Fabulous Make-Ahead Appetizer Recipes for Fuss-Free Hosting

Juniper-and-Gin Gravlax
Photo: Justin Walker

The last thing any host wants to do is make snacks as guests arrive. This collection of our favorite make-ahead appetizers will help you get ready with time to spare.

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mixed olive tapenade
William Abranowicz

Whether you want to host a casual backyard cookout or throw an elegant Oscar's watch party, offering a platter of appetizers, such as the Mixed Olive Tapenade pictured here, and a signature cocktail are two surefire ways to get everyone in the mood to celebrate. But after a year (or more) spent at home with just your immediately family, you likely feel out of practice and in need of inspiration. That's where we come in.

It'll come as no surprise to experienced entertainers (or at least formerly experienced) that having a party at your house can lead to some pretty high stress situations that almost always peak just as guests begin to arrive: kitchen accidents, perhaps a few tears, a disheveled (as in, not yet showered or dressed) host. This's because even the most casual of affairs demands that a little forethought to ensure it all goes smoothly (and by smoothly, we mean no one will need to make a last-minute trip to the nearest convenience store for ice and a jar of queso).

To pull off a successful gathering that everyone will enjoy, it really does pay to think like a caterer. When professionally prepping for a party, they wouldn't wait until the day of the event to start making everything—and that's true no matter the size of the group. The first thing a caterer will do before they even step into the kitchen is draw up a game plan, listing all of their dishes out and then breaking it down into what can be made ahead of time and when. This idea can translate pretty easily to the home cook; if you aren't sure what can made and when, then look to these recipes which will provide the make-ahead info you'll need to plan successfully.

This collection features recipes that can be made to varying degrees of completion a day or two before and still be just as good—sometimes even better—than the day they were made. Take the category of dips as an example. We haven't met a dip that didn't get better after it had a day to chill in the fridge, and the Creamy Corn-and-Onion Dip ahead is no exception. Other recipes will have you make certain aspects ahead, like the Polenta Squares with Prosciutto that will only need a few minutes of broiling before your guests arrive to be the perfect party-starter.

As you flip through the gallery, remember that balance is key: It's best to pick a couple of cold or room temperature appetizers that can be made entirely in advance, and one or two hot dishes that will require a little assembly at the last minute.

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Creamy Corn-and-Onion Dip

creamy corn-and-onion dip served with radishes
Kate Sears

Just when you think a homemade French onion dip couldn't get any better, this recipe goes and adds sweet summer corn to the mix. Lightened up with Greek yogurt instead of the standard sour cream, it's a great party starter and can be made up to three days in advance.

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No-Knead Tomato Focaccia

tomato focaccia bread
Marcus Nilsson

Show some homespun hospitality by making this easy no-knead focaccia recipe that is studded with a flavorful topping of cherry tomatoes, garlic, and thyme. Bake it the night before or the morning of and serve squares alongside good olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

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Spanish Chorizo Balls

Spanish Chorizo Balls recipe
Con Poulos

These little cocktail meatballs can be prepared the day before and can either be served room temperature or warmed up in a crock pot. Complete the tapas theme with a hunk of manchego cheese, toasted almonds, and slices of crusty bread.

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Mushroom-and-Goat-Cheese Purses

Johnny Miller

A darling appetizer, these little mushroom purses are easier to pick up and handle than traditional stuffed mushrooms, thanks to their phyllo crust casing. Do yourself a favor and make the mushroom filling the day before. The day of, just fill, form, and bake.

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Lemon-Butter-Dipped Baby-Vegetable Crudites

lemon-butter dipped baby-vegetable crudites
Anson Smart

Perfect for a late spring garden party, baby vegetables are dipped in a zesty lemon butter and chilled until a thin coating forms (and you can chill them for longer, until you're ready to serve, too!). A little like a savory magic shell, the zesty coating will melt in your mouth.

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Juniper-and-Gin Gravlax

juniper and fin gravlax salmon
Justin Walker

Gravlax is a fun make-ahead recipe and pretty low-maintenance, too. A few days before the party, you'll rub the salmon with a briny, salt-based blend of aromatics and let it chill in the fridge. As it cures, the fish will become firmer and easier to slice into thin pieces.

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Beet Muhammara

beet muhammara in bowl
The Ingalls

Let this smooth, spreadable dip sit in the fridge for a day or two to meld the flavors together even more and serve it next to a log of goat cheese and crackers or your favorite crudités.

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Artichoke Dip with Fontina


Unbaked, this dip can be frozen for up to one month. Thaw completely before baking for warm, cheesy goodness on demand.

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Polenta Squares with Prosciutto


These one-bite polenta squares are studded with prosciutto and garlic and topped with melty, semi-soft taleggio cheese before being broiled. Everything but the broiling can be done the day before, so this impressive app couldn't be easier to execute.

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Greek Layer Dip

greek layer dip
Pernille Loof

Layer easy-to-prep ingredients like chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, and crumbled feta on top of a garlicky white bean purée and this healthy Mediterranean dip is ready to be served with a bowl of pita chips. Of course, you can always have it waiting for you in the fridge for up to a day in advance, too.

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Italian Seafood Salad

Emily Kate Roemer

This entire recipe can be prepared a day in advance, so you don't even have to think about handling raw seafood right before the party is about to start. A bright and delicious salad, this recipe makes a classy opener to all kinds of occasions, from a New Year's Eve party to a late-summer soirée.

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Lamb Koftas with Cucumber Raita

Lamb Koftas with Cucumber Raita

For these spiced lamb koftas, you are better off assembling the ground meat mixture the day before, that way all that is left to do before the guests arrive is form them into patties and give them a quick pan-fry.

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Smoked Trout Pate on Toasted Baguette

smoked trout pate toasted baguettes
Burcu Avsar

Always the crowd-pleaser, this smoked fish dip is enhanced with tangy cream cheese, shallot, lemon juice, and fresh chives. It will also please the cook to know that it can be made up to two days ahead.

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Jalapeño Bacon Johnnycakes

jalapeno-bacon johnnycakes
Lennart Weibull

These fun-size savory cornmeal cakes can be made an hour or so before guests arrive and held in a warm oven. You can make the avocado cream the morning of—just make sure cover the surface with plastic wrap to keep it from oxidizing.

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Romesco and Bucheron Dip

Armando Rafael

Romesco is a tomato-based sauce from Spain that includes roasted red peppers, almonds, and a little bread for body. It shines in this easy appetizer that bakes the piquant sauce with aged goat's milk cheese (known as bucheron).

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Cheese Crackers


The dough for these easy slice-and-bake crackers can be made the day before or kept in the freezer for up to a month. Savory and rich, they are a particularly great snack to serve while the Champagne is being poured.

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