Game-Day Appetizers

Elevate Your Game For Any Party

Story and Photography by Jackie Dodd

Even for the casual sports fan, game-day parties can be incredibly fun. A large group of friends gathered around the television, cheering on the home team; color-coordinated outfits; the table filled with bite-size party food; and the feeling of camaraderie that comes from a mixture of all these party elements under one roof.  And when the game isn’t a nail-biter, the food often becomes the central focus.

Although most hosts will present the standard football fare, there are many other options that can feel both recognizable and excitingly new. To ensure that the party food table is a success, keep a few things in mind. Knife-and-fork-type dishes can be a pain when the seating is an issue, so stick to finger foods (or at least fork-only foods) and stock up on plenty of napkins. Have a mix of foods that can meet any dietary issues that your guests might have, while still being accessible to all other guests. Offering some appetizers that are vegetarian, gluten-free, healthy and/or low calorie ensures that everyone will be happy and well fed—no matter what the final score is!


Elevate your standard party wings with this sweet and smoky sauce that tastes both familiar and elegant. If you want to lower the heat level, just use one chipotle chile pepper and a bit more adobo sauce for a milder spice hit.


for the glaze:

  • 1 cup honey (raw honey preferred)
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3 chipotle peppers, plus 1 teaspoon adobo sauce (from canned chipotle chiles in adobo)

for the wings:

  • 4 pounds chicken wings
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • pinch of cayenne
  • olive oil spray

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

To Make the Glaze: To the bowl of a food processor,  add the honey, balsamic vinegar, chipotle peppers and adobo sauce and process until smooth and well combined. Set aside.

To Make the Wings: Rinse the wings in cold water and pat them dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper on all sides.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar and cayenne. Toss the chicken wings in the flour mixture until they are completely coated.

Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray it with olive oil spray. Place the chicken wings on the prepared baking sheet in an evenly spaced layer. Lightly spray the wings with olive oil.

Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven, brush the wings with the glaze, and return to the oven for 10 more minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, turn the chicken wings over, brush with glaze, and return to the oven for 10 more minutes. Repeat.

After 30 minutes (3 rounds) turn the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and cook the chicken until the wings are cooked throughout and the glaze starts to caramelize—about 10 to 15 additional minutes.

Remove the wings from the oven and serve immediately.


Cucumber cups look like a feat of culinary genius, but in reality they are fairly simple to make. Just use a small melon baller to remove a section of the middle to make way for your favorite dip. It’s also a fabulous bonus that these impressive little bites are healthy as well as gluten free. If you can’t find Persian cucumbers, just use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin from an English cucumber (the skin is thin, so you might choose, alternatively, not to peel them) and use that instead.


  • 6 Persian Cucumbers
  • 3 ounces goat cheese
  • 1 large beefsteak tomato – chopped
  • 3 large basil leaves – chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup bottle reduction of balsamic (or you can make your own)

Cut the cucumbers into 1-1/2-inch slices. Use a melon baller to scoop out the middle of each slice, leaving the walls and the bottom intact.

Into a bowl, place the goat cheese, tomatoes and basil and stir until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Fill each cucumber cup with the goat cheese mixture and drizzle with balsamic reduction.


Puff pastry has saved the day at many last-minute parties. It has an elegant feeling, but it allows you to create an impressive appetizer in just minutes. Top it with the familiar flavors of cream cheese, olives and tomatoes, and your guests will think you slaved over it.


  • 1 sheet puff pastry
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 (6 ounce) can black olives – drained and sliced
  • 4 ounces sour cream
  • 8 ounces cream cheese – softened
  • 1/2 cup chopped tomato
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil – chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry with the rolling pin, rolling 3-4 times in each direction, making the pastry thinner, longer and wider. Using a 3.5-inch biscuit cutter, cut out 12-16 circles.

Place the pastry circles on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and brush them with melted butter.

To the bowl of a food processer, add the olives, sour cream and cream cheese. Pulse until the mixture is well combined.

Top each pastry round with 1-2 tablespoons of the olive mixture.

Bake until the edges of the puff pastry turn a light golden brown—about 15-18 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and top with tomato and fresh basil. Add salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste.


Crab cakes always feel special. These small, bite-size versions are easy to serve at a party where mingling and standing are expected. For an easy and delicious dipping sauce, just add a bit of Sriracha sauce (to taste) to sour cream.


  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch cayenne
  • 1/2 cup seltzer water (or use club soda)
  • 1/4 cup green onion – chopped
  • 1 large whole egg, plus 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons brown mustard
  • 2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce
  • 1 pound lump crab meat – drained well
  • peanut or canola oil for frying

In a large bowl, stir together the panko, flour, Old Bay seasoning, baking powder and cayenne.

Add the seltzer, green onions, egg and yolk, sour cream, mustard and hot sauce. Stir the mixture until well combined.

Gently fold in the crabmeat. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.

Prepare the oil by adding about 3 inches of oil to a deep pot over high heat. Add a deep-fry thermometer to the side of the pot, adjusting the heat to keep the oil at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Using a cookie scoop, roll the crab mixture into balls about the size of golf balls.

Deep-fry the crab balls until golden brown–about 5 minutes. Transfer them to a wire rack set over a baking sheet until drained—about 1 minute.

Serve warm.

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