Portable Generators and Tailgating

Maybe you’ve been to a tailgating party and thought to yourself “Wow, that guy’s setup is way better than mine!” Or maybe you’re just a passer-by, wondering what are those dudes doing in the parking lot and why it smells so delicious. In either case, you’ve found the right place for both!

You probably feel that compared to your improvised petty snack you brought to the game, somebody else is having a steakhouse level 3-course meal in a parking lot. You can be one of them.

Proud, red-blooded American males are naturally drawn to communal activities such as BBQs, tailgating, hunting parties, etc. I’m sure there’s some deep, psychological reasoning for this phenomenon out there, however, I’ll leave that to the psychoanalysts. As for myself, I simply want to hang around with other guys, share some thoughts, food and have a good time.

However, our ingenuity and culture just won’t let us be satisfied with a prepacked sandwich in a lunchbox. Read on for a rundown of how to elevate your tailgating game to the next level!

Tailgating Defined

Tailgate party before a New York Giants game

A tailgate party before a New York Giants football game

Tailgate parties are a North American tradition, usually held in the parking lots outside of (American-style) football stadiums in the U.S. and Canada. Tailgating is more than just a pregame picnic. It has become a revered social event, sometimes holding more importance to the fans than the actual game itself. And there’s no shortage of competition as to who has the most spectacular soiree.

Food is considered paramount. Tailgating’s long history has always included victuals brought from home, either prepared ahead of time, or at the event itself. With that in mind, there is a certain amount of importance on keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

Those who have been around the parking lot for a while, especially long-term season ticket holders, usually put on more of a spread. It’s not uncommon to see full-sized outdoor BBQ grills being unloaded from the backs of pickup trucks or caravans. These guys and gals mean business, and frequently will prepare several pounds of bratwursts, Polish sausages, racks of ribs, or even steaks for their families and friends.

When and When Not Bring a Generator

At first, it may seem unnecessary to bring along a portable generator – Why bother? The following is a rundown of some of the most common appliances used for tailgating and how they’re powered, to give you an idea what you can and can’t get away with without a portable generator.

Meal Preparation

Meat and vegetables on a barbecueMeals are best enjoyed hot. Americans and in particular, tailgaters, know this for a fact – that’s why we gather in a parking lot before each game in the first place.

While the large quantities of meat are usually grilled over a charcoal or a gas flame, you can’t exactly survive just on steak. As in any meal, side dishes, including beans, stews, or sauces that have a more liquid base, are equally important.

Many times, these will be prepared in slow cookers or crock pots. It’s not unheard of to see microwaves or toaster ovens in operation.

If the tailgaters start early, they may cook breakfast as well. They will use griddles for making pancakes, eggs, and bacon, or toasters for, well, toast.

Electrical appliances can be more practical and effective, especially in a potentially windy parking lot environment. However, all of the aforementioned can be substituted with an open flame, if you have the right set up and skill.

Beverages, The Hot and Cold of It

Beverages introduce the dichotomy of hot and cold.

As for the hot beverages, electric appliances that may be seen, especially on cold mornings or winter days, are kettles and coffee makers. Both will require substantial power, which can’t be provided by a car battery. However, either flame heated or electrically powered rigs can be employed.

On the other hand, some things need to be chilled or kept below a certain temperature. Obviously, beer is one of these. Usually, this is accomplished by the use of a medium- to large-sized ice chest, depending upon how many people are expected to show up and how much they plan to consume.

A large insulated box filled with frozen cubes works great for chilling sturdy, sealed glass bottles or aluminum cans of alcoholic beverages.

When Chest Coolers Won’t Do the Trick

Ice chests aren’t always the most desirable answer when trying to keep more unwieldy or non-waterproof containers of potato salad or sour cream. As the ice melts, the contents of these storage vessels can suffer from water intrusion. In such cases, electrically powered refrigerators are the way to go.

Other Appliances

People watching a football match on TV at a tailgate party

TVs are not a rare sight at a tailgate party

Some partygoers would bring satellite dishes, large TVs, and amplified speakers to the event. In the case of late afternoon or evening games, especially in the winter with its shorter serving of sunlight, some parties will feature lighting or portable heaters as well.

On a hot summer day, a fan may provide a pleasant breeze. Lastly, both laptops and cell phones may need to be charged regardless of the season.

While many of these items can be operated using a power inverter connected to a vehicle’s 12-volt system, the amount of electricity needed for more than a few hours can easily drain the battery. A portable, gas-powered generator is the answer to making sure the tailgate party is a success.

Tailgating-Friendly Generators

Honda EU2200i

A lot of people consider the Honda EU2200i to be the best portable generator for tailgating

Before selecting a generator, you need to consider the required wattage for the appliances you wish to bring. You can find several websites online to help you determine how much power your devices will use. We suggest using our generator sizing calculator, since we’ve taken care to incorporate all the tailgating essentials, but we also let you add your own appliances on the top.

When you have this number, you will need to select a portable generator with a bit more than enough output to supply the needed load. In my estimation, you should expect your result to land somewhere around 2 kW, depending on your appliances. Our wattage calculator goes as far as to suggest some models, optimized for a selected use.

Other factors that are, and must be considered are:

  • How many decibels of noise does the generator produce?
  • How much does it weigh, what are its dimensions, and will it fit in your vehicle?
  • How long will it supply power on a tank of fuel? Will you bring along an extra canister?
  • Will you power sensitive electronics (laptops, phones, smart TV, etc.), which require inverter generators?
  • What is your budget?

Closing Remarks and Conclusion

In summary, portable generators can elevate your tailgating game to the next level. While many foods and beverages can be prepared on a flame, and many appliances can be powered by your car battery, portable generators widen the spectrum of your possibilities and allow you new, more convenient solutions.

You will find that most suitable devices for tailgating are 2-4 kW inverter generators. You should aim for a minimum weight, size, noise and fuel consumption. You may even consider using 2 smaller generators in tandem, especially if you wish to limit/expand your power source during particular events.

Lastly, since I have enjoyed many tailgate parties myself, I have grown aware of safety risks that many partygoers unnecessarily expose themselves to. Therefore, I urge you to check up on our generator safety tips before you depart for your next tailgate party.

Do you bring a portable generator when you go tailgating? What do you power with it? Let us know in the comments below!



Manager & Editor of generatorbible.com. Early retired from the OPE industry, living in South Carolina. He now mostly spends his time traveling and taking care of his wife and grand-children.

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