine everything in a foil packet and steam until tender and fragrant. Sprinkle crumbled fresh cheese over it before serving.
Grilled pork steaks with fennel: Slice boneless pork butt into steaks and dust with a blend of ground fennel seeds, peppercorns and salt. Grill for a few minutes on each side over a hot fire.
Stuffed grape leaves (dolmas): Stuff grape leaves with a fragrant blend of rice, pine nuts, lemon zest and fresh herbs, then wrap them up like little burritos. Pack the dolmas in tight layers in a casserole and slowly simmer them in a broth of lemon juice, oil and water until tender.
Hickory-smoked baby back ribs: Massage a rack of ribs with a prepared spice mix or your secret blend of brown sugar, paprika, garlic, celery salt, chile powder, cumin and oregano, then slow-smoke over hickory until the meat is falling-off-the-bone tender. Make them ahead of time, if you'd like, then heat over the grill before divvying them up.
Three-bean and hominy chili: Black, pinto and kidney beans are slow-cooked with hominy and diced tomatoes in a rich chili flavored with garlic, onion, cumin and oregano. It's so filling your guests might never guess it's vegetarian.
Chicken and apple sausage: Flavor ground chicken with fresh sage, dried apples, onions and a fragrant touch of cinnamon and nutmeg. Form patties and grill or sauté, then serve in an English muffin. Burgers for breakfast.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times