5 tips for tailgating success

(CNN)There's a reason why people show up early to ballgames, and it's not just to get the best parking spaces. Tailgate parties are essential to the game day experience. They give fans the opportunity to eat, socialize and energize before they head into the stadium to watch their team play.

If you're new to the tailgating lifestyle, here are five expert tips to help guarantee that first tailgate party goes seamlessly.

1. Get ready to grill

    Scott "Admiral BigGun" Backstrom, center.
    The first and most important thing you'll need is, well, a grill. A tailgate won't last very long without delicious hot food.
    Charcoal and propane grills are preferred because, unlike an electric grill, they don't need a wall outlet or a generator.
    Keep in mind that you're cooking for people who are going to be mingling and playing games. So, cook things that don't need to be eaten sitting down or with utensils: ribs, chicken wings, kebabs, hotdogs, etc.
    Scott "Admiral BigGun" Backstrom is the founder of www.TailgateMaster.com, a website for tailgating recipes and other tips. He recommends sticking to the most basic tailgating foods, especially for first-timers.
    "Dogs, burgers, chili are easy and go well with frosty beverages," he says. "Making the menu simple makes the whole process of setup and teardown quicker and more painless."
    Taylor Mathis, author of "The Southern Tailgating Cookbook," recommends practicing at home.
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    "If you're trying out a new smoking technique or something, practice it," he says. "Don't wait until game day to have your first run. You can use the off season or your bye weekend for practicing."
    Not sure if you have everything you need for game day? Refer to TailgateMaster's extensive checklist.
    Taylor Mathis, author of "The Southern Tailgating Cookbook."

    2. Bring entertainment

    Remember to tote along some distractions to keep your tailgating friends busy while you're cooking. Games like cornhole or ladder golf are go-tos for tailgating because they can be played with one hand.
    "They do very well because typically a parking lot or the area where you are tailgating has a lot of space," says Dave Lamm, creator of www.TailgatingIdeas.com, a blog about the tailgate party lifestyle that sells tailgating products and gear.
    You can also set up a TV with a gas generator and turn on the pregame show.
    "I see a lot of people who actually don't go to the game," says Mathis. "They just watch their games at the tailgate."

    3. Dress like you mean it

    Dave Lamm, left, of TailgatingIdeas.com.
    Don't forget, you're not just there to grill. You're there to celebrate your team.
    "People want to stand out," says Lamm. "They want to show that they're the best fan in the parking lot and are going to be the best fan in the stadium."
    Fans don humongous hats, crazy wings, painted shoulder pads, and signed player jerseys. Some will even have face paint and wear costumes. While you certainly don't have to go that far, make sure you're at least wearing the right colors.

    4. Knowledge is power

    There are things that you want to look up ahead of time before heading to the stadium. Most obvious is the weather forecast: No grilling in a downpour.
    Other gems: Know when the parking lot gates open. You don't want to show up an hour early and have to sit in your car waiting. Know how much parking typically costs. Bring some extra cash in case you find a cash-only parking lot.
    It's also worth memorizing the rules of the stadium. In some cases, charcoal grills may be prohibited.
    As a San Diego Chargers season ticket holder, Lamm is aware of the glass ban at Qualcomm Stadium. He always brings plastic cups on game day so unknowing visitors who brought glass bottles won't get smacked with a $200 fine.

    5. Keep it positive

    We're all tailgating to have a good time. It's important to respect everybody, regardless of team affiliation, and help maintain a safe, friendly environment.
    If a fan of the opposing team parks next to you, like it or not, you'll be in close quarters for a while. Some good-natured trash talk is better than a long awkward silence. Just don't let it go overboard. There might come a point when you'll depend on your tailgating neighbors.
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    "If you forgot the mustard and it's back in the refrigerator in your house, you can't just pull up stakes from your tailgating space and go down the street to the local convenience store," says Lamm. "You go next door. You go to your tailgating neighbor. Even if they're wearing a different colored jersey."