tailgating essentials

Upgrade Your Tailgate With These Top Tailgating Essentials

It's football season. More like tailgate season...

Take your football games to the next level (and look like a tailgating pro) when you break out these top essentials for your first big football gathering of the season.

We’re a couple weeks away from football season, but we can all agree that Sundays are about to be a lot less productive and fanwear is going to be the official weekend uniform from here until the playoffs. Somewhere in your neighborhood, a neighbor will be smoking something, and before long you’ll be able to recite the most repeated game-day commercials. Oh, and that new neighbor you thought was cool? You might be surprised when they bring out the rival team’s yard decorations and wear their very own “lucky” t-shirt while doing yard work before the games start.

When it comes to tailgating, it really doesn’t matter if you have a favorite NFL team or your loyalty lies with your college alma mater — it’s easy to host a good time for family and friends. And yes, you can get by with some of favorite stadium snacks, your trusty ol’ cooler for ice-cold beverages, and an assortment of camping chairs, or … (hear us out) you can make it a great tailgate with this checklist of our favorite essentials for the football season.

Ready, set, let’s tailgate!


tailgate tent canopy for tailgating

TAILGATE TENT

tailgate tent guarantees your setup works rain or shine. There are now plenty of options that you can buy online and work with a regular SUV, that way you don’t have to worry about hauling a big tent in a trailer with a lot of setup involved. All you have to do is pop the back door of the vehicle and weigh down the two standing poles. You’ll have enough protection for all of the tailgate food, plus a spot to keep the glare off the TV in lieu of gameday tickets.


cooler for tailgating

COOLER + ICE

There’s only one necessity on this list (okay, two if you include beverages) and that’s the cooler. Clean it out after every use so it’s good to go for next weekend’s adventure.  Are you wondering if you should update your cooler with the best new technology for your football tailgate? Don’t think about it any longer, simply check out our recent cooler post featuring all about the latest and greatest options for 2022. And don’t forget the ice! Either pick up a bag at the grocery store on your way, or ask a friend to bring one along. It’s the best job for the person that doesn’t like to spend their time cooking up picnic salads or crafting football-themed snacks in their free time.


wine for tailgating

CANNED WINE

You can pretty much count on people bringing a lot of canned beer, so this year be the one to offer up something different. Enter: Wine-In-A-Can, your new tailgate companion. Keep the cans in the cooler and enjoy refreshing sips of wine in between big plays and winning touchdowns. And if your team comes out on top, we’ve got a can for that. Pop the tab of the bestselling White Wine with Bubbles for a Champagne-toast to your favorite team. (Bonus if you’re a Cleveland Browns fan, because we have specific cans for that too.)


portable grill for tailgating

PORTABLE GRILL

Before you dust off the camping stove, consider adding a real tailgate-friendly portable grill to your watch-party arsenal. It might take up more space in the car, but you’ll be glad to cook up additional burger patties on a wide grate and have some surface area on either side to refill serving platters. A grill for tailgating might feel like a bit of an investment at first, but if you take good care to clean it out a few times during the season it should work year-after-year. It will see you through the good seasons and maybe even the not-so-good ones (but at least we’re still out here tailgating, right?).


folding chairs for tailgating

FOLD-UP CHAIRS

Don’t dismiss stadium seating! If your spot for the game is on the bleachers, you might appreciate a nice backrest so you can relax while watching one of the longest games in sports. For the parking lot tailgate, stick to durable camping chairs that are easy to clean and can fit anywhere in your vehicle. If you have some extra space, toss in a couple ultra-portable chairs just in case your group grows throughout the day — it always does. 


best slow cooker for tailgate

SLOW COOKERS

If you have an electrical hookup, nothing works harder than a slow cooker on gameday. Everything from party meatballs, to mac and cheese and chili for hot dogs, will stay warm and satisfying from kickoff to the final score. Stock your tailgate kit with two slow cookers — a small slow cooker and a large one. You’ll be relieved to have a place for the lil’ smokies, while making a lot of room for those cheesy potatoes that people just can’t get enough of. Quick tip: Avoid a messy table! Place a spoon rest off to the side for the serveware. 


games for tailgating

TAILGATE GAMES

At their most basic, tailgate games are easy to set up and tear down and can keep a big  group entertained for hours! Cornhole is one of the most popular tailgate games for big groups and small gatherings because it can be played by two or four people (two teams of two). A foldout table for the food can easily transition into a beer pong or flip cup table for a big group. If you have a corner spot, set up the Kan Jam! This is a disc-golf tailgating game made for an afternoon of fun with your most athletic tailgating friends. 


tailgating cups

SOLO® CUPS

Speaking of tailgate games, a bag of clean Solo® cups is always a good idea. These are the classic college party staple for a reason — Solo® cups are easy to hold, they’re durable enough to handle multiple games, and they make handing out drinks easy. Bring your favorite plastic drink dispenser and make a big batch of lemonade (add vodka if your tailgate is adults only), and toss a Sharpie on the table so everyone can write their names and prevent losing track of their cup. 


condiment caddy for tailgating

CONDIMENT CADDY

Keep the condiments grouped together on the tailgate table with a handy condiment caddy. It’s easy to pass around if people need to grab their hot dog and burger fixings, and helps you keep organized when packing the car. Find a caddy that has a spot for napkins and plastic serveware if you really want to feel like a tailgate pro. We recommend keeping an extra box of plastic forks and knives handy just in case the neighbor tailgate comes over to fix themselves a plate. 


sunscreen and bug spray

SUNSCREEN AND BUG SPRAY

Nobody needs to go to work on Monday with tailgate tan lines! That’s why the two tailgate items that should always be in your main vehicle are sunscreen and bug spray, especially if you arrive mid-morning for a night game. Keep them in a plastic bag in a cold spot in the car just in case they leak, and so you can pass around the handy bag when the hot afternoon sun and early-evening bugs are the most intense. 


STASH OF TRASH BAGS

Litter left behind at your tailgate site? That’s a big tailgate foul! Keep the trash to a minimum with extra trash bags, and secure your own makeshift trash bin with a standing trash bag holder. This prevents you from picking up the mess and encourages other people to toss what they’re done with. There are plenty of styles online, but you can keep it minimal with this bag holder that does double duty with fall yard waste all season long. Go above and beyond and grab an extra one for recycling all of the empty beer and wine cans!

Erin Hooker

Erin Hooker is a writer with experience creating wine, food, and interior design content. She began contributing to Graham + Fisk’s blog in 2021.

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