Your Starting Players: The Accessories

There's more to a top-of-the-line tailgate than cold drinks and team spirit. Like any memorable party, an elevated tailgate setup should not only cover all of the bases, but master them: good beats, good eats and a little fun. We surveyed the latest gear and found the most portable, durable and all-around cool versions that will check all of the boxes in style.

View Gallery

Scout Your Spot like a Pro

Take out the guesswork of scoping out the best tailgate spot with some carefully chosen apps. Divide and conquer the territory, then use MeetBall (free) to group chat and navigate to whichever friends have carved out the best nook. The app allows you to privately or publicly share your location, so you can control your pregame guest list, then add photos and notes. More prone to planning ahead? Have friends log in to OurTailgate.com ($4.99 for six months) to plan a meet-up place and time, plus sign up for who will bring what—from the grill to the hot cocoa to the Frisbee. If you're among those who actually go to the game after the tailgate, look for last-minute seat upgrades on Pogoseat.com, where you can purchase them moments leading up to the game.

Up Your Snacking Game

Regardless of whether you're throwing down in the stadium lot or hosting a viewing party at home, the mark of a truly great tailgate is how good the food is. Set out a spread of starters to warm up guests for the main event and keep them energized into the evening. BUSH'S Beans are the perfect foundation for endless satisfying snacks. Here are five couldn't-be-simpler ideas.

View Gallery

Be the Instagram MVP

You want those game-day chicken wings and pulled pork sandwiches to be as Instagrammable as possible, so serve them on stylish disposable plates (yes, they do exist). Take for instance, an appetizer-sized plate that's just as festive as your snack spread. Or a disposable dinner dish that has a delicate, hand-designed look but is sturdy enough not to buckle under pressure. For finger foods, bypass the plates altogether in favor of fun chevron-printed paper trays.

Your Uniform: A Killer Apron

Come fall, game-goers start to see the world in team colors and logos. But even if you're more into a tweed blazer than a jersey, nothing sets off a flag on the play like the idea of launching a grease stain down the center of it. Thanks to a shift toward a more rugged, utility look, there are plenty of ruffle-free options built for grilling. Outset's Grill Apron ($24) is leather—providing another layer of hide for winter's colder games—and lined with a protective flame-retardant treatment. Deep pockets, brass grommets and durable denim make Toad&Co's Arlo Apron ($48.95) and Andrew Zimmern's Denim Cooking Apron ($79.95) great for stashing tools like tongs and hand towels in between tending the flames. And if your group is aesthetically inclined, the hand-printed Black Stripe Apron ($88.99) will have the crowd going wild. (It's also 100 percent organic cotton.)

The Winning Play: Grilled Oysters

Blow people's minds the moment the grill is lit by lining the grate with fresh oysters. And the best part is that there's no shucking necessary. High heat from the grill causes bivalves to release their grip, nudging the shells open on their own. It also allows for quick cooking. We've got plenty of tips for tackling five-minute grilled oysters, plus buttery topping ideas that may cause drooling.

GET THE RECIPE

Keep 'Em Running Back to Wings

Chicken wings are a game-day classic, but even some established grillers don't really know the tricks for perfecting poultry's most delicate cut. (Hint: It goes beyond basting and throwing them atop a flame—that's, um, a recipe for overcharring.) To achieve the crispiest skin and cook the interiors only till tender, roast the wings at a high temperature in the oven in advance. When it's time to serve, reheat them on the grill for a kiss of smokiness and to recrisp their skin. Toss with the sauce of your choice, following the magic buffalo ratio—or barbecue sauce, a honey-mustard combo or fiery Korean gochujang.

GET THE RECIPE

Give Messy Tacos the Heisman

If parking lot food is a form of street food, then it's only fair that the ultimate street food—tacos—make an appearance at the pre-party. The ingenious "walking taco" is traditionally a bag of corn chips that has been emptied out, tossed with chili and toppings, and stuffed back into the bag, which becomes its own portable shell (you eat the filling with a fork though; please don't eat the bag). The BUSH'S Beans version features BUSH'S Latin-inspired Frijoles Charros Machacados tinged with serranos and bacon, but black beans or pinto beans would be just as delicious.

GET THE RECIPE

Put Condiments in Your Playbook

Think like a coach and map out even the smallest details (it'll make the biggest impression). Carefully crafted, uniquely flavored versions can make all the difference on grilled burgers and dogs. Mustard and Co.'s raw, slow-ground mustards ($7 each) hail from Seattle and, beyond the classic flavor, come in Honey Curry and Black Truffle, too. All contain balsamic vinegar (instead of white distilled), extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt from the Oregon coast. Bonus: The packages are so pretty they double as table decor. Skillet Street Food's line of ketchups ($8.99 each) are the ideal fall accent—each contains puréed pumpkin for an extra dose of earthiness and natural sweetness. Finally, any grilled, pulled or cured meat will play nicely with Pernicious Pickling Co.'s Sweet 'N Sour Pickled Red Onions ($9.99). The line also features ginger-pickled carrots and spicy, dilly pickled beets.

Carry It over the Finish Line

The tailgate should be a crescendo leading all the way to kickoff. And nothing says "winning" like ending with chocolate. Toss a batch of one of these treats into the oven the night before, then set them out before game time to send your buddies off with a sugar high.

View Gallery