Our Top Picks for Tailgating Gear This Season

Upgrade your party with the best tailgating grill, smoker, cooler, chairs, and more.

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Top Picks for Tailgating Gear
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon

Gorging on good food, drinking beer, and going up against friends in yard games are as much of a game day ritual as the actual game. Tailgating starts like your first apartment: a bare-bones proposition of a few chairs, maybe a broken grill, and a cooler full of drinks. As time passes, perhaps that futon without a frame needs an upgrade. Now substitute that futon for your folding chairs that precariously wobble when you try to stand up.

Whether it's a grill, portable furniture, a beer growler, or burger condiments, investing in tailgating gear now will set you up for a smooth rest of the season. We drew on market research and our knowledge of the field to compile a list that promises top quality for your dollar. Read on for the best tailgating gear to kick off the 2022 season.

Our Top Picks

Best Tailgating Grill: Weber Q1200 Gas Grill

Top Picks for Tailgating Gear
Courtesy of Amazon

The Weber Q1200 ranked best in our review of portable grills and is excellent for smaller groups. It's a powerful propane grill in a small form that fits easily in the trunk of your car that can handle cooking for two to four people at a time with ease. It has the quick and even heating that you'd expect from larger grills, and the enamel-coated grates help with food sticking and makes cooking even delicate foods like fish much more manageable.

Best Tailgating Speaker: JBL Boombox 2

Top Picks for Tailgating Gear
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at Walmart.

What's a party without sound? Whether it's music or the pregame show, you don't want to hear a tinny speaker struggling. You have a lot of choices with speakers, some even bringing light shows and karaoke to the mix. If you don't need the singalong capabilities, the JBL Boombox 2 offers great Bluetooth sound at 80 watts and an aux port for direct connection. It carries all ranges of sound well and has built-in adjustments for indoor and outdoor use, so pounding bass in an enclosed space isn't an issue. It does carry a price tag, and it weighs 13 pounds, but dollar for dollar, we see it as money well spent. It is available in black or camouflage and has a feature that can link it to other JBL speakers in range to boost the audio from a single source to a greater area.

Best Tailgating Smoker: Green Mountain Grills Trek

Top Picks for Tailgating Gear
Courtesy of Amazon

While we ranked it highly as a portable grill, the Trek is both a grill and a smoker and handles each job well. As smoking and grilling are two distinctly different cooking techniques, finding something with these capabilities is akin to finding a unicorn. It's a medium-capacity unit, capable of handling a couple of slabs of ribs or steaks or burgers for the group. It has a nine-pound pellet capacity fed through an auger-driven hopper. App-based integration monitors the cooking time, the internal temperature of the food on the grill, and the temperature of the grill. This makes the Trek a set-it-and-forget-it experience, allowing you to be part of the festivities while cooking. The are some drawbacks. The grill requires 12V or 120AC power, which can plug into your car if you don't have access to electricity. Also, the app requires a WiFi connection that isn't present in many tailgate locations. However, a simple workaround is to utilize a personal hotspot from your phone.

Best Tailgating Chair: Coleman Portable Chair with Side Table

Top Picks for Tailgating Gear
Courtesy of Amazon

Selecting the "best" chair is a highly subjective decision. In many ways, it feels like politics, religion, barbecue, and cornbread – a subject best left out of polite conversations. What's comfortable for one is not necessarily comfortable for all. Various features may be non-negotiable or equally bothersome, depending on the person: footrests, tables, sun shades, and the like. With that in mind, we narrowed our choices with a few (almost universally agreed upon) criteria for tailgating. It has to be portable, not requiring too much room to transport; it should hold a drink without it spilling when someone sits down or gets up; and it should be big enough for the average adult. We picked the Coleman because of its solid nylon and aluminum construction, moderate price, and the fact that it stores easily for transportation. Plus, table space is always at a premium when tailgating and shouldn't be a point of contention.

Best Grilling Tools Set: Cuisinart Deluxe Grill Set

Top Picks for Tailgating Gear
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at Crate & Barrel and Home Depot.

It's easier to be the grill star, if even in your mind, when working with a good set of tools. This Cuisinart set brings quality to the essential tools – spatula, tongs, and fork – with a few nice bonuses. The fork doubles as a meat thermometer, while a serviceable grill scraper, skewers for kebabs, corn holders, and a functional basting brush round out the set, all packaged in an easy-to-stow case.

Best Cooler: Coleman Xtreme 50-Quart Wheeled Cooler

Top Picks for Tailgating Gear
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at Home Depot.

