20 Tailgate Treats To Kick Off Football Season

Fall isn't just the time of the year for pumpkin-spiced lattes, apple cider donuts, and Thanksgiving fare. It's also the kickoff of football season — and the delicious tailgate food that comes with it. Hosting a tailgate or football watch party can be an exciting yet logically challenging experience for a novice entertainer. How do you decide what kinds of food to serve, assuming that folks will be more interested in the game than picking apart a quinoa salad or elaborate dessert?

For most people, tailgates mean leaving the elaborate table spreads and napkin holders for another occasion, instead opting to serve quick, easy appetizers that people can snack on while they're watching the game. We've collected the best football watch party recipes that you can whip up to serve hungry football fans. Many of these dishes can be made in advance, and all are easily scaleable to fit your estimated attendance. So, no matter who you're rooting for, everyone at your party will be on team food.

1. Homemade Sriracha

You can add sriracha to almost anything on game day, from your favorite chicken wings to a burger. Instead of reaching for the rooster bottle, upgrade your sriracha with a DIY twist. You'll need only a few ingredients, and you likely already have many of them hanging around in your house.

Start by blending red jalapeño peppers, brown and white sugar, vinegar, garlic, and water in a food processor before allowing it to ferment for a few days. You'll be rewarded with a condiment with a kick.

Recipe: Homemade Sriracha

2. Soft Sourdough Pretzels

Pretzels are a favorite on game day, especially when served with beer mustard. Instead of reaching for a pack of freezer-burned, flavorless, frozen soft pretzels, try your hand at twisting up your own.

Although it may take you a couple of tries to get the process of making the dough, twisting, and boiling the pretzels (which is required to get the perfect color and exterior), the feeling of biting into a soft pretzel studded with pretzel salt is sublime and something everyone should experience at least once. Serve your pretzels with your favorite mustard, or up the flavor by coating on a layer of roasted garlic, rosemary, or everything bagel seasoning before baking.

Recipe: Soft Sourdough Pretzels

3. Air Fryer Baked Chicken Nuggets

We wouldn't say tailgate food is necessarily the most nutritious, but it is pretty darn tasty. These chicken nuggets are not only good for you and protein-dense, but they also only require one appliance, an air fryer, which frees you up to use your oven for other delicious recipes. You can pair this recipe with any type of sauce, including our sauce medley with barbecue sauce, mayo, honey, and mustard.

Recipe: Air Fryer Baked Chicken Nuggets

4. Spicy Oven-Baked Pork Spare Ribs

Spare ribs are a must-have at a big tailgate party; just make sure you bring the napkins with you. These succulent ribs are flavored with some familiar and unique seasonings, including barbecue sauce, garlic, ginger, coffee granules, sake, sesame oil, and Korean gochujang.

Once your ribs have been brushed with your homemade sauce, bake them and then broil for a few minutes for the signature crispy char. Garnish your Asian-inspired ribs with green onions and sesame seeds before digging into this fall-off-the-bone tailgate staple.

Recipe: Spicy Oven-Baked Pork Spare Ribs

5. French Onion Pull-Apart Bread

When you're building your tailgate menu, you can't forget the shareable carbs. Instead of opting for a bowl of chips, try your hand at this French onion pull-apart bread.

It's made with a pre-made loaf of bread, like a ciabatta or a sourdough, stuffed with gooey Swiss cheese, garlic, and caramelized onions. Since the onions need to be cooked before the bread can be put in the oven, it's important to allocate enough time to get the proper color and depth they deserve before moving on to the next step.

Recipe: French Onion Pull-Apart Bread

6. Baked Garlic Parmesan Wings

There's no football party without wings. Try these upgraded garlic and Parmesan wings instead of sticking with your plain barbecue-sauced recipe.

We recommend chilling your wings in the refrigerator overnight because it will extract the moisture from the chicken skin, leaving you with crispier wings. After the wings have been sufficiently baked, top them with your mixture of garlic, Parmesan, and a sprinkle of fresh parsley. Plus, leftovers keep for up to three days so you can enjoy these tasty wings as a snack post-game.

Recipe: Baked Garlic Parmesan Wings

7. Gooey Stringy Mozzarella Sticks

Let's face it: Frozen mozzarella sticks never have the cheese-pull factor that we need. This homemade mozzarella stick recipe is made with all of the ingredients and flavors we love, fried to golden brown perfection.

And while you can serve a plate of these hot mozz sticks at your next tailgate, you can also pre-make them, freeze them, and cook them when you're craving a midnight snack. Serve your mozzarella sticks with the classic marinara sauce accompaniment, or go rogue with ketchup, gravy, or mustard.

Recipe: Gooey Stringy Mozzarella Sticks

8. Baked Ham And Swiss cheese Sliders

Grab-and-go food, like sliders, are ideal options for when you're serving your game-day feast in one room and tuning into football in another. These tiny sandwiches are made on soft pretzel buns and slathered with a coating of stone-ground mustard.

You'll want to serve these sandwiches warm, so try making them ahead of time and storing them in the refrigerator for when you need them. The sliders make a great side to soups, potato chips, or potato salad.

Recipe: Baked Ham and Swiss Cheese Sliders

9. Crispy Baked Chicken Wings

We can all appreciate the familiar flavor and texture of a chicken wing at a Sunday afternoon tailgate. You'll want to start by baking the wings in a baking dish for about 15 minutes before flipping and coating them with a blend of barbecue sauce, apple cider vinegar, and ground ginger. Coat them again after you've flipped them back to the original side, and serve your crispy wings with chopped green onions and a few napkins.

