Top Tools for Tailgating
What’s more fun than a tailgating party? But even for experienced cooks, hosting a successful game-day party is tricky. If you’re going to the stadium, you need kitchen gear that’s easy to transport. And if you’re hosting at home, you need to keep foods hot (or cold!) for hours. This week, our editors have selected the equipment you need to up your tailgating game. Our winning portable charcoal grill is compact and easy to carry, but it’s still big enough to fit eight hamburgers at a time. Our favorite mini slow cooker ensures that queso or artichoke dip stays melty for hours and never scorches. And you’ll love our top-rated ice pack. Just one is enough to keep an entire cooler of soda chilled for more than 24 hours. To really impress your guests, try some new spins on old favorites, such as Korean Fried Chicken Wings and Cajun-Spiced Popcorn. Our latest special edition Best-Ever Appetizers contains these fan favorites and more than 70 other recipes. With this party-ready equipment and our favorite recipes, you’ll be the new tailgating MVP.
Though this hard-sided ice pack was one of the more expensive in the bunch, it contained a large amount of liquid, had a convenient handle for easy transporting, and never formed bulges as it froze. We needed only one of these packs to line a cooler and keep soda chilled for more than a day, and the pack stayed cold for almost 14 hours when we let it sit out at room temperature.
BUY FOR $23
This smaller version of our favorite Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill shares many of its attributes. The ample cooking surface fit six to eight burgers at a time or a 1½-pound flank steak. The domed cover allowed us to grill-roast a butterflied chicken perfectly. Adjustable vents on the cover and on opposite sides of the grill’s body gave us plenty of control over the fire.
BUY FOR $45
This new "multicooker"—a slow cooker that can also brown/saute and steam food—produced perfect chicken, steaks, and ribs, with no scorching or hot spots. Its programmable timer can be set to cook for up to 24 hours and then automatically switches over to “keep warm." We liked its lightweight, easy-to-clean, unbreakable metal insert with extra-large, comfy handles, and its oval shape, clear lid, and intuitive controls. The brown/saute and steam functions both work as promised. A nice bonus is that the browning function, with adjustable temperature control from 150 F to 400 F, lets you sear food before slow-cooking, or reduce sauces afterward, without dirtying a second pan.
BUY FOR $98
This mini slow cooker’s trio of temperature settings allowed us to select the perfect temperature whether we were keeping dip warm or cooking a soup scaled for two. Its gentle warm setting meant we could keep queso dip molten and melty for several hours without it getting hot enough to break or scorch. A plus: its bright indicator light, which let us know when it was too hot to touch.
BUY FOR $13
This electric model heated every type of fondue evenly and consistently and its wide crock made simultaneous dipping frustration-free. Its temperature controls were clearly labeled with both degrees and type of fondue, allowing us to set the perfect temperature without looking at the manual. Its electronic parts detached so the crock could be washed in the sink, and fondue wiped easily off its scratch-resistant nonstick surface.
BUY FOR $23
This budget-friendly model did a decent job of cooling, keeping ice for six days—longer than any other product priced under $100.00. Its wheels made it more portable, and its roomy interior easily held a weekend's worth of groceries. We liked that the side handles were molded into the body, which prevented them from breaking when dropped. The telescoping handle you use to roll the cooler (like a luggage handle) wasn't so durable, though; one of the poles dented after we dropped the cooler, which prevented us from pushing the handle down and obstructed the lid from opening fully.
BUY FOR $50
Thanks to two layers of lids, each with its own twist seal, this sturdy 2-cup model kept tomato soup well above the food-safe 140-degree threshold for more than 4 hours. However, it failed to keep macaroni and cheese and tuna salad food-safe. It never dented or spilled, and it’s the only dishwasher-safe model we tested (its inner lid did fade slightly after seven cycles). The gasket absorbed more pungent smells like garlic, tomato, and turmeric but was easy to remove and cleaned up with a bit of scrubbing. It includes a spoon that folds and stores in its lid.
This thick, insulated pot was as simple to use as a traditional glass press, but it kept coffee hotter much longer. It’s also sturdier, with a round, comfortable handle. It took top honors in our tasting, producing coffee that tasters called “rich,” “rounded,” “nutty,” and “full-bodied.”
BUY FOR $49
Our winner is the only carafe that has extra insulation in addition to the standard double-wall vacuum seal. The thin sheets of copper and aluminum foil worked: After 4 hours, coffee was still piping hot at 152 degrees. Milk was 40 degrees after 2 hours and just 41 degrees after 4 hours. Testers loved its snap-on lid, which sealed with an audible (and reassuring) click and can be completely disassembled for cleaning. It also boasts a comfortable handle and a responsive button and pours with a steady, even stream that cuts off without dribbling.
BUY FOR $46
With a plastic lid that latched easily and securely and an airtight, leakproof seal that didn't drip or let moisture in, this container is our top choice for glass storage. Its ⅜-inch-wide, soft, square silicone gasket was easy to remove and replace for cleaning, and the faintly fishy odors it retained disappeared after rewashing. The plastic lid showed a slight orange tint after the chili test, but this faded as the container went through more dishwashing cycles. It also resisted warping and emerged intact at the end of testing. The 8-cup container, which looked like a glass loaf pan, held plenty of food, though we'd prefer a slightly flatter, wider shape to help foods heat and chill a bit more uniformly.
BUY FOR $15
This light, smooth bamboo spoon was broad enough to churn bulky stews, yet small enough to rotate a single chunk of beef without disturbing surrounding pieces. Its rectangular handle was comfortable to grip; its head had the most surface area in contact with the pan, so it excelled at scraping fond. Stain-resistant, it emerged after testing looking closest to new.
Testers of all sizes loved this spatula’s slim, rounded, offset handle, remarking on the agility, sense of control, and confidence that it inspired. Particularly when the grill is really packed, this is your spatula. Its relatively small head was also able to lift and move large swordfish steaks, but we noticed a bit of flex where the steaks weren’t completely supported.
Our new favorite kettle chip took the top spot overall, thanks in large part to its “nicely thick and crunchy” texture. The chips were “substantial” and “supercrunchy” and, in the words of one taster, “perfect.” Unlike other products in the lineup, they're fried in peanut oil, and tasters noticed a distinctly “savory,” “earthy” flavor. They also had “a great salt balance” and held up well in dip.
All products reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen are independently chosen, researched, and reviewed by our editors. We buy products for testing at retail locations and do not accept unsolicited samples for testing. We list suggested sources for recommended products as a convenience to our readers but do not endorse specific retailers. When you choose to purchase our editorial recommendations from the links we provide, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change.