Barbecue University™

Hors d’Oeuvres Meet Grill—Finger Food for the Holidays

Russians call them zakuski. The French term is hors d’oeuvres. Italians ask for antipasti. In Turkey and other eastern Mediterranean countries, they’re known as meze. In America, we use the macabre expression finger food, and no self respecting holiday party would be complete without them. But if your notion of cocktail party fare runs to cheese balls and stuffed celery, you’re in need of a Barbecue! Bible makeover.

Sure, it’s cold out there—especially this winter and especially if you live in the north, but live fire and wood smoke add high drama and depth of flavor you just can’t get from your stove or oven. Get tips on cold weather grilling.

Herewith, a menu of six sizzling hors d’oeuvres from around Planet Barbecue and hot off your grill. Plus 13 tips to make sure you fire it up right.

  1. If hors d’oeuvres are the only food served at your party, figure on 6 to 8 pieces per person. Serve 3 to 5 different items—the more the better. Your reputation as a savvy host and accomplished grill master is directly proportional to the elaborateness of the spread.
  2. Finger food should be just that—food eaten with your fingers. No knives and forks needed—or allowed.
  3. Use a delivery system that allows for one hand eating, so you don’t have to put down your cocktail. Bamboo skewers come to mind, as do oversize toothpicks. Toasts and chips for dips are also good for single-handing, as are sliders and mini sandwiches.
  4. Very color, texture, temperature (hot and cold), and of course taste. The best cocktail party spreads play to all your senses.
  5. As you build your menu, include a few items that can be prepared ahead of time and served at room temperature, such as my explosively flavorful Fire-Roasted Red Bell Pepper and Feta Cheese Dip.
  6. Likewise, you can make your life easy by grilling or smoking a large hunk of protein to be pulled or sliced for mini-sandwiches. Smoked brisket mini sandwiches on parker house rolls come to mind. Ditto for mini pulled pork sandwiches on slider rolls.
  7. Don’t stint on salt. Hors d’oeuvres are supposed to be salty. Salt makes the cocktails taste even better. Work with salty flavorings like anchovies, capers, soy sauce, and olives. Serve salty meats, like bacon and ham—extra points if the latter is smoked. Try Village Hammers—Balkan-style cheese-stuffed, bacon-grilled prunes or dates.
  8. Don’t stint on peppers. Grilled or stuffed jalapenos. Dips blasted with chilies or hot sauce. Piri-piri shrimp or chicken wings. Good host that you are, you’ll provided plenty of interesting drinks to quench the fires.
  9. Kebabs and sates make great finger food. To keep the skewers from burning, make a grill shield with a tri-folded sheet of aluminum foil. (Slide it under the exposed part of the bamboo skewers.) Or go professional with a metal shield, like our Best of Barbecue Stainless Steel grill shield.
  10. Do your marinating the night before and keep the pieces of food small, so they cook quickly. The Asian sate (mini-kebab) is the exemplar of the species. Get my stepson Jake’s Singapore-style cumin- and coriander-crusted beef sates.
  11. Rib bones make another great single-handed delivery system. “Lollypop” lamb chops (individual chops with the rib bones “Frenched” (scraped clean) come to mind. Season with salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary, hot pepper flakes and olive oil and grill until sizzling and browned. To make barbecued baby backs easy to eat, cut them into individual ribs and scrape the meat off the bottom inch. (Mix the trimmings into deviled eggs.)
  12. Don’t forget to provide guests with an obvious and convenient place to dispose of bones, skewers, toothpicks, olive pits, etc.
  13. Finally, don’t be a short order cook at your own party. Plan and prep ahead to keep the actual time you spend at the grill during the party to a minimum.

And now the ultimate Barbecue! Bible cocktail party menu:

What are you serving at your holiday parties? Snap some photos and share them with us on the Barbecue Board.

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