Sometimes they get the party started. Sometimes they are the party. I speak, of course, of those festive finger foods that are easy—almost too easy—to eat.
Whether you’re hosting your own holiday get-together or have been asked to contribute an appetizer, you’ll want your food to be the life of the party. Let other people serve circa 1980s-style cheese balls or boiled shrimp with jarred cocktail sauce.
You’re going to bring down the house by firing up your grill.
My staff and I compiled a list of our most popular live-fire party-worthy starters—stunning to look at, explosively flavorful, cocktail compatible to be sure, and able to be eaten with one hand. Many can be prepared ahead of time or in mere minutes, limiting your exposure to cold and snow if you happen to be grilling in the frost belt. (Not that a little cold or snow will stop you.)
Lemon Sesame Chicken Wings
Wings are a perennial favorite at parties, and these deliver a blast of flavor thanks to a marinade of Worcestershire sauce, beer, sesame oil, and lemon zest.
Smoked Shrimp Cocktail with Chipotle Orange Sauce
The heat-seekers in your crowd won’t be able to get enough of these succulent shrimp. I call for smoking here, but the shrimp can also be direct-grilled, making them table-ready in minutes.
Salty foods just taste so damned good with drinks, meaning these nuts, coated with a sweet-savory spice mixture, will disappear fast. And if the weather outside is frightful, they can be prepared on a stovetop smoker.
Coffee-Crusted Pork Tenderloins with Redeye Barbecue Sauce
People coming to the party straight from work or a hectic day of holiday preparations will appreciate having a more substantial option than the usual cocktail nibbles. Thinly sliced pork tenderloin served on slider buns fits the bill. A bonus? The pork can be cooked a day ahead of time and served at room temperature.
Smoked Snapper or Salmon Dip with Smoked Vegetable Chips
I’ve been making variations of this dip for years; it’s become a Raichlen family favorite. Customize it to suit your own tastes. The fish (snapper, salmon, mahi mahi, black cod, etc.) can be up smoked up to 3 days ahead.
Dungeness Crab Jalapeño Poppers
Luxurious lump crab meat stars in this unusual popper. If possible, buy it fresh from a fish monger. Alternatively, use frozen crab or a premium canned brand.
Planking is one of the coolest ways I know to serve cheese. Here, Camembert (or brie) is topped with red pepper jelly and sliced green jalapenos—seasonally appropriate colors—and dramatically served on a singed, smoky cedar plank.
Fire-Roasted Red Pepper Dip with Feta
The health-conscious and crudité crowd will appreciate this tangy dip, which is also great with grilled pita wedges. I like to char the peppers directly in the embers, caveman-style, but they can be roasted on a gas grill, too.
Tiki Beef Kebabs
If you’re still carrying a tiki torch for the tantalizing beef skewers that were the star of pupu platters back in the day, we’ve got you covered. December 10 is even the late Victor Bergeron’s birthday; he founded one of America’s first restaurant chains, “Trader Vic’s.” Read more about him here, and learn how he tapped into America’s fascination with the South Pacific.
Hay-Smoked Quail Eggs
Bronzed with smoke from either hay or wood chips and served with a piquant vinegar sauce, these diminutive eggs were inspired by those served at Copenhagen’s Noma, a restaurant (sadly, now closed), that was named the best restaurant in the world four times by San Pellegrino. If you can’t find quail eggs, I have provided directions for chicken eggs.