Finding the right cooler for you can be difficult. Cooler space is key in a tailgate situation, but finding a happy medium that gives you the capacity you need, holds a cold temperature, isn't over-engineered beyond your needs and wallet, and doesn't require a dedicated vehicle to transport is challenging. The Coleman Xtreme fits that mold nicely. It can keep your items cold for up to five days, holds 84 cans, and won't break the bank. The telescoping handle and heavy-duty wheels make it easy to move, it has a drain at the bottom for shedding melted ice without you having to turn it over to empty it, and the top doubles as a seat with a 250-pound capacity.

Best Grill Seasoning for Beef: Meat Church Holy Cow

Top Picks for Tailgating Gear
Courtesy of Holy City Hogs

If you're still seasoning your grilled meats with something from a package resembling a can of Four Loko, it's time to upgrade that rub. Rubs designed for beef tend to be more savory, while those intended for pork and poultry often skew to the sweet side. This information is good guidance, but that doesn't mean you have to use it in that manner. If you have a pork or poultry rub that doesn't contain much sugar, you can use it for beef if that's what you like. I tend to avoid rubs containing charcoal, as I can attain that flavor in the grilling or smoking process without an aftertaste.

Holy Cow is a Texas-style spicy rub in that it tastes of spices but isn't necessarily hot. It accentuates beef in both slow smoking and grilling. It's painfully shy on ingredient information, unfortunately, but it's great on beef ribs, steaks, and burgers, and not too shabby on mushrooms and squashes.

Best Grill Seasoning for Pork or Chicken: Tank's Ultra Premium BBQ Rub

Top Picks for Tailgating Gear
Courtesy of Amazon

This is a small batch rub, directly from the pig farmer, who, as it happens, possesses expert-level knowledge in the area of smoking the pigs he raises. It's simple and straightforwards: sugar, salt, red and black pepper, paprika, and cumin, rounded with a little MSG. It's a great example of "less is more" when it comes to accenting and highlighting the flavor of the meat, which is what good barbecue is all about.

Another good choice is Rub Potion Number Swine ($10) from Sam Jones BBQ. This rub is another seemingly simple mix of ingredients from a master in the barbeque field: brown sugar, salt, paprika, black and cayenne pepper, onion powder, and mustard. Try these rubs on your ribs, butts, chickens, turkeys, and the like. They're also great on many kinds of vegetables and fries.

Best Hot Dog or Sausage Condiment: Harry & David Pepper and Onion Relish

Top Picks for Tailgating Gear
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at Harry & David and Walmart.

Mustard, onions, and ketchup (sorry, Chicago) are all fine condiments for a hot dog or bratwurst. I have nothing against them. But occasionally, there's a craving for a little more complexity than the traditional toppings bring to the party. This pepper and onion relish packs in red pepper, onion, tomato, and a little jalapeno and vinegar for heat and depth. It's not groundbreaking, but it refines sausage on a bun, and all of the flavors play pretty nicely with the usual spices in cased meats.

Best Burger Condiment: Bulldog Vegetable and Fruit Tonkatsu Sauce

Top Picks for Tailgating Gear
Courtesy of Amazon

Often served with tonkatsu or okonomiyaki and referred to as "sauce," this condiment from Japan is comparable to Worcestershire sauce in flavor but thicker, sweeter, and browner. Its umami-laden base and sweetness also amplify the flavors of grilled food, raising the stakes on burgers and other meats as well as savory vegetables. Try it as an alternative to sweeter condiments such as pickle relish or ketchup.

Best Spicy Addition: Fly By Jing Sichuan Chili Crisp

Top Picks for Tailgating Gear
Courtesy of Fly by Jing

Also available at Amazon and Target.

We live in the golden age of hot sauce with countless flavors and intensities of heat on the market. Suppose you're looking for something besides pure heat that adds texture and umami to tongue-buzzing Sichuan peppercorns. In that case, this chili crisp from Fly By Jing augments its spiciness with fermented black bean, ginger, mushroom, and seaweed to form a complex flavor booster for most foods. Try it on bratwurst or coleslaw.

Best Alternative Ketchup: Jufran Banana Ketchup

Top Picks for Tailgating Gear
Courtesy of Amazon

Everybody knows the condiment drill: set out the ketchup and mustard, maybe some mayo, and let each person dress their food how they like. Escape the predictable this season by sliding some banana ketchup (also called banana sauce) onto the table instead of the tomato variety. This popular Filipino condiment is the result of efforts to create a sustainable alternative to tomato ketchup in a time when the latter was in short supply. As it contains many of the same ingredients as the tomato varieties, the flavor won't be unfamiliar to first-timers. Yet, it draws sweetness and depth from the bananas, providing a bit more roundness to the overall sweet and sour taste. Jufran is available in regular and hot varieties.

