Menu Idea Roundup: Thanksgiving Appetizer Party

Cook’s notes: Two excellent discussions at Chow and at centered around having a Thanksgiving party with just finger foods and appetizers. As one reader noted, “a Thanksgiving cocktail party instead of the traditional gut-stuffing menu” sounds like a really fun idea. Notice that no one suggests a green salad! This party is one in which you have all appetizers for the menu.

For a regular Thanksgiving dinner, the suggestions for appetizers were consistent: a raw vegetable (crudite) platter with a light dip, shrimp cocktail, stuffed mushrooms, and spiced nuts.

I was inspired to take reader suggestions from both discussions, sort them by category, add a few ideas, and add links to recipes and other related sites. Remember, you would not serve all of these dishes at one party! (nor have I tested all of these recipes!)

When planning your party menu, pick a few items from each category. Diane Phillips recommends a cocktail party menu similar to the following:

  • 1 to 2 signature cocktails
  • 1 dip with veggies
  • 1 cheese platter with breads and crackers
  • 5 to 7 “small bites”, including spiced nuts
  • 2 dessert offerings

Since this appetizer menu is in place of a meal, you’ll want some substantial offerings. Pick at least one turkey dish. It’s Thanksgiving, after all.


Be sure to have at least one non-alcoholic offering for the designated drivers. Sparkling cider is easy: just pop the cork.

  • Autumn Sangria with figs, plums, and dried apricots (Recipe from Better Homes & Gardens)
  • Cider or sparkling cider
  • Cosmopolitans or cranberry martinis. Presentation tip: For the martinis, skewer cranberries on swizzle sticks and freeze.
  • Maiden Madras: Blend 4 oz cranberry juice and 1/3 c orange juice
  • “The Signature Cocktail”: Fill a 12-oz glass with ice. Stir together and pour in: 2 oz simple syrup, 1.5 oz cranberry juice, and 1 oz vodka. Top drink with club soda.
    Source: USA Weekend, Nov. 10 – 12, 2006, p. 7

SPREADS AND DIPS (1 dip plus veggies)
Presentation tip: Scoop out some mini pumpkins and serve dip in them

  • Baked Brie cheese topped with cranberry sauce appetizer, such as Cranberry Sauce with Cherries, Marsala and Rosemary (link)
  • Baked sweet potato fries with dipping sauces
  • Cranberry Chutney served over a block of cream cheese
  • Blanched Green Beans (link) served with an onion dip (link): these are green beans served as crudites instead of green bean casserole
  • Mediterranean 7-layer dip: layer hummus, scallions, cucumber, grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, roasted red pepper, and chopped fresh parsley. Serve with pita crisps or flatbread. (This is “easy and a hit even with unadventurous eaters,” says Chow reader “intuitive eggplant”)
  • Pear chutney and goat cheese bruschetta (link)
  • Raw vegetable platter with a bowl of blue cheese dip (link) and Terra Chips (Sweet Potato, naturally)

SMALL BITES – Pick 5 to 7

Include 1 cheese platter with assorted breads and crackers.

  • Black Pepper Almonds (link)
  • Chicken wings or small drumsticks
  • Mini butternut squash and cheese tarts (link)
  • Mini corn muffins
  • Mini turkey sandwiches: 1) buttermilk biscuits flavored with sage and spread with cranberry sauce and dressing or
    2) whole wheat rolls with sliced turkey, cream cheese and cranberry sauce
  • Olives wrapped in cheese dough (link)
  • Orzo salad-stuffed tomatoes (link)
  • Potato pancakes (link) or sweet potato latkes (link)
  • Pumpkin bread
  • Relish tray: black olives, mini sweet pickles, and carrot sticks.
  • Fancy additions to the relish tray: Harvard Beets (link) or stuffed olives: Get fancy with green olives stuffed with blue cheese, whole garlic cloves, or whole almonds.
  • Shrimp Cocktail (the absolutely best recipe is by Alton Brown)
  • Spiced nuts or pumpkins seeds (18 recipes and counting here)
  • Stuffing-stuffed mushrooms (link)
  • Stuffing baked in muffin cups (such as Rachael Ray’s version)
  • Turkey Crescents with Cranberry Sauce (link)
  • Turkey Cutlets
  • Turkey Cranberry Pinwheels (link)


Presentation tip: Serve the soup shots in espresso cups with tiny cheese straws.

  • “Shots” of butternut squash soup (link)
  • Also suggested: chowders, creamy garbanzo bean soup, cream of mushroom, or pumpkin


  • Apple wedges and seedless grapes (fresh fruit)
  • Bakerella’s mini pumpkin pie bites (link)
  • Mini apple pies made in muffin tins
  • Nantucket Cranberry Pie made in muffin cups with whipped cream (link)
  • Pear slices with caramel fondue (link)
  • Pumpkin and pecan tarts (link)
  • Pumpkin pie cupcakes (link)
  • Mini pumpkin cheesecakes (link)