There’s only one reason waking up early on weekends is acceptable, and it’s to load a bunch of beer and meat into a car, drive to a giant parking lot and stand outside for hours on end in all kinds of weather before watching 22 people fight over an 11-inch piece of pigskin.
And that’s why tailgating season — and football season as a whole — is the best part of the year.
Whether you’ve been tailgating before stadiums had video boards or you’re going to your first big game this year, you need to make sure you’re doing it right—and that’s where we come in.
Here is your ultimate tailgating guide with the tools, the tastes and the tips to make the next five months of football fantastic.
Our top-rated tailgate gear
To throw the perfect tailgate, you need the right equipment, from grills and accessories to coolers, coozies and cornhole.
Thankfully, we’ve taken our time to personally review many of these items and select other standouts as well to make sure you have absolutely everything you need.
The best portable gas grill
And in that case, we really liked the Cuisinart Petit Gourmet portable propane grill. It’s under 20 pounds and is pretty small, but it’s effective and great for a tailgate.
When I bought a grill, though, the choice was the Coleman Road Trip grill, which has side tables and folds up and rolls wherever you need it to go.
The best portable charcoal grill
The good thing about charcoal grills are almost all of them are portable. We rounded up the best charcoal grills and found that our favorite was the Weber Original 22” kettle grill for its simplicity and its effectiveness. If you’re looking for something more portable, we liked another Weber product, the smaller Smoky Joe.
The best slow cooker
We have spoken and the best slow cooker is not a Crock-Pot, nor an Instant Pot. It’s the Cuisinart 3-in-1, 6-quart multi-cooker. It’s expensive, but it also features a removable cooking pot that can be used on the stovetop when you’re not at the game.
The best grill spatula
The first thing you need to do is remember to bring a spatula, because I once had to go hunting for a spatula at other tailgates on one fateful morning and that wasn’t fun.
But once you’ve got that locked down, make sure the one you remember is the OXO Good Grips 16” grilling turner. It’s our top-rated grill spatula for its lightweight feel, serrated edge and very low price.
The best grill tongs
Coming from someone who’s used plastic forks to move meat around on the grill, a good set of tongs goes a long way. We reviewed a number of tongs and our favorite was an OXO Good Grips brand just like the spatulas. It’s cheap, has everything you need and feels like an extension of your arm (so you don’t burn your actual arm part).
The best bluetooth speaker
Gameday is nothing without a good playlist and a good playlist is nothing without a good speaker. We took a look at the best portable bluetooth speakers under $100.
Our favorite was the JBL Flip 3, for its variety of features including its durability and quality.
The best food storage containers
Whether it’s dip or dogs, you always need containers to carry food in and out. We tested those too and our favorite was the Glasslock assorted set for their versatility and sturdiness.
Amazon's top tailgate items
We've got the big appliances covered, but here are some of the top items from Amazon that you should also pack up on gameday.
This trusted cooler
You need something to hold all of your drinks and food and keep them cold throughout the day and that’s where a cooler comes in. But the best part about a cooler is it provides another seat too.
There are plenty of great coolers out there, but one Amazon recommends and one I also personally recommend is the Coleman 54-quart steel-belted cooler. My parents have had a similar one since before I was born and it still works just fine today.
It’s rust-resistant, holds temperature for days and holds 85 cans.
This portable table
A folding table is a must for food, portable grills and more.
Amazon recommends the 4-foot Lifetime adjustable folding table which can go to different heights and fold up to fit in the back of your car.
This easy lawn game
Gamedays aren’t complete without games and in my opinion, cornhole is the way to go if you have enough space. It’s easy for all ages and there isn’t as big of a chance to send stuff flying like in KanJam or Ladders.
Amazon went with the GoSports wooden boards here and they are definitely the best, but a plastic set will do the trick too.
This sturdy canopy
It’s football season. Players play through the elements and you should tailgate through them too. A canopy is great for sunshine or rain or even just to mark your spot for when you get lost coming back from the bathroom.
One of Amazon’s best sellers is the 10X10 ABCCANOPY pop-up tent and it even comes in plenty of different colors for your team.
These fun walkie talkies
Cell phones have clearly changed the game, but nothing beats an old set of walkie talkies. They’re great for splitting up and reconnecting, reporting on bathroom lines and driving in a convoy of six cars all trying to park together.
Instead of trying to get cell service or wasting your battery, having a walkie talkie to coordinate always helps. Amazon recommends Arcshell walkie talkies for their size, range and more.
This official football
This one’s obvious and needs no explanation.
Our ideal tailgating menu
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t leave out the most important part: The eats. We’ve listed some tailgate standards here along with a few extra ideas.
What you eat is up to you, but there are the basic staples of a tailgate that if served will always leave people satisfied. Of course, everyone has different traditions, but these are some of the most popular.
The easy sides:
-Other kind of chips
-Buffalo chicken dip
To go above and beyond:
-Breakfast sandwiches for early tailgates
-Smoked meat (brisket, tenderloin, etc.)
Here's how to be a gridiron gameday grill-master
As is the case with tailgates in general, everyone has their own tricks and methods for grilling, but at Reviewed, we have the basics covered for you too.
A few of the biggest ones are as follows:
-Preheat the grill. It's always tempting to light the grill and throw the food on right away, but that could lead to under/overcooking.
-Don't flip the meat too much. This is especially important with burgers and steaks, because it'll cause it to lose some of its juices.
-Speaking of juices, let the meat rest after cooking. Most meats will cook for a certain period of time after with a high internal temperature. This will lead to perfectly cooked meat that isn't spilling juices everywhere.
-Don't overcook. Remember that food will still cook even after it's removed from the heat, so don't make hockey pucks, but also be careful and avoid serving pink undercooked patties.
-Clean the grill after use. This is especially important with portable grills, because nobody wants to open a grill after months of not using it and find it nasty, or find a valve clogged leading to it not lighting.
And last but not least: Our most important tailgating tips
Everyone has their own tailgating methods, but these little reminders, tips and other things to bring will ensure you’re the host with the most.
-Bring at least two aluminum foil baking pans to put hot food in and serve it out of, especially if you’re making food for a large group.
-Always bring more food and drinks than you think you’ll need. You never know what’ll happen and leftovers are never a bad thing.
-*This one’s for those new to tailgating:* Drinks go on the bottom of the cooler, then ice, then another layer, then more ice. You can store way more drinks that way, instead of pouring all the ice in first and only being able to put a few drinks in. We've all learned the hard way.
-Bring matches/a lighter and something flammable (newspaper) just in case the grill lighter does not light.
-Always have a portable charger for phones and speakers to get a little juice throughout the day.
-If you’re cooking for a large group, cook everything at once and serve it from one of the pans, or serve it in waves, don’t do individual meals.
-Always have trash bags or know where you can get them to avoid clutter and a mess.
-Have a case of water regardless of whatever else there is for drinks
-Clean everything up before you go to the game/event. It’ll make for a much easier and faster exit. Or, use that extra food and stay longer to let the lot clear out.
-Author’s tip: If you have leftover eggs from breakfast, use them for an egg toss.
-Author's tip: If you're the one cooking, set aside some food yourself to make last and make as much as you want just the way you want it.