Appetizers are essential for any holiday get-together. For a stress-free happy hour, choose foods that can be prepared in advance. We’ve outlined a few tricks for partially prepping some of the most popular appetizers ahead of time. Paired with a festive beverage, they set the tone for a fun evening, provide an excuse for guests to settle in, and buy the host a little more time for greeting guests — and last-minute dinner prep.
1. Cold Dips: Cold dips based in mayo, sour cream, or Greek yogurt are great for prepping in advance. Make up to two days ahead of time and wrap with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the dip to prevent a skin from forming. If the dip requires fresh herbs, add those shortly before serving. Try this smoked salmon dip for an elegant starter.
2. Hot Baked Dips: Hearty apps like baked cheese spreads and this artichoke dip can be assembled the day before your party. Bake just before serving, so you can put it on the table while it’s warm and bubbly.
3. Crostini Toasts: Instead of frantically slicing a ton of bread right as guests are arriving, make crostini toasts — they’re easy but impressive. Slice up a baguette, toss in olive oil and sea salt, and spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Pop them into the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until they’re golden brown, usually 10-15 minutes. Make them two days ahead and store in an airtight container.
4. Cheese Plate: You can slice and arrange your cheeses three to four hours ahead of time, but be sure to cover tightly in plastic so the cheeses don’t dry out. Use dried fruit instead of fresh, or jam or chutney, which will be more stable. Remove from the refrigerator one hour ahead of time to allow everything to come to room temperature. Check out our tips for curating the ultimate cheese board for more inspiration.
5. Crudités: You can slice up your veggies up to two days in advance. Wrap them in a damp paper towel and seal tightly in Ziplock bags. Serve them alongside a basket of pita chips and one of these tasty dips.
6. Spiced Nuts: Seasoned and spiced nuts can be made up to a week in advance and stored in an airtight container so they don’t lose their crunch. You can gently reheat before serving by tossing them in a nonstick pan over medium heat for just a couple of minutes. These sweet and spicy nuts would also make great holiday gifts.
7. Hummus: Make your fresh hummus up to three to four days ahead of time. Remove from the fridge one hour before serving and allow to come to room temperature. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt, fresh parsley, and toasted pine nuts just before serving. This pumpkin hummus version is a festive twist for parties.
8. Gougères: These crowd-pleasing cheesy puffs can be made up to one month in advance. Bake, allow to cool completely, wrap tightly, and freeze. Before serving, place them back onto a baking sheet and re-warm for 10-15 minutes in a 325-degree-Fahrenheit oven. Serve these Gruyere and black pepper gougères with a glass of bubbly as your guests arrive.
9. Baked Chicken Wings: Prepare and marinate chicken wings the day before, as well as any kind of extra dipping sauce. On the day of the party, all you’ll have to do is toss them in the oven.
10. Cheese-Stuffed Dates: Slice open dates and place a teaspoon of goat cheese inside each one. Prep the morning of your party and store in the fridge. Just before serving, pop into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, then garnish with a drizzle of honey and some chopped thyme. Even better, these chèvre and five-spice dates can be completely prepped in advance.
11. Shrimp Cocktail: Poach shrimp up to one day ahead of time. Chill and place on a bed of ice just before serving. You can prepare homemade cocktail sauce or vinaigrettes four to five days ahead of time.
12. Marinated Olives: Marinated olives are an elegant touch and are actually even better when made in advance. Assemble up to two weeks ahead of time and serve at room temp, or reheat gently in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. For an extra kick, go with these gin-marinated olives with serrano peppers and feta cheese.
13. Popcorn: Pop the corn according to package instructions and store in an airtight container for up to two days. Toss with truffle oil and salt just before serving. You can also DIY microwave popcorn.