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[Photograph: Joshua Bousel]

The key to a great game day spread is to make sure that you've got a good mix of dippables, scoopables, finger foods, and full-on edibles to keep your guests satisfied and entertained, all while making sure that enough of them can be made in advance so you don't have to worry about spending the whole game in the kitchen or rushing around like a maniac during half time trying to re-fill party platters.

What this means is variation. When planning a snack-based party, I aim to make just one or two things out of each of four different categories. That way I can plan in advance, have most of my food ready, and spend game day sipping beer and watching people watch football (I've never been into the actual game).

Those categories are: slow-cooker dips and stews, room temperature dips, hot snacks, and room temperature snacks. If you've got yourself a fondue pot or a mini slow cooker, really the only things that need to be cooked to order (or à la minute as the fancy French people say) is the hot snacks. Everything else can be prepared before the game and set out on platters, ready to graze on or pass around.

Hot Dips and Stews

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[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

These are all recipes that can be made ahead, reheated just before the game, then served out of a fondue pot or slow cooker, made to be dipped into, spooned up into bowls, or slopped into messy sandwiches.

  • Sloppy Joes are perfect party fare. Keep the meat warm, serve buns on the side, and let people fill their own sandwiches.
  • Feel like barbecue? Our Pulled Pork is the real deal. Cook it on the grill, keep it warm in the slow cooker, and serve it with a side of our crunchy slaw.
  • They may not sound great, but Whiskey Wieners will be the first thing to disappear from your party table. I guarantee it.
  • Gooey Cheeseburger Dip is everything you love about cheeseburgers in dip form.
  • Don't want to bother running in and out of the kitchen to fry wings? Serve this Buffalo Chicken Dip instead.
  • If you're looking for a heartier meal, try The Best Chili Ever, or the equally tasty and totally meat-free Best Vegetarian Chili Ever.

Need more? Here are 15 chili recipes we love and 14 different variations on cheese dip.

Make-Ahead Dips

[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

These dips can be made in advance, pulled out of the fridge, transferred to serving bowls, and served straight up for dipping throughout the game.

  • Pimento Cheese is spreadable, salty, tangy, spicy, and really addictive. Make more than you think you'll need and serve with crackers and sliced jalapeños for some extra kick.
  • You can get away with just opening a can, but why should you when Real French Onion Dip is so much better and so darn easy? (Especially when you use our accelerated onion-caramelizing technique!)
  • There's no excuse not to make your own guacamole, and no reason not to make the best. The Best Guacamole starts with good avocados, and a concentrated flavor base made by pounding your aromatics with salt. (And check out 12+ variations right here!)
  • Chips and salsa are just so much better when that salsa is homemade. Check out either our Roasted Tomato Salsa, or our Hot Salsa Verde.
  • Go Greek with Tyrokafteri, a tangy dip made with hot peppers, feta, and yogurt. Perfect for warm pita bread.
  • Need something else for that pita? How about 15 somethings? Here's our favorite hummus recipe, along with fifteen different easy variations.
  • Feeling classy? Put on your monocles, twirl your mustaches, and dip into this Spicy Crab Dip (with real crab!).

For more, check out these 20 Dip Recipes for Game Day!

Make-Ahead Snacks and Sandwiches

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[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

These snacks can all be made ahead, ready to be pulled out, sliced, and served whenever the buffet empties.

Hot Snacks and Wings

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[Photograph: Marvin Gapultos]

If you're like me, you'd probably rather be spending game day in the kitchen whipping up hot snacks than glued to the set. These are perfect snacks for the host in you, the one who'd rather be left along with their oven and deep fryer.

  • As if Chicken-Fried Steak Nuggets don't sound good enough on their own, they had to go and dun' get themselves served with Beer and Bourbon Gravy!
  • Buffalo wings are a classic treat, and we've got two excellent recipes that'll blow away the neighborhood sports bars' versions. The Best Oven Fried Buffalo Wings give you all the crunch and flavor with none of the mess. And if you're looking for the ultimate in crisp-on-the-outside, juicy-in-the-middle contrast, check out our Ultimate Extra-Crispy Double Fried Confit Buffalo Wings. Try and say that ten times fast!
  • Buttery, toasty, tangy, and packed with oozy gooey cheese, these Cheesy Party Sandwiches are everything you love about grilled cheese sandwiches, in easy-to-make bulk form.
  • I'll admit, these aren't the easiest sliders in the world to make, but believe me when I call them the (More) Ultimate(est) Perfect Sliders. Caramelized onion, beef, cheese, and steamed bun all fused into one gloriously greasy bite.
  • Anyone can do nachos. But it takes a special kind of host to make these Beef Barbacoa Nachos with homemade cheese sauce and pickled red onions. You are that special kind of host. I can tell you that now.
  • Buffalo not your thing? Try these Sweet and Spicy Ginger Wings instead.
  • I have a deep, wide, soft spot for Fritos, and Fritos have a soft spot for chili, especially when it's spooned right into the bag and eaten with a fork. Check out this recipe for kimchi frito pie, or this every-bit-as-satisfying-as-the-meaty-version Vegan Frito Pie. Or ok, fine, this Chili Sauce would make an outstanding Frito pie as well.

Need more help? Here are 14 Wing Recipes We Love, spanning from tea-smoked, to traditional buffalo.

And don't forget to check out our Game Day Recipes Guide»

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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