Best Folding Table: Lifetime Height Adjustable Folding Table

Top Picks for Tailgating Gear
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at Walmart and Home Depot.

The Lifetime is an excellent multi-purpose table. Because of its adjustable heights – 22, 24, 29, and 36 inches – it can serve for prep and cooking, serving, or seating. Stability at full height is a legitimate concern, as a wobbly three-foot-tall table can be dangerous. The leg construction provides a solid base at all heights. It's 48 inches long and allows seating for four to six people, or it can hold up to 200 pounds of food or drinks when used as a serving or prep table. The top folds in half for easy packing and storage and is constructed of tough, molded plastic with rounded corners to prevent damage.

Best Beer Growler: Stanley Classic 64-Ounce Easy-Pour Vacuum Insulated Growler

Top Picks for Tailgating Gear
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at Stanley and Target.

Have a draft beer you'd want to bring to the tailgate? This large growler from Stanley measures just over 12 inches and features an easy-to-grip handle and double wall vacuum insulation that will keep liquids cold for 24 hours or hot for 18 hours. The wide mouth is great for easy filling and cleaning but requires a little care when pouring. With the wide assortment of growlers out there, some featuring CO2 and draft pouring and some a simple brown jug, the Stanley hits all of the right spots before becoming overly complicated and has a fair price point.

Best Insulated Tumbler: YETI Rambler 30-Ounce Tumbler

Top Picks for Tailgating Gear
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at Yeti and REI.

At some point, we outgrow the iconic red plastic cup for tailgating. For hot game days, you want a vessel that will keep your beverages at a proper temperature without melted ice watering them down. The Rambler claims to maintain ice for 24 hours with its vacuum insulation and sliding magnetic lid seal. When the weather turns and suggests a warmer beverage, you'll get four to five hours before your hot drinks cool off. The Yeti is dishwasher safe, designed not to sweat, and fits most cup holders.

Factors to Consider

Portability

Tailgating is a lot like camping; you have to bring everything you need. When considering a new piece of equipment, think strongly about how easy it is to pack and transport, especially how it will fit in your car with your other gear. If you can't park directly at the gathering, how hard is it to move from the car to the tailgate spot? Equal consideration is necessary for how easy it is to unpack at the end of the day because nobody looks forward to that part of the show.

Ease of Use

When considering a new piece of gear, think about how much time you'll spend setting up and tearing down your equipment. Weigh the ease or difficulty of a new bit and how it relates to time spent using it. Ultimately, you can strike a balance between easy and hard pieces and spend more time enjoying the pregame.

Frequency of Use

Everything you bring to the tailgate requires some degree of packing, unpacking, setting up, tearing down, and repeating the packing and unpacking ritual. Do you want to dedicate trunk space, money, and time to something you'll only use once or twice a season? If it's not going to be a regular part of your festivities, maybe give it a pass.

Q+A

Where does the term "tailgating" come from?

There are a handful of claims about the origin of tailgating as the term we know today, each with varying degrees of plausibility. The most popular origin story dates to 1869 when Rutgers and Princeton universities played a football game at College Field in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Spectators spent the time before kickoff grilling and eating sausages at the "tail end" of a horse. Another story echoes these events, but it was Yale in 1904, and the spectators traveled by train and expected to be hungry, so they brought food for the trip.

A third story places the origin in 1919 at the first Green Bay Packers game. Spectators backed their trucks and wagons up around the field and used the tailgates for seating while making food and carrying on before the game started. This last version seems to be the most likely scenario.

Should I have a generator for tailgating?

Buying a generator should depend on whether you have a clear need for electricity and how often you'll need it. A generator is not inexpensive, so if you would only need it once or twice a season, you may want to consider alternatives. If you would use it regularly, however, it's worth investing in.

What type of grill is best for tailgating?

Charcoal and wood-burning grills are fantastic options in many situations, but for safety reasons, you'll need to find an appropriate means of disposing of the leftover coals and ash before leaving the grill unattended. This could be a difficult task in a parking lot, and because of that, we recommend a gas or electric grill that will heat quickly, cool quickly, and not leave a potential fire hazard behind.

Our Expertise

Greg Baker is an award-winning chef, restaurateur, and food writer with decades of experience in the food industry. He never turns down an opportunity for food and drinks outdoors. He drew on his expertise to curate this list.

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