Short answer? As many as you like! And we’re here to help.

By Kelsey Ogletree
November 10, 2020
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You’ve got an oven (or two) full of turkey and all the fixings for a Thanksgiving feast, and it might feel like you’ve prepped all the food your crew can reasonably devour (the average American consumes 3,000-4,500 calories this holiday, according to Wallethub). But yes, you may still want to make Thanksgiving appetizers—if nothing else, to buy you a little time with guests in case dinner isn’t ready on time. Here’s what to consider as you’re planning out your menu.

First, do you really need to serve appetizers on Thanksgiving?

Well, you definitely don’t need to. “I think it depends on the crowd you’re cooking for,” says Ryan Sand, executive chef at Aster Hall in Chicago. As you’re making your Thanksgiving Day game plan, think about the guest list and the time frame. If you’ll have kids in the house—or are planning to sit down to eat later in the day, say 4 pm or beyond—it’s a good idea to serve a few snacks on hand to tide the group over.

The goal here is to keep everyone from feeling ravenous if they arrive hungry (which is likely, as many people skip lunch this day) and the host is behind schedule or the turkey is slow to cook, says Ligia Lugo, co-founder of The Daring Kitchen food blog. But you have to strike a balance of temporarily satiating them and filling them up—because “no matter how much they’re looking forward to that turkey, they will cram down the first thing you put in front of them,” Lugo says.

Regardless of whether your guests actually want to eat anything before Thanksgiving dinner, it’s good etiquette to have something around for them to nibble on, just in case. “I never want someone to feel like they have to speak up for food when they are my guest,” says Tracy Wilk, lead chef at Institute of Culinary Education in New York.

When and how should you serve Thanksgiving appetizers?

Keep its super simple. Go for only two or three items and plan to serve them a few hours before dinner. “After all, it’s Thanksgiving, and there’s always a lot to eat,” says Sand. Even easier: Ask invited family members or friends to bring the appetizers so you can focus on the main meal.

A crucial point: Don’t pick appetizers that will require oven space, which is likely already at capacity on Thanksgiving. Turn to your grill instead to make something as simple as smoked nuts or frozen meatballs with a few different sauces, advises Kevin Kolman, head grill master for Weber. Or, opt for appetizers that can be made ahead of time or require no cooking at all. Simple dips you can prep the night before are a great example, says Natalie Mortimer, co-founder of The Modern Proper food and entertaining blog.

Thanksgiving appetizers are also a great opportunity to squeeze in some fresh vegetables. “While the main meal is frequently very rich and heavy, appetizers can be light,” says Baltimore-based licensed nutritionist Caitlin Self, MS, CNS, LDN—think veggie crudité with flavorful dips.

8 super-easy Thanksgiving appetizers

While there are tons of great recipes out there for holiday-appropriate apps, consider these ideas that are so easy, you won’t even need a recipe. Here are a few ideas from the pros:

  • Toss raw cashews with a little olive oil, sea salt, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, and black pepper, then roast 10-15 minutes until they’re toasty.
  • Plate a hunk of universally loved cheese like Parmesan, Gouda, or Brie with some seasonal fruit (figs, pears, apples, grapes) and a stack of gourmet crackers. A pro trick: Make extra cranberry sauce and add a bowl to fit to your cheese board. (PS—lots more ideas for cheeseboards here.)
  • Roast sweet potatoes or carrots, then toss into a blender with olive oil, garlic, and apple cider vinegar for a quick hummus to pair with veggie chips.
  • Stuff dates with blue cheese and finely chopped pecans, then thread onto skewers soaked in water and grill for about a minute.
  • Roll out store-bought puff pastry and cut it into 3-inch squares, then place squares into cups of a mini muffin tin. Add a slice of Brie and a spoonful of cranberry sauce to each, then bake until golden brown. (Here’s another fun twist on this idea.)
  • Make a vegetable soup ahead of time, such as butternut squash soup (you can even do this weeks in advance and freeze). Serve warm in mini bowls.
  • Whip out your crockpot to make an easy queso dip that will stay warm for a few hours.
  • Go for two-ingredient appetizers: deviled eggs with avocado, melon wrapped in prosciutto, or cold shrimp with cocktail sauce.