Guide to North Carolina Game Days

Guide to North Carolina Game Days

Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte

While football may be the main attraction, a brag-worthy tailgate is the only way to properly prepare for any big game. Whether cheering on your alma mater or the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, we have your guide to game days in North Carolina, from cold drinks to stylish looks.

Tailgate Menu

While drinks may be the lifeblood of a tailgate, the backbone is the food.

Because tailgating is an all-day, high-energy event, always begin with hearty appetizers like a cheese-smothered, spicy sausage dip made with Neese’s Sausage of Greensboro paired with deviled eggs topped with Texas Pete, bottled in Winston-Salem. These are easy appetizers to make ahead for optimal tailgate enjoyment.

For a main course, you can’t go wrong with the ubiquitous Carolina Burger, slathered in chili and slaw (Note: All-the-way is the only way to eat these). If chili and slaw aren’t enough, add a few Mt. Olive pickle chips for a crisp bite and North Carolina authenticity.

And of course, you can’t mention game day in North Carolina without mentioning barbecue. If out east watching the East Carolina Pirates play, try the nationally acclaimed barbecue capital of the world, known by most as Skylight Inn of Ayden, serving up peppery, vinegar-based ‘cue. Around the Triangle, try Allen & Son of Chapel Hill for chopped, hickory-smoked hog with the tangy taste of Eastern-style barbecue, and around Triad, drop by any Lexington establishment for the rich, woodsy taste of Western-style barbecue (Smiley’s Lexington BBQ and Lexington Bar-B-Q Center are noteworthy options).

If in Charlotte for a Panthers game, Mac’s Speedshop is making some noise with its original riff on barbecue with “Mexicue” – slow-smoked pork topped with slaw and swaddled in a flour tortilla.

Cooler Essentials

Update your tailgate game by splurging on North Carolina beers. Asheville, named Beer City USA for four years strait, bottles famed Highland Brewing Company beers sold in grocery stores across the state, with popular picks like the crisp, citrus finish of the St. Terese’s Pale Ale or the chocolaty, robust Black Mocha Stout, silver medal winner at the World Beer Festival.

If tailgating in the Triangle, swing by Fullsteam Brewery of Durham for a growler of Sweet Potato Lager, a lighter, warming brew that pairs well with fall.

For an authentic taste of the Tar Heel state, try something else we’re known for: moonshine. Assign a mixologist at your tailgate to serve up a signature craft cocktail flaunting the hues of your team colors, like a Bloody Mary mixed with Madison’s Catdaddy Moonshine for Wolfpack fans. Top of the Hill offers a Carolina Whiskey that mixes a mean Manhattan, an amber-hued sipper to complement the Old Gold and Black of a Demon Deacon tailgate.

Younger tailgaters can sip on North Carolina-native Sun Drop or Cheerwine, which are always best enjoyed in their original glass bottles for added charm.

Game Day Gear

While eating and drinking well is of the upmost importance, dressing well is a close second.

In or around Raleigh, stylish fans can visit Lumina Clothing or High Cotton for debonair neckwear that showcases any team’s colors. For avid Tar Heel fans, visit Julian’s on Franklin Street, purveyors of preppy attire from Old Well embroidered pants to Carolina blue argyle sweaters for ladies and gentlemen alike. Lucky Penny and Gladiola Girls of Boone fill their racks with the warm colors of gold and black come fall for fashion-forward Appalachian State fans.

The anatomy of a tailgate is simple: good drinks, good food and good clothes make a good time. Whether or not your team dominates the game, you can always dominate the tailgate.

Blair Rumley Cofield is a graduate of University of North Carolina with a degree in Southern Studies. She lives in Raleigh and restricts her barbecue intake to eastern-style only.

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