Buffet-Style Tailgating Ideas
Expert Advice

When you decide to host a tailgate or a throw a backyard party, you take on a crowd. And it’s hungry. By nature, that verges on “mob.” But there’s a simple way to tame that crowd and get hot food heaped onto their plates without running yourself ragged. The themed buffet.

Don’t be fooled. This is not the same as a potluck. These buffets offer up the same do-it-yourself serving style of any ole buffet, but they simplify by centering around one food option and heap on the fun of choosing fillers, toppings, or components up to the guest. They get to be creative and you get less hassle. Plus most all of the prep work is done ahead, so you can enjoy the party too. So, here’s a few buffet-style tailgating ideas to get the menu planning started!

Make-Your-Own Kabobs

Grill up an array of veggie chunks or whole ones (mushrooms, all the colors of peppers, onions, zucchini, cherry tomatoes) and a few kabob-worthy meats, like pork, steak, and chicken, cut into chunks. Pitch in a few unexpected choices, like shrimp, snap peas, and pineapple. Spread everything out on the table with skewers and let your guests create their own fresh kabobs. Offer up various sauces for them to dip in baste on to expand the taste options.

Grilled Meat Sandwiches

The key here is to provide a lot of choices. Make a spread of the mainstays— grilled sliced turkey, chicken, or pork. Or get creative with shredded buffalo chicken, steak melts, or pork tenderloin sandwiches. Let them embellish their creations with condiments and toppings that run from fresh tomatoes to fancy mustards and bacon jam.

Do-It-Yourself Grilled Dog Bar

Make an all-American hot dog bar complete with sizzling, plump wieners fresh off the grill (add an around-the-world flair with Polish sausages, German brats, and Italian sausage). Toppings make the dog, so lay out bowls of shredded cheese, fresh or grilled onions, relish, jalapenos and maybe some sauerkraut, bacon bits, grated pickled carrot, kimchi, feta, and French fried onions or Cheetos. There’s no wrong on a dog. Lend that same wild abandon to your condiments with barbecue sauces, dressings, and some Sriracha-spiked mayo.

Taco Party Bar

Everything on tacos can be made ahead of time. And if you want it simple, stick with tradition, because tacos are just as satisfying without any surprises. The meat fillings of seasoned ground beef, shredded chicken, or pork are a given. Provide plenty of topping options—salsas, diced onions, shredded cheese, jalapenos, chopped lettuce, tomato, fresh cilantro, sour cream, and guacamole. Then to meet every desire, serve up a variety of tortillas, including the usual hard shell along with soft corn and flour options.

Build Your Own Hamburger Bar

This feast is all about hot, juicy burgers served right off the grill. With just that starting point, you’re giving guests a real treat. But since a great burger gets even better with personalized toppers, offer up the usuals but throw in a few unexpected embellishments like hot peppers, avocado, sauteed mushrooms, blue cheese crumbles, and caramelized onions. Condiments can range from flavored mayos to steak and barbecue sauces. To top it off, break out an assortment of buns (pretzel, caibatta, sourdough) to add more panache to your shindig.

Simple Sides for a Crowd

Here’s a few straightforward options to buy or make in batches. Or simplify your life and ask your guests to bring the sides (and appetizers) to accompany your entree.

  • potato salad
  • grilled corn-on-the cob
  • diced fresh fruit
  • pasta salad
  • baked beans
  • chips (corn chips, flavored chips)
  • cole slaw
  • bean salad
  • grilled fruit

If you are planning on feeding a crowd at your next tailgate party or backyard gathering, consider these buffet-style tailgating ideas!