The South's Best Tailgate Spreads

These two universities top the pack year in and year out.

Photo: Hector Manual Sanchez

When it comes to elaborate tailgates, it's hard to beat the schools in the Southeastern Conference. Though the intra-conference rivalries are fierce, two universities top the pack year in and year out.

Ole Miss Tailgate
Gary Clark

The Grove in Oxford, Mississippi, is legendary for its over-the-top pre-game festivities. On Friday evening a shady 10-acre stand of oaks and maples in the center of campus is transformed into a sea of red, white, and blue tents. By the next morning it teems with revelers decked out in their Sunday finest. With no cars or RVs allowed, it's a block party atmosphere with upscale Southern flair.

And, boy, do they lay out a spread: towers of cookies and brownies artfully arrayed on tiered silver trays, elaborate displays of finger sandwiches, pigs-in-blankets, and colorful fruit skewers amid candelabras and vases of flowers.

The presentations have grown progressively more ornate over the years, but the dishes vary greatly from one tent to the next. "At Ole Miss, it's not as much about what you eat as how you eat it," says Andy Staples, a sportswriter for The Athletic, who has visited more than his fair share of tailgates. "You may be eating pimento cheese sandwiches, but you're eating them off china in a tent with a chandelier."

LSU Tailgating
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

It's a different story few hours further south in Baton Rogue, where the LSU Tigers have perfected the art of game-day cookery. Their tailgates stand out not just for the quality of the food but also for the sheer variety of dishes found only in Louisiana.

Jambalayas steam in cast iron kettles while game-day gumbos bubble in stainless steel pots atop roaring gas burners, their cooks keeping things stirring with big wooden paddles. Amid smoking grills and barbecue pits, hosts dish out crawfish etouffee, sausages, crabs, crawfish, and ponce. And never pass on a fried boudin ball or hand-battered corn dog if someone offers you one.

The feasting starts on Friday night and keeps right up until kickoff—and, for many, long after that, too. When the Tigers square off against the University of Florida Gators, you're bound to find a few actual gators roasting over wood coals, while cochon de lait (roast suckling pig) is always on the menu when the Arkansas Razorbacks are in town.

Whether you're kicked back in a tricked-out RV in the Touchdown Village lots or drifting from one purple and gold canopy to another on the green grass of the Parade Ground, there's one thing you know for sure when you're at an LSU tailgate: before the day is done, you are going to be very, very full.

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