10 best tailgating essentials for football season
Don’t drop the ball on your game-day celebrations
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For seasoned tailgaters, the game is only part of the experience. Waking up early to prep buffalo dip, packing the car with enough food and drinks to feed a defensive line, and staking out a prime spot in the parking lot requires the most work.
It takes the foresight of a top offensive coordinator combined with the execution of a Super Bowl-winning quarterback to achieve truly great tailgating.
But, no matter how much planning goes into the pre-game, you’re ultimately only as good as the stuff you bring along. Leave the Hail Marys to the pros: To make sure you have the best, most reliable products by your side, we’ve put football season staples through extensive testing to bring you closer to your best tailgate season yet.
1. A portable grill for game day noshing
Grilling is a quintessential tailgating activity. Whether you’re whipping up steak tips, chicken, or the tried-and-true burgers and hot dogs, our top-performing portable grills offer superior functionality and the ability to move between trunk and parking lot with ease.
For those who prefer a gas grill, our favorite Weber Q 1200 earned top marks for its cast-iron grill grates and powerful heat consistency. It easily fits six burgers at a time, and it comes equipped with side tables sturdy enough to hold an entire plate of food.
More into charcoal? The Weber Jumbo Joe has you covered with an impressive 240-square-inch cooking surface that can handle 10 burgers, several racks of ribs, or even a whole chicken. Just don’t forget briquettes. (Yes, we’ve tested those too.)
2. Grill tools that won’t drop the ball—er, dog
Don’t insult that thick steak by trying to flip it with a plastic fork. Any grill master knows the importance of a quality pair of tongs. After all, as our grill tong tester puts it, they should be an extension of your arm.
The OXO Good Grips 16-Inch Grilling Tongs are just that, a way for you to confidently pick up everything from hot dogs to skinny pieces of asparagus. Plus, it has a non-slip grip.
The same goes for our top grill spatula, the sister OXO Good Grips 16-Inch Grilling Turner with Serrated Edge, which works for burgers and pizzas alike. Buy them as a set to make sure you’re always prepared.
3. Digital thermometers to keep food safety concerns at bay
Just because you’re cooking in a parking lot doesn’t mean your food safety standards should wane. Especially when you’re out of your element, a quality thermometer can help keep you in check to make sure you’re cooking meat to perfection.
The ThermoWorks ThermoPop rose to the top of our best meat thermometer testing for its quick, accurate readings—it only takes 3 seconds to reach temperature. Plus, it’s small enough to take on the go.
If you’d rather opt for probe thermometer technology that lets you monitor temperature with the grill lid closed, the ThermoWorks ChefAlarm smoked the competition for its accuracy and the fact that you can calibrate it as needed.
Master the kitchen.
4. A cooler that will keep your drinks cold through kick-off
With a quality cooler, you can make sure you’re really reaching for a cold one during your pre-game celebrations. In our tests of the best ice coolers, the OtterBox Venture 45 cooler was able to keep internal temperatures below 40°F for almost five days, so your post-game drink can be just as refreshing.
Plus, this durable 45-quart cooler has a bottle opener, room for attachments, and an efficient drainage system. It’s even bear-resistant, which may come in handy at Soldier Field.
5. A portable Bluetooth speaker to get the party started
Whether you want to listen to the play-by-play of another game, or just pump some tunes to get everyone in the fighting spirit, you need a portable Bluetooth speaker. After testing more than 20 of the best-selling speakers on the market, the Sonos Roam won out for its superior sound and long battery life.
Plus, it’s durable and waterproof, and it comes in several colors to coordinate with your favorite team. It even allows for more than one Bluetooth source at a time, so you won’t have to fight over who gets to play the next song.
6. A travel mug to keep you warm on cold nights
Perfect for hot cocoa (or something a little stronger), our favorite travel mug can keep you feeling cozy during a chilly fall game.
When we tested the best travel mugs, our tester accidentally left the Zojirushi SM-KHE48 in a car overnight and it was still just as warm the next day, so you know it’s able to handle a few hours. This 16-ounce mug also fits perfectly into any cup holder or bag you may be toting.
7. A water bottle to help you stay hydrated
Save room in the cooler (and the environment) by ditching plastic water bottles for an insulated model that will keep you cool all day. The Brita BB11 Premium Filtering Water Bottle aced our temperature tests, delivering ice cold water after long periods of time—and without a funky, stainless-steel aftertaste. It’s also durable, high-capacity, and has a built-in filter.
8. Portable batteries to keep your phone charged
We’ve all been there—switching to low-power mode, dimming the screen, and frantically shutting down apps to try to preserve your phone’s last few moments of battery life. Add the strain of a stadium full of fans and you’re a goner.
To make sure you don’t drop off before you’re able to coordinate a meeting place with friends, make sure to pack a portable USB battery pack. The Mophie Powerstation PD, our pick for best overall, can charge two smartphones simultaneously—and with impressive speed.
9. Food storage containers to keep your snacks fresh
Tailgating is all about efficiency. With the right food storage containers, you can transport fresh snacks, serve, and then pop the lid back on when you head into the game.
The Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids Food Storage Containers, our choice for best plastic containers, is perfect for parking lot parties. The 42-piece set won’t break if dropped, you can find the perfect size no matter what treats you bring along, and they aced our potato chip freshness test, keeping the salty snack as good as new even after days of exposure to heat and humidity.
10. A way to screen the big game
Just because you’re not in your living room doesn’t mean you should miss out on highlights and commentary. With a portable projector, all you need is a white sheet or side of a building to be the most popular party in the parking lot.
While it works best in darker settings, the Anker Nebula Mars II earned top marks for its portability (it has a handle!) and small footprint, not to mention the fact that it can really showcase color pops and shadows. Game on.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.