How to Set Up an Awesome Chili Bar for Your Tailgate

Last updated on June 28th, 2020

Time to Read: 5 minutes

If you are looking for the perfect food to serve at your next tailgate, a chili bar could be what’s in store. It’s super easy, and who doesn’t love chili on a cold day? Providing a great toppings bar can make your tailgate fun and make it feel tailored to every guest. Follow the tips below so that you can host the perfect tailgate chili bar.

Make Your Chili

Before you can put together your tailgate chili bar, you’re going to need chili, right? 

If you have a base recipe that you love to make, it might just be perfect for the big day. However, if your usual chili recipe is really spicy, consider toning the spices down a little bit; this can help make it more universally appealing for your party guests in case there will be children present or if some of your guests prefer food of the not-so-spicy persuasion. Then, those who love super-hot chili can pep their own bowls up with spicy toppings from your toppings bar!

If you anticipate a big crowd, you may want to offer a couple of different chili options. Many people make their favorite meaty chili and then provide a vegetarian-friendly version for those who prefer not to eat meat. To add something else into the mix, you can even make a white chicken chili to serve alongside your other options. Then, guests can choose their favorite or can try a little bit of everything!

How to Keep Chili Warm Outside

Unless you intend to eat your chili immediately after pulling it off the stove, you need to figure out how to keep it warm at your tailgate. There are three options:

Gas Grill

Check out our best tailgate grill options for a good grill to keep your chili warm. We do not recommend a charcoal grill to keep chili warm for a few reasons:

  • It’s difficult to control temperature on a charcoal grill
  • It’s difficult to maintain a low temperature on charcoal (we’re keeping warm, not cooking!)
  • Charcoal will add a smoke flavor to your chili. While some may like this, it’s not something that you want no control over.

Slow Cooker / Crock-Pot

This is really the ideal choice to keep your chili warm. But it also requires that you have a generator on hand. Check out slow cookers on Amazon.

Chafing Dishes

You may not know the term, but you know what these are. They are most often associated with catered events like at weddings or buffet lines. These are cheap, effective, and require no source of power or fuel other than a few disposable fuel cans.

We recommend one of the following sets:

Prepare for the Mess

Chili can be pretty messy, so you’ll want to be prepared. Placing a disposable tablecloth underneath your chili bar will help you catch any drips and dribbles of chili or toppings, making for an easy clean-up. Also, make sure that you provide your guests with tons of napkins!

Provide the Right Vessels

If you’re going to be serving chili, you’re going to need bowls. Well, actually, you don’t technically have to use bowls at all. If you do choose to use them, you may want to look for heavier disposable bowls that can be tossed out after the tailgate. 

However, mugs can be an even better choice. This makes it easy for your guests to walk around and mingle with others while still munching on their chili. Another option is to make bread bowls; if you choose a thick, hearty bread, you can tear out the middle to provide space for the chili.

Offer Lots of Toppings

The best part of a chili bar party is, well, the buffet of toppings that allow each guest to customize his or her bowl. The possibilities are truly endless, but these are a few things that you might want to consider adding to your chili bar:


Lots of people love adding cheese to their chili, so consider offering a few options. You can serve up options like shredded cheddar and Colby jack. You can also serve up cubed pieces of Velveeta.


For guests who are looking to add a bit of heat to their chili, a bowl full of pickled jalapenos can really hit the spot. Chopped green pepper and a bowl of diced chilies also make a great addition.


Try adding diced white and red onions to your chili bar.


Some of your guests might choose to eat their chili more as a dip, so adding tortilla chips is a great choice. Doritos and potato chips in various flavors are also great for crumbling into the chili or eating on the side.


Nowadays, people add bacon to just about everything, so a bowl of chopped bacon pieces are sure to be a hit. If you don’t feel like frying up bacon yourself, you can even use the “real bacon pieces” that you can find at the grocery store, usually on the same aisle as the salad dressing. Sliced smoked sausage and boiled hot dogs are a great choice, too.


In some places, such as in Cincinnati, people like to eat their chili over spaghetti noodles. Some people also like to make “chili mac” with elbow macaroni noodles. Others like to mix their chili with rice. Offering a couple of different types of pasta and a batch of white rice can allow your guests to eat their chili how they prefer. Also, don’t forget to offer rolls, crackers, and cornbread on the side!

Help Them Wash it Down

When indulging in a nice, spicy chili, guests are probably going to be looking for something to drink. Beer is well-known for going hand-in-hand with chili, so offer a few light, dark, and craft options for your guests to choose from. For those who don’t prefer beer or who won’t be drinking at your party, offering lemonade, ginger ale, and other refreshing drinks can help everyone wash their delicious meal down.

Setting up a chili bar can be the perfect way to serve your guests at your tailgate, particularly during the fall and winter. If you follow these steps, you can throw an awesome chili bar that your guests are sure to love!