Top Shelf Tailgating

Step Up Your Game On Game Day With Upscale Accoutrements And Recipes That Extend Far Beyond Burgers And Brats

As fall fills the air, leaves blissfully transform, and pumpkin-flavored everything hits the shelves, we’ve got our minds on one thing: football season—and, more specifically, tailgating. While we love loading up the truck with all the fundamental Bs (burgers, brats, buns, beer), we dare you to step up your game this year with upscale options, in both food and presentation, for a tailgating experience that’s sure to be a winner.


Game Décor

Set the tone for your tailgate. Achieve this by displaying team colors in everything from tablecloths to serving trays, napkins and props.

Serve in style. Don’t be afraid to break out your decorative dishes and pretty platters. We like to mix and match materials for added interest: rustic elements like wooden chargers, slate serving boards and bamboo trays pair nicely with tiered glass stands and ceramic platters.

Elevate your food. Aside from the types of dishes, the food itself can be heightened in varying levels by using picnic baskets, wooden crates, bricks or tiered platters.


Fan Food

Sliders, Virginia Beach Barbecue, Malbon Bros.

Sliders: While burgers and hot dogs are typical tailgating fare, nothing says Virginia quite like barbecue. Make your own, or, for added ease, pick some up from your local barbecue joint. We scored our barbecue, coleslaw and sauce from Malbon Bros. in Virginia Beach.


Vegetable Kebabs for Top Shelf Tailgating

Kebabs: Fire up the grill for these colorful kebabs, featuring an assortment of veggies. We used red onion, bell peppers, mushrooms, grape tomatoes, squash, purple potatoes and pineapple. Add other fall favorites like sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, and marinate with your favorite glaze.


Spicy House-Smoked BBQ Wings

Spicy House-Smoked BBQ Wings: There are regular wings, and then there are these wow-inducing wings that are sprinkled with a dry rub, fried, doused in a combination of three sauces, slow-smoked and garnished with toasted sesame seeds and chopped scallions. Get the recipe on the next page.


Oysters Rockefeller

Oysters: Looking to majorly enhance your affair? Oysters are a pearl of a dish at any Coastal Virginia event and certainly add a sophisticated flair to tailgating fun. Serve them raw, roasted or Rockefeller for one shell of a gameday display.


Bacon Bleu-Crab Dip, Chesapeake Bay Seasoning

Bacon Bleu-Crab Dip: This voluptuous crab dip boasts all the good stuff: bleu cheese, cream cheese, Chesapeake Bay seasoning and bacon, along with succulent blue crab, for a Virginia-centric dip that’s promised to please. Get the recipe on the next page.


Sweet Potato Hummus with Walnuts

Sweet Potato Hummus: Instead of playing up sweet potatoes’ earthiness with sugar, here, they’re accentuated with the tell-tale ingredients of hummus—tahini, chickpeas and garlic. But to raise the stakes, there’s a smidgen of smoked paprika, a dash of toasted walnuts and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes for that extra bit of heat. Get the recipe on the next page.


Cupcakes, Twisted Sisters Sugar Shack

Cupcakes: Don’t forget a sweet treat for your spirited guests. Miniature cupcakes take on added appeal when frosted with your team’s colors. Make and take, or pick them up from a local bakery. We got these dainty delights from Twisted Sisters Sugar Shack in Virginia Beach.


Super Charged Snacks, Gardetto's, pumpkin seeds, spiced pepitas

Super-Charged Snacks: Along with sliders, sides and spreads, include a few nibbles, such as Gardetto’s, almonds or spiced pepitas (pumpkin seeds). They don’t require much effort, but they do provide a boost of energy to keep fans fired up.


Tailgating Spirits, Beer, Wine

We’ve Got Spirits—Yes, We do

A terrific tailgating setup requires a well-stocked bar, so set up your drink station with a selection of irresistible imbibes. Don’t forget garnishes, glasses (red Solo cups are so last season), cocktail napkins and, most importantly, non-alcoholic drinks and plenty of water to keep tailgaters hydrated and give them plenty of options.

Beer: We’re all familiar with our good ole friends Bud and Coors. But, in the spirit of rooting for the home team, use this opportunity to root for some Virginia-made brews. Bring a couple growlers, invite your guests to do the same, and hop on the craft beer bandwagon.

Wine: Make your vino Virginia as well, and aim to bring a selection of red and white, as well as rosé and sparkling (you’ll need something to toast with when your team wins, after all).

Spirits: Nothing says team spirit quite like cocktails from the commonwealth. Include a variety of liquors and mixers, or keep it simple by creating a signature cocktail. For our tailgate, we made invigorating batches of Big Blue Mules (get the recipe on the next page).