Recipe: Crispy Baked Chicken Wings

10. Ranch-Seasoned Stovetop Popcorn

Making an entire meal on game day can be a lot — especially if you're entertaining a lot of people. Instead of opting for an entrée, consider making a ton of different snacks. This recipe for ranch-seasoned popcorn is made with dill, garlic granules, onion granules, coarse salt, and pepper for a more adult take on a movie theater classic.

After you've popped the kernels on the stove, transfer to a heat-safe bowl and toss with the seasonings before serving. It's a great way to include classic ranch flavors on tailgate day — just without the fuss (and the dairy).

Recipe: Ranch-Seasoned Stovetop Popcorn

11. Homemade Chili Lime Tortilla Chips

Tortilla chips are the unsung hero of your tailgate party. And instead of opting for lackluster chips, try baking your own with a concoction of delicious, zesty seasonings.

Slice your tortillas into quarters and brush with a mixture of oil, chili, lime juice, smoked paprika, and cumin. Then, bake the chips until crispy and serve with your favorite bean dip, salsa, or guacamole. You (and your party-going guests) will never pick up a bag of store-bought tortilla chips again.

Recipe: Homemade Chili Lime Tortilla Chips

12. Homemade Pierogi

While pierogis might not seem like the quintessential game-day food, these self-contained dumplings filled with mashed potatoes will be a must-have for your next party. While you can make your own dough, the less skillful cooks will be happy to know that you can just swap it with pre-made Asian wonton wrappers from the grocery store. Serve your pierogis warm with sour cream, sauerkraut, and caramelized onions, and watch them quickly become one of the easiest appetizers you could make.

Recipe: Homemade Pierogi

13. Easy Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are one appetizer that is seemingly delicious at any time of year, including Easter, summer, and now, tailgate season. This recipe comes together in under 20 minutes, and most of that time is spent cooking and cooling the eggs.

In addition, deviled eggs are an appetizer you can make ahead and keep in your fridge until you need it. You can also customize this recipe by adding your favorite herbs and spices and spicy mustard.

Recipe: Easy Deviled Eggs

14. Spicy Little Smokies

Bring on the mini weiners. This recipe for smoked cocktail sausages is made with four ingredients besides the meat and is relatively hands-off.

Add the links to a baking pan with brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, chili garlic sauce, and barbecue sauce. Bake these sausages until the skin is crispy and the color is a beautiful maroon before finishing the plate with chopped scallions. We recommend serving these appetizers on toothpicks to avoid sticky fingers.

Recipe: Spicy Little Smokies

15. Fire-Roasted Salsa

Instead of reaching for that jar of store-bought salsa, upgrade your football party spread with this fire-roasted salsa recipe. It's made with petite fire-roasted tomatoes, which have a more robust flavor than plain ones.

Add your tomatoes with other ingredients, like garlic, lime, and jalapeño peppers, to a blender and pulse until it reaches your desired smoothness. Then, transfer the salsa to a container to chill before serving. You can use this salsa as a garnish for grilled chicken or serve it with a side of salty tortilla chips.

Recipe: Fire-Roasted Salsa

16. Easy Baked Nachos

Baked nachos are nothing short of a crowd-pleaser. Start with a bed of tortilla chips, layer with shredded rotisserie chicken, onions, and cheddar cheese, and bake until the cheese is gooey and the chips crisp.

From there, you can smother the nachos with your favorite toppings, including sour cream, cilantro, salsa, and diced tomatoes. You'll want to serve the nachos warm, and making the appetizer on a sheet pan is an easy way to go straight from cooking to serving.

Recipe: Easy Baked Nachos

17. Creamy Salsa Verde

While you may normally think of salsa as a blend of tomatoes and other ingredients, salsa verde elevates that definition to a new level with the addition of avocados. The creaminess of the avocado quells the spice from the tomatillos and jalapeños, which makes for a balanced bite.

We love that this recipe only requires a food processor, so it's super simple to whip up and serve with the rest of your game day accompaniments. Just don't forget the tortilla chips.

Recipe: Creamy Salsa Verde

18. Broiled Jalapeño Poppers

Jalapeño poppers are a relatively low-mess, confident bet to serve at your gatherings. Every bite is filled with crunchy, creamy, and spicy elements, and your guests are guaranteed to love that this recipe contains bacon. After filling your peppers with a mixture of cheeses, bacon, and chives, broil them for a few minutes with the oven door open to get the perfectly browned top without turning the pepper itself into mush.

Recipe: Broiled Jalapeño Poppers

19. Loaded Potato Skins

Loaded potato skins are, no doubt, a popular food served at tailgates. The best part is that you can use the starchy inside of the potato for other dishes, like mashed potatoes, gnocchi, or pierogis, which makes this a very low-waste recipe.

Once your potatoes have been skinned, fill the inside with cheese, bacon, and veggies and serve them with a scoop of sour cream and chive garnish. Pair it with a cold beer and you'll be set for all the game-day festivities.

Recipe: Loaded Potato Skins

20. Fried Pickle Spears With Spicy Mayo

Fried pickles usually come in coins, but this recipe for fried pickle spears is much more eater-friendly. This recipe utilizes both panko breadcrumbs and flour for the ultimate crispy pickle.

It also includes a spicy mayonnaise recipe, which is seasoned with complementary flavors like Old Bay seasoning and cayenne, which help elevate the sourness and saltiness of the pickle. Like other fried foods, these fried pickles are best served hot and immediately after frying.

Recipe: Fried Pickle Spears with Spicy Mayo