Whether you’re hosting your own gathering or bringing a dish to someone else’s holiday party, it’s time to step up your appetizer game and breathe some new life into classic finger foods. But before you give up on those sausage balls and shrimp cocktails, here are 6 delicious ways to pay homage to the oldies-but-goodies, while still keeping your guests happy and full on hors d’oeuvres that have undergone a much-needed flavor upgrade just in time for your next holiday celebration.
Photo: Getty Images
| Credit: Getty Images

What is it about meatballs, shrimp cocktail, and bacon-wrapped anything that make them the go-to appetizers? Is it because they’re so easy? Is it because it’s fun to eat things off of toothpicks? Is there some universal acceptance that these little bites are the only real way to get the party started? I don’t know the answer, but what I do know is that some of these beloved, tried-and-true party recipes could use an upgrade. I’m not talking about your fancy crudité platters, salmon roe, chicken pâté, or savory canapé appetizers. I mean dressing up old favorites, like pigs in a blanket or deviled eggs, with new twists and boosted flavor.

If you’ve got a party coming up and you’re in an appetizer rut, swap out your go-to throwback apps for some fresher bites. Don’t worry! You can still party like it’s 1999, but you’ll want to cook these elevated starters with present day fixings to really ring in the New Year on the right foot.

Rather than Shrimp Cocktail:

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with traditional shrimp cocktail, but shake things up with a sauce that’s truly worthy of dipping your tails: vodka-infused Bloody Mary Cocktail Sauce. Serve chilled and wow your guests with this revamped party favorite.

Bloody Mary Cocktail Sauce
Credit: Jonny Valiant; Styling: Linda Hirst

Rather than Clams Casino:

Classic clams casino is a prime party starter, but it requires a lot of prep work. Skip the usual shucking by steaming clams over simmering water for two minutes or just until their shells barely open. Our modern take has all the flavors you love in a clam dish, except packed with a cheesy breadcrumb and pancetta mixture for a bold new bite.

Top fresh clams with a savory mixture of pancetta, breadcrumbs, herbs and Parmesan cheese for a first-rate first course.

Rather than Cocktail Meatballs:

We know you’ve got a simple sauce that’s been passed down for years and years that you’ve always poured over your meatballs... it probably involves grape jelly. But if you really want to surprise your guests, let go of the been-there-done-that cocktail or barbecue sauce, and trade it in for our special sauce ingredient—cranberry jelly. The result is anything but bland and boring.

Cranberry Meatballs

Rather than Store-Bought Cheese Straws:

We get it. Who has time to make everything from scratch? But when 5 simple ingredients come together so easy to make a spicy, budget-friendly batch of cheesy sticks, it’s best to whip up your own and skip the grocery store.

Make It: Cheese Straws

Cheese Straws
Credit: Antonis Achilleos; Styling: Gerri Williams for James Reps

Rather than Regular Cheese Balls:

Instead of rolling up your favorite cheese varieties into one big basic ball for a tasty cracker spread, deliver a visually intriguing presentation of cheese and crackers that resembles a popular backyard foraged find.

Pinecone Cheese Ball

Rather than Bacon-Wrapped Figs:

We added bourbon for a boozy twist on this pork-wrapped classic. It’s an added bonus that pairs perfectly with the sweet and salty combination of figs and bacon. And if you’re looking for more ways to bite into bacon, check out these bacon-wrapped appetizers for the holidays.

Bacon-Wrapped Bourbon Figs
Credit: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Heather Chadduck

The big takeaway here is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with rocking a good throwback app, but reveling in their retro goodness can taste even better when you give you favorites just enough (seriously, don't overdo it) of a modern update.

By Michelle Darrisaw and Michelle Darrisaw