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bacon wrapped dates

Ramona King

Bacon-Wrapped, Andouille-Stuffed Dates with Pecan Romesco Sauce


Keep your Thanksgiving guests out of the kitchen with these 16 crowd-pleasing appetizer ideas

While for most of us, the most anticipated part of Thanksgiving is the actual, well, dinner, there's no reason not to think about that hour beforehand when guests start to arrive. You'll likely still be taking care of those last-minute final touches — drizzling drippings into gravy, tossing salads, making sure your mashed potato seasoning is on point — so you'll want to keep your hungry family and friends out of the kitchen. The best way to do that? More food, of course.

Appetizers and nibble-y things are crucial to your sanity and to prevent  those guests who haven't eaten much all day from getting too crabby while you carve the turkey in perfect form. Of course, you don't want to go too crazy here — after all, you want to also make sure that everyone is still hungry enough to eat at least two servings of everything. 

To plot out the best apps for this purpose, think about them in terms of dips, finger foods and cheesy things. Go heavy on the easier-to-nibble finger foods and lighter on the dips and cheese. Or go nuts and put together cheese and charcuterie boards filled with small bowls of everything below. We'll show you how it's done.

Dips and Other Spreadable Dishes

Instant Pot Spinach Artichoke Dip
Spinach artichoke dip is a surefire crowd-pleaser. And while it isn't terribly difficult to make a good one the traditional way, you can shave precious minutes off of the thawing (you are using frozen spinach, right?) and cooking time by employing an Instant Pot to do the work. It'll only take 15 minutes, start to finish. You can serve the dip with tortilla chips (or favorite) or slightly-more-sophisticated toast points.
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Chicken Liver Mousse
Or if your guests are slightly more adventurous, put together a luxurious chicken liver mousse. It's far easier than it sounds — we promise — and you'll feel like a professional chef when you pull it off. Serve with seedy crackers or toasted baguette rounds.
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Vidalia Onion Dip
French onion dip sounds more like a game day snack than a Thanksgiving appetizer, but hear us out: By making the dip from scratch with caramelized Vidalia onions, you'll get to show off your sauteing skills and make your guests wonder why they're still using a few packets of this and that to make their dip at home. This stuff goes fast, so make a double batch if you've got more than a few folks headed to dinner. Serve with hearty kettle chips.
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Lemony White Bean Dip
If you prefer a crutide platter, try pairing your mountain of raw vegetables with this light white bean dip. A generous amount of fresh lemon juice adds plenty of zip and you (and your guests) won't feel quite so full come dinner time. Add a pita wedges to the platter for all the carb lovers.
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Finger Foods

Bacon-Wrapped, Andouille-Stuffed Dates with Pecan Romesco Sauce
This nibble is quite a bit more work than the others on this list but (and we know this phrase is trite) it is totally worth it. With roots as a Spanish tapa but made totally Southern with andouille sausage and pecans, these bacon-wrapped dates are a stunner. Make the romesco sauce and wrap the dates as far in advance as you need; all you'll need to do come serving time is pop the dates in the oven to warm and crisp.
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Old Bay Chickpeas
This crispy crunchy bar snack makes for an excellent pre-dinner nibble alongside cheese or next to a crudite platter. Like the dates (above), you can do much of the work ahead of time; you can even fry the chickpeas the morning-of. They'll hold up just fine.
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Crab Deviled Eggs
Any type of deviled egg makes an excellent pre-dinner finger food, but we're currently crushing on these crab-filled numbers. The shellfish is incorporated in three ways — blended into the filling for flavor, folded into the mix for texture, and then sprinkled on top because why not? If you'd prefer to skip the shellfish but can't imagine not serving deviled eggs, give our classic recipe a try.
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Oysters on the Half Shell with Muscadine Mignonette
One of the lightest but most generous appetizers you can serve is a platter of freshly shucked oysters on the half shell. And while many of your guests may request hot sauce and saltines, we also recommend stirring together this (easy) muscadine-filled twist on tangy mignonette sauce.
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Grilled Oysters with Garlic Parmesan Butter
Or, if you love oysters but prefer to serve them cooked, take advantage of our warm-ish weather and pop those mollusks on the grill. We love to grill our oysters in a warm bath of garlicky, parsley-studded Parmesan butter, but you can also simply grill them and serve with a spritz of lemon. You'll still get to take advantage of all that wonderful smoky flavor.
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Candied Pecans
Don't let the sugar fool you. These candied pecans are still an excellent pre-dinner nibble. Add them to a cheese board or pair them with any of the dips above for a salty-sweet combo that can't be beat. Even better? These nuts can be made up to two weeks in advance, so go ahead and check them off your list today.
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Shrimp Remoulade
Cute, sophisticated, and classically Creole, shrimp remoulade makes for a lovely cold appetizer. Our remoulade sauce takes a few shortcuts (hello, Duke's mayonnaise) to make it easy and the lettuce cups keep your guests' hands nice and clean. Make the sauce in advance and poach and chill the shrimp the morning of. Come serving, all you need to do is toss and assemble.
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Cheesy Things

Anne Byrn's Cheese Straws
Say you want to serve some kind of cheese, but don't want to go through the trouble of making a cheese board. Enter: cheese straws. This recipe, from contributor Anne Byrn, is easy, versatile and cheap to make. And don't stress about making them perfectly the first go-around. Between the butter, salt and cheddar cheese, even misshapen logs will taste great.
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Baked Brie with Bacon and Apples
A warmer, far more porky cheese option is this baked brie with bacon and apples. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t love melty cheese, regardless of what you put on it, but when you top it with cinnamon, apples and bacon? Perfection.
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Southern Kitchen's Pimento Cheese
If you're going the crudite route, you'd be remiss not to include a bowl of pimento cheese. It's a classic appetizer for good reason — its sweet and savory flavor is a crowd pleaser, and the spread can be made well in advance (like, tomorrow). We like to use roasted red peppers here instead of watery jarred diced pimentos, but if you must use them, go ahead.
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Boards and Platters
Don't want to choose? Build a cheese or charcuterie board (or both) and add in a few finger foods, dips or homemade pickles (we especially like these pickled beets and dilly beans from Virginia Willis) for a personal touch. We've got plenty of guides to help you learn how to make the most beautiful board on the block.
Learn to build a beautiful cheese board
See our tips for layering a charcuterie platter like a pro

Read all of our Thanksgiving stories
See all of our Thanksgiving recipes

Photo (cheese straws): Danielle Atkins
Photo (cheese board): Maura Friedman
All other photos: Ramona King

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Kate Williams is the former editor-in-chief of Southern Kitchen. She was also the on-air personality on our podcast, Sunday Supper. She's worked in food since 2009, including a two-year stint at America’s Test Kitchen. Kate has been a personal chef, recipe developer, the food editor at a hyperlocal news site in Berkeley and a freelance writer for publications such as Serious Eats, Anova Culinary, The Cook’s Cook and Berkeleyside. Kate is also an avid rock climber and occasionally dabbles in long-distance running. She makes a mean peach pie and likes her bourbon neat.