Spicy House-Smoked BBQ Wings Recipe

Spicy House-Smoked BBQ Wings

Recipe by Anne Leonard

Time: About 25 minutes total
Yield: A dozen wings


Dry rub

1 tsp lemon pepper seasoning
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp garlic powder
2 tbsp salt
1 tsp pepper



1/3 cup Peter’s Beach Barbecue Sauce and Marinade
1/3 cup Tommy Bahama’s Blackberry Brandy Sauce
1/4 cup A. Smith Bowman Barrel-Aged Bourbon Hot Sauce
1 dozen chicken wings, pat very dry with paper towels
1/2 cup canola oil for frying
2 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp scallions, chopped


Other materials

Wood chips
Sealable container



Mix all ingredients for the dry rub into a small bowl and season both sides of the wings. In a separate bowl, combine and mix the three sauces. Lightly toast the sesame seeds in a toaster oven for about 2 minutes. Keep a close eye on them since they can burn quickly. Once lightly toasted, remove and set aside. Create a packet of wood chips. Lay out a piece of foil and place a large handful of chips in the center. Fold foil over on each side to seal in chips. Place wood chip packet in the center of the grill and turn on low heat.

Heat the canola oil in a pan on medium high heat until sizzling. Lay seasoned wings in a single layer in the pan (you may have to cook it in two batches). Fry for 3 minutes on each side or until browned and crispy.

Remove fried wings from oil and place in a sealable container. Pour in the sauce, seal the container, and shake to evenly distribute the sauce. Place wings in grill in indirect heat. Allow to grill for 8–10 minutes. Remove from grill, and garnish with sesame seeds and scallions to your liking. You can also add more sauce on top after grilling if you prefer your wings extra saucy.


Bacon Bleu-Crab Dip Recipe

Bacon Bleu-Crab Dip

Recipe by Anne Leonard

Yield: 6 servings
Total Time: about 1 hour


1 cup crumbled bleu cheese
2/3 cup cream cheese, softened
3 garlic cloves, minced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Splash white wine
12 oz. blue crab meat (freshly picked or canned)
2 thick-cut pieces of bacon, diced
1 tbsp Chesapeake Bay Seasoning from Whole Foods (or Old Bay), plus more to garnish
Crackers or toasted baguette slices to serve


Preheat oven to 350. Mix bleu cheese, cream cheese and minced garlic in a bowl. Add lemon juice, white wine and crabmeat to bowl; then mix well.

In a separate bowl, toss the bacon with the Chesapeake Bay Seasoning. In a frying pan on medium heat, fry bacon until crispy for about 6 minutes, flipping throughout the time. Remove bacon from the pan and blot with paper towels to remove excess oil. Add bacon to crab mixture. 

Transfer crab dip to an oven-safe baking dish. Sprinkle Chesapeake Bay Seasoning over top. Bake for 25 minutes until slightly toasted on top. Serve immediately with crackers or toasted baguette slices.


Sweet Potato Hummus Recipe

Sweet Potato Hummus

Recipe by Anne Leonard

Yield: about 3 cups
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Total: 20 minutes


1 large sweet potato, cooked and peeled
1/3 cup tahini paste
1/3 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
A generous dash of salt
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
A small handful of toasted walnuts
Pita bread, toasted and cut into triangles


Place all ingredients into a food processor, except for the walnuts and toasted pita bread. Blend ingredients in processor until smooth and fluffy. You may have to stop and stir hummus with a spatula a few times to even it out. Place sweet potato hummus in a deep-dish bowl of your choosing, and drizzle olive oil as well as a light sprinkle of paprika and pepper flakes over top if you prefer. Top with toasted walnuts. Serve hummus warm or cold with the toasted pita bread.


Big Blue Mules Recipe

Big Blue Mules

Yield: Approximately 16 drinks
Prep: 1 week for blueberry infused vodka; 2 minutes for mixing


2 pounds fresh blueberries, plus more for garnish
750 ml bottle of vodka (we like Blue Ridge Vodka from Chesapeake Bay Distillery in Virginia Beach)
Ginger Beer (Q Drinks Spectacular Ginger Beer is super spicy and not too sweet, just how we like it)
Mint leaves for garnish


A week before game day, make blueberry-infused vodka. Add blueberries and vodka to a large container, and let set at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, until ready to use. Strain and discard blueberries.

In a Mule mug, add ice, and pour in 1 oz. blueberry-infused vodka. Squeeze in the juice of 1/2 lime, and top with ginger beer, Garnish with fresh blueberries, a lime slice and fresh mint.

Angela Blue
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Chris Meligonis
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